The apparitions of Our Lady to a poor shepherdess, Benoîte Rencurel (1664-1718) in Laus, France are special. They involve the simplicity of a young woman and the attitude of Our Lady regarding virtue.
At a young age, Benoîte already showed great virtue. Her childhood is filled with extraordinary supernatural episodes. One day, for example, while guarding her flock in a faraway place, two men sought to take advantage of her innocence. Her persecutors saw her run to the other side of a large marsh on top of the water without sinking or even getting her feet wet.
Our Lady first appeared to her in the spring of 1664 for the first time when she was seventeen. Benoîte spoke to her, but the Virgin only responded after many more apparitions. A kind of supernatural friendship developed between the two that lasted until the end of Benoîte’s life. What exactly the Blessed Virgin wished to achieve through her dialogues with the seer is not clear. There was no special message. However, Our Lady treated her with great intimacy holding her hand frequently and offering her the edge of her robe as a place upon which the young woman might rest.
Benoîte never lost her simplicity. On one occasion, Our Lady asked the shepherdess for a beautiful ram and her favorite goat: “The ram, beautiful Lady, I will give you; I will discount it from my pay. But the goat, no, I would miss her. Even if you offered me thirty livres for her, I will not give her away.”
One day Our Lady sent Benoîte to Mass. When she entered the church, her flock went elsewhere. After Mass, she sought them out anxiously and began to weep when they failed to appear. Then, Our Lady appeared with the sheep saying: “I was pleased because you did not become impatient. I wanted to test your patience.”
As the news of these supernatural events began to spread and investigations began, Our Lady told Benoîte to go to Laus where the people were very pious. For years, they had venerated Our Lady of the Good Encounter (referring to the Annunciation) in a chapel there. Benoîte would see Our Lady again in this chapel.
Our Lady promised to turn this very poor chapel into a large church. Benoîte was ordered to pray much for sinners. Meanwhile, countless miracles took place at the shrine, leading to many pilgrimages.
At the same time, Benoîte suffered persecution. The priests of the nearby Dijon cathedral were envious of Laus, which was taking the place of Dijon as a great center for pilgrimage. They also objected to the devotion of Our Lady of the Good Encounter that drew people to Laus. Thus, the priests conducted an inquiry into the seer. Benoîte was very frightened by the questioning and called upon the Blessed Virgin to rescue her. Our Lady told her to answer all the priests’ questions and not to be afraid of anything. She said the priests can give orders to her Son through the power given to them, but not to her.
After a very severe trial, Benoîte was found innocent, and the little chapel of Laus grew immensely. In 1891, Leo XIII honored it with the title of minor basilica. One grace granted to the chapel by the Mother of God was the power of the oil from the sanctuary lamp to heal disease.
Benoîte lived for 71 years, fully dedicating herself to the Blessed Virgin. She experienced continuous visions, prayed uninterruptedly and practiced severe penances. She converted many people by her gift of miracles and the ability to see another’s conscience. The devil horribly persecuted her, to the point that she even shed tears of blood. When the first missionary priests of this devotion died, they were replaced by Jansenist priests who persecuted the seer and suppressed the devotion to Our Lady for twenty years.
However, Our Lady comforted her daughter amid so many sufferings in an extraordinary supernatural fashion. Benoîte had the whole heavenly court kept her company as represented by the saints and angels. Saint Gervasius, Saint Barbara, Saint Joseph and Saint Catherine of Siena devoted themselves to her in all simplicity. The angels helped her clean the chapel and pray the Rosary. They even translated excerpts from the Latin psalms into French.
The angels played gently with her to distract her making sure she did not overdo her mortifications. On one occasion, they did not listen to her and caused her to incur some expense. Benoîte complained to Our Lady that their action had “cost me four francs.” On another occasion, an angel rebuked her because of her impatient zeal. She answered firmly: “If you had a body like ours, dear angel, you would see what we would do.” Once Our Lady appeared to her with many angels who were all talking among themselves. Benoîte did not hesitate to tell them: “Go now and let your Mother speak.”
Benoîte also received the stigmata of the Passion of Our Lord. She died a few days after Christmas in 1718. When she passed away, the entire valley of Laus was flooded with a pleasant perfume.
The life of this poor shepherdess serves as a model for the relationship we should have with Our Lady. We should be true children venerating Our Lady by imitating Benoîte who treated her with complete trust and affection. Through this affectionate and respectful relationship, Our Lady grants us certain liberties reserved to those who treat her in this manner.
We have all seen mothers who enjoy playing with their children sitting on their laps by engaging in familiar and intimate interactions. For example, a mother might take a ball from her child’s hand, and the child will take it back from her. The mother takes the ball knowing that the child will take it back. The child does not do this in a disobedient or angry manner.
Some of Benoîte ‘s experiences are like this. In the story of the goat, Our Lady asked for the goat, yet wished for her to respond as she did. Our Lady is pleased to see a candid and detached soul acting like this. She takes pleasure in this interplay like the mother who likes it when her child responds to the game and takes the ball back from her hand. She does not take the ball away to deprive the child of something, but as a way to form the child and to enjoy seeing the child’s personality develop.
Therefore, we should also act naturally in our relationship with Our Lady. Like Benoîte, we can be open and honest with her. Our Lady experiences joy when contemplating the personality of each one of us. She rejoices our being the way we are. As long as we are virtuous, she delights in our particular temperament, talents and unique personality. Even when we fall short, she still likes to look at each of us as a masterpiece of God. She likes to help us walk on the path of virtue. Like every true mother, Our Lady nurtures a unique intimacy with each child different from that of her other children.
Take, for example, a good mother of a large family. By looking at her relationship with each child, we can see whether she is a good mother of them all. This is because she knows that each relationship is tailored to the personality of the child. A good mother loves, takes care of and stimulates each one according to his uniqueness.
Our Lady has this particular disposition in her relationship with each one of us. If we take the devotion of Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort seriously, we would understand this disposition and discover our relationship with her reserved for us alone that she will nurture. The sacred slavery to Our Lady leads to this kind of intimacy. Each of us has our relationship with her, and she kindly accepts our particular way of being. Such a union cannot be standardized, because it would diminish the beauty of her work, which consists of a great diversity of relationships, each gifted with its particular nuance.
Our Lady wanted to make known the experience of Benoîte as an example of all she will give us if we know how to ask. She is open to us and deals with each of us according to how we are and how we react to her. We only need to ask her boldly, and she will give us everything. This sacred slavery to Our Lady has an aspect that could be called “sacred intimacy with Our Lady,” or “a sacred and personal relationship with Our Lady.” We have the impression she only exists for us and reveals herself just for us. This is the beauty and the splendor of Our Lady that is revealed in this admirable story of the apparitions at Laus.
We can also apply this example to the Catholic Church. Every Catholic sees a firmament of beauty in the Church that is never exactly the same as that seen by another. The Church fills the soul of each person. Whether small or large, each soul is filled to the brim and beyond. Each experiences the Church like the manna that satisfied the palate of the one consuming it. A special flavor is found just for that person. Every righteous person can say: If the Catholic Church existed only for me, it would be exactly the way I see it. This is true because the Catholic Church reflects all these multiple aspects. This is the work of God, and each has a unique way to love Our Lord God, Our Lady, and the Catholic Church.