How to Serve the Lord, and Why

(21st Ordinary Sunday: Joshua 24:1-18; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69)

Warning! This week’s readings will challenge all of us in different ways.

The last time we encountered these readings (three years ago), the title of the reflection was Whom shall we Serve?Everything pointed to the obvious answer— we serve the Lord. For us, the decision is made! We, like Joshua, choose to serve the Lord. Great! Now what? Next comes the how.

What does it actually mean to serve the Lord? What can we do? Our Lady of La Salette gives a partial list: daily prayer, weekly Eucharist, the annual discipline of Lent, respect for the name of the Lord.

The full list comes to us from the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church, which also place before us the importance of love of neighbor, through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

So we are called to prayer, love, mercy. But the how of service does not end with the performance of these things. All of these presuppose two fundamental attitudes: submission and conversion, which we always experience as challenging.

Joshua gave the people options. He said, “Decide today whom you will serve.” This was their moment of truth. They gave the right answer: “We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” Was that enough?

The real how of serving the Lord may be summed up as follows: if I faithfully, truly and honestly want to serve the Lord, I may do so only if my commitment to him is absolutely unconditional. But can I really be so sure?

The answer to that question brings us to the why. Simon Peter spoke for the Apostles and, we hope, for us, when he said, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

What a powerful statement of faith! Is it ours, too? Do we really believe that our life is nothing without Christ? Are we willing to accept his will, and even be subordinate to each other, out of reverence for him?

The challenges are many, but still we may hope to cry out with the psalmist, “Let my soul glory in the Lord!”

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Ark of the Covenant

(Assumption: 1 Chron. 15:3-4,15-16 to 16:1-2; 1 Cor. 15:54-57; Luke 11:27-28. NOTE: These readings are for the Vigil Mass.)

It was a great and festive day in Jerusalem! The Ark of the Covenant was coming home, as the first reading tells us, “to the place which David had prepared for it.” Today we celebrate Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, as she is taken up to the place which the Father prepared for her in heaven.

Just as the Ark built by Moses was the great sign of God’s presence among his people, so the Virgin’s womb brought the Son of God among us. In today’s Gospel, a woman in the crowd called out to Jesus, saying, “Blessed is the womb that carried you!” She was perhaps the first to fulfill the Virgin’s own prophecy, uttered in her Magnificat: “All generations will call me blessed.”

It is because Mary was assumed into heaven that we have her apparition at La Salette (amongst others). Her radiance as the Queen of Heaven, is the light of Christ shining out from her. Everything in the apparition ultimately points to Christ. Here, too, she is the Ark, bringing her Son to her people yet again.

The Beautiful Lady echoes Jesus’ reply to the woman of the Gospel, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it,” with her own words, “If they are converted.” She promises all kinds of graces, and mercy in abundance.

The Assumption reflects St. Paul’s words in the second reading, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” La Salette shows the tragic connection between sin and death, but at the same time offers the means of triumphing over both. How do we partake of this victory? A good starting place is to observe the commandments preserved on stone tablets in the original Ark of the Covenant.

If you have been to La Salette and taken part in the candlelight procession at night, you have probably experienced the special enthusiasm that accompanies the singing of the La Salette Angelus and the end of the service. It is like David’s command to the musicians and singers “to make a loud sound of rejoicing.”

May our love for Our Lady of La Salette be always a source of joy in our hearts.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Life in Christ, Together

(19th Ordinary Sunday: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51)

Eiljah was a powerful and successful prophet. It is strange, then, to hear him, in the first reading, praying for death and saying, “This is enough, O Lord!”

Not many of us ask for death, but there are times when our prayer is, “Enough, Lord!” It may seem to us that the times we live in are harder than for earlier generations; we witness bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling and malice.

Does this list sound familiar? It should, because it is taken from today’s second reading, written over 1,950 years ago. There have always existed attitudes and behaviors that could prevent Christians from having a loving, faith-filled relationship with God.

It is bad enough when the negativity is directed against others, whom we perceive as enemies. We see this in the murmuring of those who disapproved of Jesus’ claim of having come down from heaven.

But it is worse when the bitterness is directed against God. Mary, at La Salette, spoke of the abuse of her Son’s name, and a general turning away from the practice of the faith. Even Maximin and Mélanie had to admit that they hardly ever prayed.

Prayer is the solution. God heard Elijah’s prayer, not by taking his life but by giving him strength. Private prayer is effective. That of the Christian community is even more so. In the Psalm today we hear, “Glorify the Lord with me, let us together extol his name.”

When we participate in the Eucharist together, and “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” not only do we escape, at least for a while, the reviling and malice in the world around us, but we seek healing for those same faults in ourselves. Then, like Elijah, “strengthened by that food,” we can hope to carry a community attitude into our everyday lives.

In this way, the La Salette message of conversion and reconciliation becomes an expression of St. Paul’s words: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God.”

An angel of God woke Elijah and provided food. The Beautiful Lady woke her people and directed them to the Bread of Life, the flesh of her Son, “given for the life of the world.” Without it we cannot truly live.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Signs and Wonders

(18th Ordinary Sunday: Exodus 16:2-15; Ephesians 4:17-24; John 6:24-35)

In the three-year cycle of the Sunday Lectionary, we are currently in “Year B,” which highlights the Gospel of Mark on the Sundays in Ordinary Time. But there is always a four-week break, when the Church presents the “Bread of Life Discourse” from Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.

Today we have the opening, a curious exchange between Jesus and people who had been fed at the multiplication of loaves and fishes. “Rabbi, when did you get here?”—“Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”

They had seen what he did, of course, and they continued to seek him out because they wanted more—more of the same. But they had not seen the sign; they had missed the meaning of the event.

In the first reading, the Israelites in the desert longed for the fleshpots of Egypt, forgetting the signs and wonders by which they had been rescued from slavery, and murmuring not so much against Moses and Aaron as against the Lord their God.

At La Salette, Our Lady describes a similar behavior. Twice she mentions people swearing and throwing in her Son’s name.

There seems to have been a longing for the past among the Christians of Ephesus. St. Paul writes, “You should put away the old self of your former way of life.” At the very least, they needed to learn that a genuine relationship with the Lord was not compatible with gentile ways, a message echoed at La Salette.

La Salette also has signs and wonders: the light, the tears, the roses, the chains, and the crucifix, the simple peasant garb; and let us not forget the once seasonal spring that has never ceased flowing since September of 1846. Also, in her discourse, Mary makes a wondrous promise, biblical in its extravagance, of abundant harvests for those who will return to God.

What does it take for us to have a truly personal relationship with the Lord, not based only on obedience or on our needs? How can we be worthy tabernacles of God’s grace? We can begin by seeing the signs of his presence, and recognizing the wonders of his love, as shown by the Beautiful Lady.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Jesus and Human Need

(17th Ordinary Sunday: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34)

Among the many forms of human suffering is the one put before us in today’s Gospel: food insecurity. In this case the situation was of short duration. Jesus responded to an immediate need on a specific occasion.

But, like Jesus, we too can ask how it is possible to respond to the needs of so many. Some of us, like Philip and Andrew, may answer that it can’t be done. But the evangelist tells us, “Jesus himself knew what he was going to do.”

Some of you reading this have experienced food insecurity, perhaps combined with anxiety over lodging, work, etc. Many have not. In which set of circumstances is the grace of God more active?

At La Salette, Mary noted that people worked on Sundays all summer. But, with potatoes, wheat, grapes and even walnuts all showing signs of blight, farmers were desperate to save what little they could. It is hard to be open to spiritual realities when material needs demand our full attention.

On the other hand, if we are so taken up with what we possess that we are unable to respond to others’ needs, it is equally hard to live in the Spirit, to grow and work and learn in community. Compassion and empathy are gifts. Do we desire them?

Jesus fed the hungry multitude because he saw their need, and he saw their need because he wanted to see it. Mary was aware of her people’s food insecurity, and she offered hope, “if they are converted.” Conversion, too, is a gift. Do we desire it?

St. Paul writes, “I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.” He focuses especially on unity: “one body and one Spirit.” How is this possible if some members are in dire need and other members do not help them?

Can we dare to pray for the gifts of conversion and compassion in our lives, to ask the Lord to make us like himself, willing to recognize the needs around us?

At the beginning of the Gospel we read that Jesus “saw that a large crowd was coming to him.” With little, he met the need of many. When Christians respond to others’ needs, the goal is to help them come to Christ. That was Mary’s purpose at La Salette.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Rest in the Lord

(16th Ordinary Sunday: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34)

It is time to once again stop and reflect on today’s readings from a La Salette perspective.

Jeremiah proclaims God’s condemnation of “the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture.” But does the flock bear no responsibility? Real sheep cannot be blamed for being sheep, but when dealing with human beings, the image can go only so far. We have a conscience.

In its chapter on The Dignity of the Human Person, the Catechism of the Catholic Church includes a section on conscience. It begins with a quotation from Vatican II: “Man has in his heart a law inscribed by God.... His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

It then presents Church teaching under four headings, one of which is, The Formation of Conscience. The underlying premise is faith, such as the Psalmist today expresses in the Lord, his Shepherd.

Around the time of the French revolution, the philosophy of separation of Church and State, logical enough in itself, had led to serious anticlericalism. Since then, it is possible in France to celebrate a “civil baptism” for a newborn child, who is placed “under the protection of the Republic’s lay institutions.”

This attitude was behind people’s neglect of the Eucharist, and of religious practice in general, which Mary complained of at La Salette. Her people had been led astray.

Jeremiah conveys God’s promise: “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock.” The Beautiful Lady offers hope to those who will but return to her Son.

Today there are many “shepherds” competing for the trust of the flock. The list includes scientists, governments, psychologists, news commentators, etc. Some are overtly hostile to religion. How are we to cope?

Today’s Gospel offers a hint. Jesus says to his Apostles after their missionary journey, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” That didn’t happen, but the principle is sound. We need to get away sometimes from all the distractions, to rest with the Lord who refreshes our soul, and to pray well.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

What we Were... What we Are

(15th Ordinary Sunday: Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13)

The La Salette connection to today’s first reading is obvious. Amos says, “I was no prophet...; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

The Blessed Virgin spoke to two children who were certainly no prophets. She took them from following their cows, and said, “You will make this known to all my people.”

The Apostles, sent out as missionaries by Jesus in today’s Gospel, could say much the same thing: I was just a fisherman, just a tax collector, just an activist. The Lord took me from that, he changed my life entirely. Much later Paul, not one of the original Twelve, did not hesitate to tell others that he had been a persecutor of the Church until his encounter with Jesus.

Put yourself in their sandals. What were you? What are you now? We have all experienced life-changing events, of course. Some, like faith, are fundamental.

Even for those who have been practicing Catholics all their life, there comes a moment when prayer, the sacraments, Scripture, etc., all take on a new, more personal meaning and importance; they matter as they have never mattered before. This is conversion.

It may take place gradually, but at La Salette, it tends to be more sudden. Many an unsuspecting tourist to the Holy Mountain returns later as a pilgrim. The confessional is where most La Salette miracles take place.

In the second reading, Paul reminds us twice that we are chosen by God. Both times, however, he adds, “in him,” namely, in Christ. As La Salettes we might be tempted to think we have been chosen “in Mary,” but that would be incorrect. The very heart of the Beautiful Lady’s Apparition is Jesus, whose crucified image she wears over her heart.

If we truly believe, and have our faith properly rooted in Christ, then we can give glory to God as he summons us and sends us out to prophesy, to proclaim, to make a message known. We may have been something else, but now as we are converted and reconciled to God through his Son, we can in confidence turn our attention to the mission, whatever, wherever it may be.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Sufficient Grace

(14th Ordinary Sunday: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6)

Most of us are willing to make sacrifices for a cause, or for others, perhaps even for our faith. But can we honestly say with St. Paul: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ”? That’s no small feat!

Yet, that is what Paul claims in today’s second reading. Note, however, that originally he was not at all content, when he was being tormented by what he calls “a thorn in the flesh,” and when his insistent prayer for release was not heard. Finally the Lord replied, “My grace is sufficient for you.” That was a revelation to Paul and, through him, to us.

Sufficient grace was promised to Ezekiel in the first reading. He describes it as a spirit entering him and setting him on his feet, preparing him to face the rebellious people of God. “Whether they heed or resist, they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”

Have you ever been in that position? Holding others accountable is a thankless job, and those who are called to do so may well be perceived as a thorn in the flesh and treated with hostility.

For us who love Our Lady of La Salette so much, it is impossible to think that anyone could be hostile to the Apparition. But we must acknowledge that some things in the message and history of La Salette are troubling, both to ordinary folk and to theologians.

Maximin and Mélanie had to deal with that opposition; but they received sufficient grace to accomplish their mission in their time and place. Even though they were given an education, they remained fundamentally the simple persons they had always been. Like Jesus in the Gospel, they were criticized for being who they were.

But we may boast of their weaknesses. Look at what was accomplished through them. There can be no doubt that the Beautiful Lady accompanied them. Can we doubt that she accompanies us?

Conversion is a difficult but essential part of the message each of us strives to make known. By the sufficient grace of God, may the people know, in our time and place, that a prophet was among them.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

In the Crowd

(13th Ordinary Sunday: Wisdom 1:13-15 & 2:23-24; 2 Cor 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43)

Imagine yourself in the crowd following Jesus in today’s Gospel. Do you press in as close as possible to the famous man? Or do you say, “I’m out of here!” and go to the fringe of the crowd, where you can watch from a comfortable distance?

It all depends on how you feel in large groups, being jostled about, with people brushing against you, as in the scene Mark describes. But wait! As followers of the Lord, should we not be open to the possibility that someone in the crowd needs something from us?

Avoidance is not the mark of Jesus’ disciples. On the contrary, we are called to be attentive to the needs of those around us and to respond as we are able. Sometimes we may be inclined to pass judgment on those in need; that is only an attempt to justify our unchristian behavior.

We find the best example in Jesus, of course. But the Beautiful Lady of La Salette tells us herself that we will never be able to repay her efforts on our behalf as she deserves. And now, she comes, hoping to preserve her people. Her message may be summed up with the words of Jesus to Jairus: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

If we live by that saying, we may well hear the voice of Jesus saying to us as to the woman who touched him, “Your faith has saved you” and, as to the daughter of Jairus, “I say to you, arise!”

Perhaps it is that experience that makes the Sacrament of Reconciliation so important at La Salette Shrines. When we approach Jesus in the person of the priest, like the woman in the Gospel who “told him the whole truth,” we believe that power goes out from him, healing us and helping us to go in peace.

This experience also can form us, so that we may be prepared and willing to be touched by those in need of reconciliation, healing, conversion and comfort. Thus we participate in “the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,” of which St. Paul writes in the second reading.

What a beautiful way to imitate Christ and our Blessed Mother! Let us go into our world, with today’s Psalm response in our hearts, “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.” Amen! Amen! Amen!

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Storms and Faith

(12th Ordinary Sunday: Job 38:1, 8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41)

If we notice only the words God speaks to Job in the first reading, we can miss an important point: “The Lord addressed Job out of the storm.” God is not only the Master of the storm, he is there within it.

Job had to deal with physical sufferings, bewilderment, and the misguided comfort offered by his friends. All this caused a storm within him. What he did not know was that God was in the storm with him, protecting him even as he allowed Job to be tested.

In the Psalm, God raised up the storm and then, in answer to prayer, “hushed it to a gentle breeze.” The Gospel shows Jesus sleeping during a squall, while the boat was filling up with water. The disciples’ cries to him were not prayers but complaints: “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus in turn reproaches them: “Do you not yet have faith?”

The Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette raised the same question. Panic in the face of the approaching famine was beginning to assume storm-like proportions in the local towns and beyond. Where was their faith? The Beautiful Lady came to show them that they were not abandoned, and that what mattered to them mattered to God.

We too can cry to the Lord in our distress (in our storms), if only with the imperfect faith of the disciples. It may not be a rescue in the way we imagine it and, like Job, we may have to ride out the storm.

Look at our lives during times of trouble and discord or loss. It is at these times we come to appreciate the people who are there to offer comfort, support, and help. We learn who our true friends are.

This is true in our spiritual lives as well, if we have faith, and believe Christ is with us, ready to command the seas to be calm and the winds to be still. In fact, we might ask ourselves what our faith in God would look like if we never had to live through storms.

The second reading appears to have little in common with the rest, but “the conviction that one died for all” touches every aspect and moment of our lives, whether peaceful or stormy, for “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.”

La Salette helps bring that truth home as well.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

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