One God, One People

(3rd Sunday of Lent: Exodus 3:1-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-12; Luke 13:1-9)

Today’s parable of the fig tree is found only in the Gospel of Luke. We cannot fail, however, to see the parallel at La Salette. Like the gardener trying to save the tree, the Beautiful Lady presents herself as praying without ceasing for her people.

In the first reading, God says: “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them.” Mary witnessed her people’s sin—in particular the cries of complaint mingled with the name of her Son—but also their suffering. She came down to provide a remedy to both.

St. Paul writes about “our ancestors.” on their way to the promised land. He concludes: “God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did.”

Now few if any of the Corinthian believers were of Jewish descent, and the same is true for us. But our Christian heritage includes the Old Testament, and in other places Paul says explicitly that we are children of Abraham.

We are therefore the one chosen people of the one true God, whose boundlessly mysterious name is “I AM.” What cry does he hear from us today? Do we grumble, or do we turn to the Lord in prayer? Do we derive the full benefit of the spiritual food and spiritual drink that has been given to us?

Good news travels fast, they say. That may be true, but bad news gets more attention. Today’s Gospel mentions two tragic events. Jesus’ response is, “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

That saying may seem uncaring, but it reflects the urgency of Jesus’ mission. So, too, at La Salette, Mary opened her discourse with the words, “If my people refuse to submit.” She had to make an impact.

Both, however, leave ample room for hope. So, let us turn to the Lord with the opening prayer of today’s Mass: “that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy.”

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

Model Christians?

(2nd Sunday of Lent: Genesis 15:5-18; Philippians 3:17—4:1; Luke 9:28-36)

Who among us would be so bold as to hold herself or himself up as a model of Christian faith and life? Yet that is what Paul does in the second reading. “Join with others in being imitators of me, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us.”

This is not boasting, but an honest declaration of Paul’s dedication to Christ and the Church. He was keenly aware of having been chosen, privileged.

Abram, in the first reading, and Peter, James and John, in the Gospel, were singled out for special blessings. Abram received God’s promise and covenant; the disciples saw and heard wondrous things.

Others might have wondered, why them and not me? But Abram and the disciples could rightly ask, why me and not someone else? The Scriptures do not provide an answer.

At La Salette, why Maximin, why Mélanie, and not persons more suited to the task ahead? In our La Salette world, why you, why us?

Those who truly experience God’s presence are transfigured, sometimes suddenly, but more often gradually. We see this in the lives of many saints. Maybe you have seen it in people you know. Have you never thought in their presence, “It is good that we are here”?

How did they reach this state? Very likely, their transfiguration was intertwined with conversion, as they responded to the command from heaven, echoed at La Salette, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

God took Abram outside to show him the stars. Jesus took Peter, James and John and went up the mountain to pray and reveal his glory before his final journey to Jerusalem.

The Beautiful Lady, revealed in light, attracts people first to herself, but ultimately to Jesus. She wants to transform pitiable sinners into saints washed clean in the blood of the lamb.

In the place of Abram or the three disciples, what promises would we hear, what wonders might we see? Not all of us will become models for others to imitate, but some may well do so. Why not you?

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

A Time of Testing

(1st Sunday of Lent: Deuteronomy 24:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13)

Lent is upon us. We have made resolutions, perhaps to attend daily Mass or say more prayers. We have imposed certain sacrifices on ourselves (fasting from electronic devices, for example), possibly in view of benefiting others. In a very real sense, we are testing ourselves.

By that very fact, we are exposing ourselves to temptation. We might start to wonder if we have taken on too much, or be inclined to make exceptions, to relax our discipline, or redefine prayer, fasting, almsgiving.

Lent and La Salette go well together. Both call us to conversion and place the crucified Christ before our eyes—not to mention the fact that the Beautiful Lady explicitly mentioned Lent in her discourse.

In the Scriptures, “tempt” and “test” are interchangeable. Thus, in tempting Jesus in the desert, the devil was putting him to the test.

Remember that the forty days of Jesus in the desert came when he was “newly baptized.” He had just heard the voice from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This is why the devil introduces two of the temptations by saying, “If you are the Son of God.” We must not think that Jesus was not really tempted to prove that.

Similarly, a conversion experience typically is followed by a time of testing. Many pilgrims to La Salette respond to Mary’s call. The challenge for them will be when they go back down from the mountain and return to their everyday life, especially if people around them are not supportive.

In the first reading, a ritual is described which hints at the forty years during which the Hebrews wandered in the desert after God delivered them from slavery “with his strong hand and outstretched arm.” They tested the Lord many times. Today, God is still there, waiting for us to believe with all our heart, and to place our faith and trust in him.

Each of us finds our own way to observe Lent, but it is not purely personal. We will need each other’s prayers, sacrifices, and support if we want to truly journey with Christ in heart and spirit. Let us encourage each other to pray more, fast more, give more, as we dare to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”

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

What’s in Your Heart?

(8th Ordinary Sunday: Sirach 27:4-7; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45)

There is an ad for a credit card that ends with the question, “What’s in your wallet?” Sirach, in today’s first reading, and Jesus in the Gospel, both ask, in effect, “What’s in your heart?” and they look for the answer in how we speak.

Sirach compares speech to the sifting of grain, revealing how much, or how little, substance there is in our mind and heart. At La Salette, Mary uses an even stronger image. “If you have wheat, you must not sow it. Anything you sow the vermin will eat, and whatever does grow will fall into dust when you thresh it.”

This is, first, a warning of the famine that lies ahead; but it is also an apt symbol of the state of her people’s faith, which has fallen into dust, blighted by indifference. This is a great tragedy.

The Gospel, too, reminds us of our faults. Jesus says, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” It can be easy to criticize others, as if our personal behavior and opinions were normative for everyone else. This attitude, and perhaps many others, are not easy to overcome.

But all is not lost. Otherwise, the Beautiful Lady would never have come.

St. Paul, at the end of the long chapter on the resurrection, cries out: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? ... Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Yes, we need to labor, to strive to live our faith with integrity. The victory is not ours to win, however. It is beyond our strength—but not beyond our reach. At La Salette Mary reminds us of the means placed at our disposal in the Church and in our personal lives, making it possible for us to share Christ’s triumph over sin and death.

Hope of victory is more than wishing for it. It is based on promises like that of today’s psalm: “They that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of the house of our God.” Is that in your heart?

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

What a Challenge!

(7th Ordinary Sunday: 1 Samuel 26:2-23; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38)

At La Salette, Mary reminded us of our obligation to honor the Lord’s Name and the Lord’s Day (Mass and rest), to respect the discipline of Lent, and to pray. These are all included in her call to submit.

There is ample material here for an examination of conscience. But today’s Gospel helps us to understand that doing what the Beautiful Lady asks is just the beginning.

Jesus makes it clear that he expects much more of his disciples than the observance of the Law. The commandments are the foundation, not the whole structure. Some of his listeners must have thought he was going too far in requiring a peaceful, even submissive attitude, towards their enemies. In our time, too, it is not easy to accept such demands.

Does our faith make us better persons? In the first reading we find an excellent model in David. His faith in the God of Israel never wavered. So, when he had the opportunity to destroy his mortal enemy, King Saul, he showed him mercy instead, rather than strike the Lord’s anointed.

This is what the world needs today. It’s what the world has always needed, and will always need. There never was and can never be an excess of charity, that love which is poured into our hearts by God. It will never be perfect or complete, because, as St. Paul says in the second reading, we bear the earthly image of the earthly man, Adam.

We need not be discouraged, however. We are never beyond God’s power to forgive. We can, by God’s grace, bear the image of the heavenly man, Jesus Christ.

At the same time, we must not be complacent, as though our thoughts and words and actions really do not matter to God. The Lord knows what we think and say and do, but he also knows our hearts. For example, when we carry out Jesus’ command, “Give to everyone who asks of you,” is our motive pure?

Oh, the challenge of being faithful and faith-filled! With all our heart, let us pray the words of today’s opening prayer: “Grant that we may carry out in both word and deed that which is pleasing to you.”

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

Like a Tree

(6th Ordinary Sunday: Jeremiah 17:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26)

Twice today we encounter the image of a fruit tree planted by a source of water. Jeremiah uses it to describe those who trust in the Lord; the Psalm applies it to those who delight in meditating on God’s law. Both paint a painful image of those who place their trust and delight elsewhere.

At first glance, Jesus seems to use the same language, but it is clear that “woe to you” is very different from a curse. It is a warning. We find a similar concern at times in the context of La Salette. What some people read as Mary’s threats are more correctly understood as warnings.

The theme of the tree can be applied to all of today’s readings, and to La Salette as well. The point of Jesus’ beatitudes and woes, and of Mary’s promises and warnings, is to invite us to place our trust in God and not in ourselves.

Even the second reading, in which Paul insists on the truth of the resurrection of the body, connects to the same theme. As Greeks, the Corinthians prided themselves on their philosophy, which had no concept of bodily life after death. Paul expresses a sort of woe when he writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.”

Returning to the idea of the tree planted by water, remember that water is a strong symbol at La Salette. Mary came to help her people have deep roots and unfading green leaves and abundant fruit.

Besides the physical stream, the Beautiful Lady reminds us of another stream that is always a source of life. “Do you say your prayers well, my children?... You should say them well, at night and in the morning.” If she had been thinking of Psalm 1, she might have asked, “Do you delight in the law of the Lord?... You should meditate on his law day and night.”

As you know, plants need not only water but light as well. Prayer can be likened also to photosynthesis, enabling us to take in the light of Christ, which will work together with the water so that we may be strong in our faith and live in abiding hope.

For storms will surely come, dark and difficult days, but blessed are we if we remain united to our Risen Lord and to his Blessed Mother.

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

Deeper Waters

(5th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11)

There are many similarities in today’s three readings. For example, an extraordinary encounter with the Lord caused Isaiah, Paul, and Simon to be keenly aware of their sinfulness. This may be part of our own experience, too.

Another comparison is less obvious, but equally important. Jesus tells Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” and, a few verses later, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Isaiah and Paul were likewise admitted to the depths of God’s mystery, and given a mission.

At La Salette, the image is again different, but the reality is the same. We are drawn upward, to a mountain height but, with Mélanie and Maximin, we receive a mission, to make an important message known by our words and by our life.

Isaiah was especially troubled, but received a sign of God’s forgiveness when the burning ember touched his lips. Mary identified some of the sins by which her people were offending the Lord; and she reminded us of the importance of practicing our Catholic faith, especially the Eucharist which Jesus instituted “for the forgiveness of sins.” Remember this the next time the consecrated host passes your lips.

The Church also provides the sign of absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which every La Salette priest treasures in his heart. The beautiful stories we could tell!

We come once again to three key “La Salette words:” reconciliation (acknowledging and accepting our unworthiness); conversion (turning back to God and accepting his forgiveness]; and making the message known (evangelizing).

In Simon’s case, this began with his allowing Jesus to use his boat as a stage from which to teach the crowds. Little did he know where this simple act of welcome would lead.

The clear message which the Beautiful Lady proclaimed at La Salette is one which the world still greatly needs. If in our hearts and actions we let Jesus into the humble boat of our lives and go deeper at his command, who knows what good we might do?

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

A Safe Place

(4th Ordinary Sunday: Jeremiah 1:4-19; 1 Corinthians 12:31—13:13; Luke 4:21-30)

We begin this reflection with a prayer, for ourselves or others in need, addressed to the Lord in today’s Psalm. “Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety, for you are my rock and my fortress.”

God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you.” Imagine what it would be like to hear such words, to be certain that the Lord has a plan for us.

Jeremiah was young and inexperienced, and tried to refuse; but God promised to be with him and, as we hear in today’s first reading, to make him “a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,” ready for the hard life that lay ahead.

Perhaps we are more willing than Jeremiah, but we still need the same assurances he received. We need a sense of security, trusting always that the Lord is our refuge.

Consider Maximin and Mélanie, totally unprepared for their call. The sweetness of the Beautiful Lady’s voice made them feel safe, and the memory of her tenderness must have been a refuge for them as they faced the incredulity, and even hostility, of many people.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus did not initially meet with outright rejection in his hometown, but neither did he find the welcome he might reasonably have expected. His old neighbors seem to have thought that he was putting on airs. We too, when we seek to share our faith, might sometimes, sad to say, be better received by people who know us less well.

As we read St. Paul’s famous description of love, in the second reading, the image of God himself keeps coming to mind. This ought not to come as a surprise, since St. John, in his First Letter (4:16), writes, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”

Our prayer might therefore take this form: “Your love is everything, O Lord. In it I take refuge, and I will never be put to shame.” Let us anchor ourselves to the rock of our salvation, i.e., a loving relationship with God, as we seek to bring reconciliation to our world.

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

The Ambo

(3rd Ordinary Sunday: Nehemiah 8:2-10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1: 1-4 and 4:14-21)

In the first reading Ezra stands on a platform specially built for the occasion, so that he may be better seen and heard, as he reads the Book of the Law.

That structure is familiar to us, of course, since we see it in most of our churches as the ambo. Its purpose is to highlight the importance of the Word of God which is proclaimed there. It is also used for the preaching of the homily and for the Prayer of the Faithful.

The ambo as an architectural element within a church is prominent. Is there a place of prominence within ourselves and our domestic church where the Word (The Law) is revered, kept, and announced? At La Salette, Mary showed that this was not the case.

So, she chose a high place, a mountain ambo, to bring her great news, a reminder of things forgotten by her people. These include the Law, of course, but not merely a list of rules and regulations. She did not come only to say that our fallen nature and sin have separated us from God, but she wanted us to know that God still wants us to be in relationship with him, if we would but convert, putting the Word back in a prominent place in our everyday lives.

The diverse ways in which we can do this are highlighted in our second reading, in which St. Paul continues his commentary on the gifts of the Spirit. We are all needed, each of us with our uniqueness, to serve the whole body. Our individuality should not create points of isolation and separation but be a gift to bring to the whole body of Christ.

It is hard to imagine two persons more different from each other than Mélanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud. But Mary chose them both. We who have received that unique La Salette missionary zeal, should also see ourselves as part of a whole, and find that one grace, that one gift, by which we can contribute to the whole and strengthen the Whole Body of Christ.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus recognizes himself in the words of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me... He has sent me....” We too are anointed and sent in our own way. May these weekly reflections, in the spirit of the Beautiful Lady, be an ambo from which Jesus is faithfully proclaimed.

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

So Many Gifts

(2nd Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11)

We concluded last week’s reflection with these words: “Let us never forget or neglect the gift we received in our baptism.” Today’s readings will help us expand upon that theme.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet described his calling. God asked, “Whom shall I send?” and Isaiah volunteered: “Here I am, send me!” Today, in Isaiah 62, he says, “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet.” He was the voice of God among his people; ever attentive to God’s will, he proclaimed it faithfully.

Today’s Gospel tells the story of the Wedding at Cana. Because the focus is on a miracle, we do not usually think of this passage in the context of prophecy. And yet, Mary performs a prophetic role. Recognizing the will of God in the need of others, she is not silent. She speaks to Jesus. Then, in words that echo all the prophets, she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus then gives a prophetic sign.

At La Salette we see the same dynamic. Like the prophets, Mary pleads our cause before the Lord. To us she speaks through warnings—reminding us of what we must do—and promises—showing what we may hope for—to which she adds the persuasive power of tears.

Prophecy is not given to everyone. The second reading makes that eminently clear. Saint Paul mentions no less than seven other gifts of the Spirit. In fact, if we consider the history the Church, there are Religious Congregations whose vocation is... silence!

In the context of so many gifts, “I will not be silent” becomes, “I will not resist the movement of the Spirit.” Whatever our gift is, we must put it to use. Saint Paul writes, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit,” that is, for others, first in the Christian community, but also beyond.

When we put our gifts at the service of others, we are also carrying out the command expressed in the Responsorial Psalm: “Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.”

Accepting God’s will means that the gift of faith received at baptism will find expression in other gifts. One such is our La Salette vocation.

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

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