Humble Courage

(11th Ordinary Sunday: Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34)

In today’s first reading, God declares, “I, the Lord, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree.” Can you hear an echo of this in a much more familiar passage?

We are thinking of Mary’s Magnificat: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.”

The key notion in both texts is humility, which is equally essential to the message of Our Lady of La Salette. The Beautiful Lady saw that her people had been brought low. But instead of humbling themselves, they revolted. Far from them was the attitude expressed in today’s Psalm: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High, to proclaim your kindness at dawn and your faithfulness throughout the night.”

Remember how the Magnificat begins. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” This is not as easy as it sounds. Among like-minded friends, yes, we might proclaim God’s greatness and kindness. But it is a different matter in our everyday world. It can take courage.

Twice in our second reading St. Paul says that “we are courageous,” because “we walk by faith, not by sight.” In other words, we place our life in God’s hands, and trust him to accomplish his work in us and through us, as mysteriously as he causes seeds and plants to grow. Jesus uses this image in today’s Gospel to describe the kingdom of God, to which each of us belongs.

Recognizing our own distinct role is not easy, however, because we are not always attentive to the subtle movements of the Spirit within us. Here are some questions that may help in that discernment. Who is your favorite saint? What is your favorite prayer, hymn, scripture passage?

More specifically for us, what is your favorite part of the story of La Salette? What part of the message stirs you most deeply?

The answers to these questions can help us discern the manner in which the Lord wishes us to serve him. Accepting that call will probably require courage; it will certainly require humility.

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

“My Blood of the Covenant”

(Corpus Christi: Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26)

Moses in our Exodus reading says, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you.” This is very similar to Jesus’ words in the Gospel, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

The first is the blood of animals sacrificed on behalf of the chosen people. The second is the blood of Christ, “my blood,” shed for many, i.e. for all who will enter into his covenant.

A covenant is between two or more parties. Each has reasonable expectations of the other, each pledges to be faithful to the agreements made. Notice that before Moses sprinkled the Hebrews with the blood of the covenant, they declared, “All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do.” Time and again they failed, but the Lord always took them back.

After the New Covenant, the same thing happened. At La Salette the Mother of Jesus complained: “In the summer, only a few elderly women go to Mass. The rest work on Sundays all summer long. In the winter, when they don't know what to do, they go to Mass just to make fun of religion.”

Considering the centrality of the Eucharist as “source and summit” of the Church’s life, this is damning criticism indeed. For years, in many Christian communities, Church attendance has been in decline. Surveys claim that a shocking percentage of Catholics do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. (This may be because they can’t explain it.)

This is what happens when we forget that the Covenant in Christ’s blood is, first and foremost, a relationship. Today’s Psalm puts it in these terms: “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me? The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the Lord.”

If only we could be perpetually aware of God’s goodness to us! We would then be less inclined to take it for granted, or even to neglect the gift of the Eucharist, the “efficacious sign” (i.e. sacrament) of Christ’s pouring out his precious blood for us.

At Mass we echo the Psalmist’s words: “My vows to the Lord I will pay in the presence of all his people.” This, too, is part of making Mary’s message known.

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

Have you Noticed?

(Trinity Sunday: Deuteronomy 4:32-40; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20)

How many times have you thought of the Blessed Trinity in the last week? Let’s suppose you attended a Sunday Mass, recited the Rosary three times, and prayed Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer from the breviary once.

That adds up to a minimum of twenty-five times that you either heard or read or said the names of Father, Son and Spirit together. But the question is: did you think of them? Were you attentive or, to use a La Salette expression, were you praying well? Were you actually paying homage to the Most Holy Trinity?

Perhaps it is because of our tendency to distraction that the Church offers us each year a solemnity in which we may consciously worship God in all his trinitarian magnificence and glory.

The revelation of God’s inner mystery took centuries. First came creation. “He spoke, and it was made; he commanded, and it stood forth” as we read in the Responsorial. After choosing a people, he freed them from slavery, as Moses in the first reading reminds them. Finally he sent his Son, who sent us the Spirit.

Without using trinitarian language, the message of Our Lady of La Salette evokes the Father who rescued his people but whose commandments were now being ignored. Her crucifix shows the Son who redeemed and reconciled his people; they now refused him the respect and worship he deserved. Mary’s tears are her way of saying, “How could you forget?”

Might the Spirit be the source of the light of which she was made, or the inspiration behind her words? Be that as it may, Father, Son and Spirit are all reflected in her tenderness and beauty.

One might be tempted to see another trinitarian dimension in the apparition. La Salette is one and three. It a single event; but its three phases give rise to the distinct images of the Weeping Mother, the Conversation, and the Assumption.

In the second reading, St. Paul tells us we have received a “Spirit of adoption,” and we are “heirs with Christ.” Let us therefore notice what we are saying when we pray, “Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to God who is, who was, and who is to come” (Gospel Acclamation).

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

Rekindling the Fire

(Pentecost: Acts 2:1-11; Galatians 5:16-25; John 15:26-27 and 16:12-15)

The disciples had been gathering in the upper room for some time. There they prayed, they elected Matthias to replace Judas and, as Jesus had told them at his Ascension, they were waiting for “the promise of the Father.”

Then, in wind and fire, came the Spirit driving them, as it were, out of the upper room into the world to preach, “as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

In today’s Gospel Acclamation we pray: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love;” and in the Sequence: “Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.”

In the second reading, St. Paul is trying to help the Galatians understand that their sectarian quarrels (among other things) have nothing to do with the fruits of the Spirit. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit,” he writes. In other words, leave behind everything that is not of the Spirit.

When we read these words, we may be inclined to feel guilty as charged. If so, what is holding us back?

At La Salette, Mary came to rekindle the fire of God’s love in her people. With a message that was deliberately unsettling, she wanted to drive them out of their complacency, so that they might respond to their Christian vocation, as the Spirit enabled them.

The challenge of Pentecost is always the rekindling of our hearts, but not for ourselves alone. The fire is meant to spread. It is restless; if it stays in one place, it will burn out.

So also with La Salette. Visitors to the Holy Mountain often shed tears when it is time to leave. But La Salette is like the upper room of Pentecost. What is experienced there must not be confined to that place.

The Beautiful Lady appeared in light, to draw our attention back to her Son. She spoke so as to be understood. As La Salettes, it is not enough for us to repeat her words. We want to truly listen to others, to speak their language; we still need the Holy Spirit to drive us out into the world to preach, work, live and show our love for God, and thus to help us translate La Salette with our words and actions.

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

Commissioned by Christ

(Ascension, celebrated on Sunday in many dioceses: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-13; Mark 16:15-20.)

The conclusion of Mark’s Gospel, which we read today, seems to combine Luke’s story of the Ascension with Matthew’s account of Jesus’ command to proclaim the Gospel to all the world.

The commission has been given. What an awesome charge, what a grave responsibility! Have no fear, though, because Christ did not set us up for failure but ultimately for success.

In the first reading, just before the Ascension, Jesus made a promise: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem... and to the ends of the earth.”

In Mark, Jesus told his apostles of signs that would accompany their ministry, after which he was taken from their sight.

At La Salette, the Beautiful Lady promised signs that would follow, “if they are converted.” She also gave a commission, beginning with Mélanie and Maximin: “You will make this known to all my people.”

She then turned away, repeated her final command, and ascended back to heaven. She came to remind us gently of the work her Son had left for us to do, and now she was gone.

This feast is more than recognizing that Christ ascended to his rightful place at the right hand of God. It is also about us, the body of Christ here on earth, desiring to ascend also, to be with Christ the head of our Church. We need to get to work.

We have the tools, especially the sacraments. We have the instruction manual, i.e., the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. We each have our particular skill, charism and specialty to contribute; as we find in the second reading: “He gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith.”

We pray: “Lord, kindle in our hearts a longing for the heavenly homeland and cause us to press forward, following in the Savior’s footsteps, to the place where for our sake he entered before us” (Vigil Mass). As La Salettes, we long to see Mary there as well.

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

Loved and Chosen

(6th Sunday of Easter: Acts 10:25-48; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17)

Jesus tells his disciples, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” They already knew that, of course, but now, on the eve of his passion, it was an important reminder. The same words have resonated through the ages, to every generation of believers. That includes every one of us.

Maximin and Mélanie did not choose the Blessed Virgin. She chose them. Starting with them, her message, too, has borne fruit that will remain.

The choice is not exclusive. In today’s first reading, St. Peter and his companions, in the house of Cornelius, “were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God.” They could have no better confirmation of Peter’s words, “God shows no partiality.”

Thus, the words of today’s Psalm are true: “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation by our God.”

The Holy Spirit came as a gift, bringing gifts which the Church calls charisms. The charism of La Salette is not something we chose for ourselves. On the contrary, it drew us to itself. We are its ministers, proclaiming reconciliation to all the ends of the earth.

But let us not forget today’s other readings, all about love. When Jesus tells us to love one another, he provides the foundation and the model: “as I have loved you.” This means first that we must really believe he loves us, and accept his love. Then, we must strive to imitate it—a challenge echoed in the second reading.

One of the most beautiful love poems in literature begins with the words, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” If we listen to Jesus with our heart, can we hear him counting the ways he loves us?

As La Salettes, perhaps we need only look at the crucifix over the Beautiful Lady’s heart. On that holy mountain, she appeared at a time and in a place that needed a message of love and tender mercy.

So let our prayer be to accept God’s undying love, and to live it, glorifying God in word and deed, speaking in tongues of Love (with or without words).

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

Fruit of Vine or Tree

(5th Sunday of Easter: Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8)

Jesus, drawing on a sight familiar to anyone in his day, describes himself as a vine and his disciples as branches in the Father’s vineyard. For us, he might have used a different metaphor, a fruit orchard, for example. Then he would have said, “I am the tree.”

Everything else would be the same: “A branch cannot bear fruit on its own... Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” Good branches are pruned and bad ones discarded.

The Father, who tends the vine, also tends the tree. He knows that certain shoots grow fast but will never bear fruit, and if allowed to grow they will simply drain resources from the rest. He also knows exactly what is needed to promote healthy growth, and to produce the best and most abundant fruit.

Jesus seems almost to be pleading with his disciples when he says, “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” He cares about them. At La Salette, a Beautiful Lady sadly observed that some Christians were no longer heeding that appeal.

Using Mary’s own language about spoiled wheat and rotten potatoes, we might say she found the vine or tree to be in need of much pruning and care, full of blight, and covered with the useless shoots of spiritual apathy. She therefore comes with the remedy, the necessary medicine when she offers us the opportunity for conversion and reconciliation, so we, the branches, might return to bearing fruit once again.

There is another way in which La Salette is an example of what true conversion can do in producing good fruit. Look at the missionary efforts of the religious communities and lay movements which have developed around the Apparition. Through them, many persons and countries have received Mary’s “great news;” the mission has led to abundant fruits of reconciliation.

If we may favor, for a moment, the metaphor of the tree, we may think of windfall fruit, which the grower does not throw away. We might apply this to marginalized persons. They must be included in our mission; as St. John says in the second reading: “Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”

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

The Lord is my...

(4th Sunday of Easter: Acts 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18)

Most of us, if asked to finish the above title phrase, would say: Shepherd. We might even be surprised that today, often called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” we do not have the Twenty-third Psalm as our responsorial.

However, while the Gospel focuses on Jesus as Shepherd, the other readings and the Psalm provide other images or titles.

For example, Jesus is the stone rejected. St. Peter, continuing his discourse which we began reading last week, applies Psalm 118 to the people gathered around him in the Temple: “The stone rejected by you the builders,” reflecting the hostile relationship on the part of some of the people and their leaders.

At La Salette, the Blessed Virgin gave examples of the ways in which her people had rejected her Son. Have we, personally, ever deserved her reproaches? As we contemplate the crucifix on her breast, do we hear Peter’s words, speaking of “Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified”? If so, let us approach the Lord with humble repentance.

Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation of our faith and of the Church. This image is very close to what we find in Psalm 18, where David calls the Lord “my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.” Here we stand before our God in a relationship of trust.

It is the same with the Good Shepherd, of course, even though sometimes we are tempted by pride to strike out on our own, and finding only the sinful path by ourselves. Since we would never want the Shepherd to abandon us—remember Mary’s words, “If I want my Son not to abandon you”—why would we ever abandon him? We need him to guide us, to nourish us (especially in the Eucharist), to protect us.

Stone rejected, Cornerstone, Good Shepherd: see how these are not just names but relationships with God the Son.

Some might say, “The Lord is my friend,” not as an equal, of course, but as one who truly cares about us. This is part of the La Salette message.

Think about it. Who is Jesus for you? Who are you for him? Most importantly, do you feel how deeply you are loved? And do you respond in kind?

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

Come Closer

(3rd Sunday of Easter: Acts 3:13-19; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48)

Today’s title quotes Mary’s first words to the children at La Salette. She adds, “Don’t be afraid.” We recognize the pattern, in reverse, from the Scriptures.

In last Sunday’s Gospel, Thomas was invited to come so close as to touch Jesus’ wounds. Today, Luke tells a similar story. While two disciples were telling how they had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, suddenly, there he was!

He reassured them, “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”

In both accounts, Jesus’ first words are, “Peace be with you.” Of course, this might simply have been the normal greeting, “Shalom,” but the context gives it a richer meaning. The invitation to touch is viewed as a way of restoring inner peace.

It is almost as if the Church this week is giving us a second chance, a second invitation to recognize Christ crucified, Christ risen, and to desire ever more zealously to be his faithful disciples.

Peter’s speech in today’s first reading acknowledges that his audience missed their chance to accept Jesus as the Redeemer and, instead, put him to death. But all is not lost. If we read between the lines, Peter is saying, “Even you can be saved.” By telling the people to repent and be converted, he is inviting them to draw closer to the one who can give them true peace.

Is that not what Our Lady tells us? Even we can be saved. She reminds us in her own way of what we hear today in the second reading: “Jesus is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.”

After calming his disciples’ fears, Jesus said, “It is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” All are called to come closer.

Maximin said that, when he and Mélanie ran down to the Beautiful Lady, “No one could have passed between her and us.” She came to bring her people closer to her Son, to restore us to peace with him. We are called to make that message known.

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

Impossible?

(2nd Sunday of Easter: Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31)

For the Apostle Thomas one thing was certain: Jesus was dead and buried. Therefore, it was simply impossible that the others had seen him alive. The doors of his mind were shut even tighter than those of the place where the disciples were gathered on that evening of the first day of the week.

Another impossible thing is presented as fact in the first reading. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” And in the Psalm we read: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

These things are beyond human comprehension, so the psalmist adds: “By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes.” The second reading puts it another way: “And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.”

Anyone seeing the state of Christianity in nineteenth century France might have thought it impossible for the Church to survive, given the hostility that surrounded it, and the tepid faith of many within it. But, like the Apostles who “with great power bore witness to the resurrection of Christ,” the Mother of our Lord, with great tenderness, called her people to reconciliation and a conversion of heart, through a faithful return to prayer and the Eucharist.

Today’s Gospel story about Thomas is a reminder for us not to take our faith for granted, but rather to cherish it as the greatest and most beautiful of gifts. Yes, Jesus can pass through the locked doors of indifference, complacency, pride, despondency, etc. But do we really wish to put ourselves in that position?

Jesus mercifully took the initiative to restore Thomas to his rightful place among the Apostles. Then he pronounced a Beatitude: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” That was for us.

The goal is beautifully expressed in today’s Opening Prayer: “that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed.”

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

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