In Good Company
(5th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11)
We have often observed in these reflections that Mélanie and Maximin, by reason of their social standing, lack of education, and personal character, were unlikely candidates for a heavenly revelation. Today’s readings show us that they were in good company.
“Woe is me, I am doomed!” cries Isaiah, aware of his unworthiness to witness God’s glory. St. Paul says he is “the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle,” because of his history as a persecutor of the Church. And when St. Peter witnesses the miraculous catch of fish, his natural instinct is to tell Jesus to have nothing to do with a sinner like him.
This is not false humility; each one speaks the truth. At the same time, however, each one, once reassured, responds to the call that accompanied the experience. Isaiah volunteers his services: “Here I am, send me.” Peter and his companions left everything to follow Jesus. And Paul acknowledges how God has worked through him: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.”
Like Isaiah, Paul, Peter, Maximin, and Mélanie, none of us deserves the place we have been given in God’s plan. We accomplish nothing on our own. “You built up strength within me,” the psalmist reminds us.
Jesus knew what he was doing that day on the Sea of Galilee. Mary knew what she was doing that day in the French Alps. Both needed good witnesses, and the most reliable witnesses are those who can’t possibly have made up the things they are saying, and have no reason to do so.
Right after responding to his call, Isaiah was told that the people would not listen to him. Some of Paul’s letters are devoted chiefly to correcting errors of doctrine or morals in the communities he founded. Peter’s flaws are well documented in all the Gospels. Mélanie and Maximin were sidelined when their mission was assumed by the Church. Failures? No.
Success is not a condition of sanctity. What counts is being faithful to the end, like them, in spite of the obstacles around us and within us.
True Love and Tough
(4th Ordinary Sunday: Jeremiah 1:4-19; 1 Corinthians 13; Luke 4:21-30)
“Patient, kind, not jealous, not pompous,” all of these qualities describe a love that can be called tenderness. Nothing could be further from the “tough love” that Jeremiah will need and that Jesus sometimes shows.
We find both kinds of love throughout the Scriptures (even in Jeremiah) so it ought not to surprise us to find both at La Salette.
“Don’t be afraid” were Mary’s first words, rendered more reassuring by her calling Maximin and Mélanie “my children.” Her tears, her proximity to the children, her gentle reminder about the importance of prayer—these and other things speak of her tenderness for the two children and for her people.
Early in his letter, St. Paul had hard words for the Corinthians about their incessant quarrels, and for anyone who “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily.” Chapter 13 now presents the ideal, not beyond our reach, but not automatic either.
The Beautiful Lady’s hard words concern the failure to observe the Sunday obligation to rest and to attend Mass, the refusal to follow the prescriptions of Lent, and especially the abuse of her Son’s name. Here she uses “tough love.”
In Proverbs 13:24 we read: “Whoever spares the rod hates the child, but whoever loves will apply discipline.” The discipline Mary uses at La Salette is tempered by her tenderness. She wants to show her people what they must to avoid the rod or, in her words, the strong, heavy arm of her Son.
Jesus at Nazareth did not hide his displeasure when those who spoke highly of him then wondered out loud, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” (meaning “just” the son of Joseph). He chastised them, but only verbally, and then left them, punishment enough for their lack of faith.
It was her Son’s displeasure that prompted Our Lady to intervene in the life of her people. She had to make them understand that the way to avert impending disaster was through conversion. Her love is a model for us to follow: “it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it rejoices with the truth.” Above all, it is the ideal love that “never fails.”
Now you Know
(3rd Ordinary Sunday: Nehemiah 8:2-10; 1 Cor. 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4 and 4:14-21)
After Mélanie gave her account of the event that had occurred on the mountain, an elderly lady known as Mère Caron turned to her son and said, “And after all that, are you still going to work on Sundays?”
She was the first to understand that the Beautiful Lady must have been the Blessed Virgin. She also recognized that Mary’s ‘great news’ required a change of hearts and lives.
We see this also in the reading from Nehemiah. “Men, women and children old enough to understand listened attentively to the book of the Law”—for about six hours! Many, it seems, had never heard it before and they wept on learning how, without knowing, they had violated the Law.
That was a huge insight for them. Yet they were told not to weep but to celebrate. Now that they had come to know the Law, they would be able to observe it. In this way they could hope to avoid the punishments and exile inflicted on their ancestors who had not observed the Law. They would henceforward be in a right relationship with their God.
That is certainly the case in the Gospel. When Jesus says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing,” he is saying in effect, “This is the day you have all been waiting for!” That certainly got their attention. The rest of the Gospel is about accepting or rejecting Jesus’ claim.
The New Testament shows over and over the implications of faith in Christ. St. Paul’s matter-of-fact, almost philosophical reflection on the body with its many parts flows directly from a theological statement: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” If the Christian Community of Corinth could just understand this, their disagreements and rivalries could be easily resolved.
There is an urgency to Mary’s words at La Salette. Now that her people know, however, in what ways and how far they have strayed, perhaps they will come to understand the words of the psalmist: “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.”
(2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 62,1-5; 1 Cor. 12:4-11; John 2:1-11)
“No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused’... As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.”
In all of the prophets, there are not many passages more hope-filled, more beautiful than this.
The people to whom Mary spoke through her two young messengers felt forsaken and their land had become desolate. She saw their distress and decided to intervene. I remember a conference on La Salette that I heard as a seminarian in the 1960s. The speaker made the point that the Beautiful Lady did not say, “I have been sent,” but rather, “I am here,” meaning that this was her idea. At La Salette, in other words, she took the initiative.
This is the image of Mary that we find in our Gospel text. She drew Jesus’ attention to the embarrassing situation of the wedding party. When he objected that this was none of their business, she knew he would come round, and told the servants to do whatever he told them.
The message of La Salette is the same as at Cana. It can be summed up in the words, “Do whatever he tells you.” Perhaps this is why one of the murals on the walls of the Basilica of La Salette, painted in 1989, represents the wedding feast at Cana.
The passage from 1 Corinthians further refines this thought. “Whatever he tells you” varies according to the gifts given by the Spirit. But the gift we have received has to be active in us if God is to accomplish his purpose.
Since La Salette is a spiritual gift, each of us upon whom it is bestowed is called to find his or her own way to share it. Here I am, writing this reflection, while someone else is seeking to heal a broken family, or offering up personal suffering for the cause of reconciliation, or... well, you get the point.
Mary chose to come to us. She highlighted a certain number of basic Christian duties, but the sense of her words goes well beyond those. They provide a framework for a faithful Christian life, where words like ‘forsaken’ and ‘desolate’ have no place.
A Holy House
(Feast of Christ the King: Daniel 7:13-14; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33-37)
“Holiness befits your house, O Lord, for length of days,” declares the psalmist. This statement of fact is also a commitment to preserve the holiness of God’s house, especially if we take ‘house’ in the sense of ‘household.’
This calls for integrity, the striving to be what we know we are meant to be as Christians. In Revelation Jesus is called “the faithful witness,” and that is how we see him before Pilate. He declares: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” A true disciple of Christ does the same.
When Our Lady told Mélanie and Maximin to make her message known to “all my people,” they became faithful witnesses. No one was excluded; the children went, as it were, to many nooks and crannies, and spoke to all who would listen.
The truth to which they witnessed was specific, limited to what they had seen and heard in the hills above the village of La Salette: ruined crops, the people’s infidelity, lack of respect for the things of God, as well as the all-important fact that conversion is always possible. The light of faith can enter through the tiniest opening of the heart or mind.
In Daniel’s vision, “The one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion.”
Mary uses the image of the Arm of her Son as an expression of his dominion, but other parts of her message echo Revelation’s words about Jesus, “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” He is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, seeking out in every time and place those who belong to the truth and hear his voice.
Accepting his dominion is an act of submission—not groveling, but in genuine humility, seeking the remedy to the ills we have brought upon ourselves. He is eager to bless us with peace and make us holy.
The Beautiful Lady seeks to draw us more completely into the household of God, so that her people can become ever more truly God’s holy People. For holiness befits his house for length of days.
Like the Stars
(33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Daniel 12:1-3; Heb. 10:11-18; Mark 13:24-32)
Would you like to be a star? The prophet Daniel tells us how: “Those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”
Of course, if we are to lead others to justice, we need to be on that path ourselves. Can we find it on our own? No. The act of trust expressed in the responsorial psalm is our hope, too: “You will show me the path to life.”
This reminds me of the Consecration to Our Lady of La Salette. The prayer concludes by asking her “to enlighten my understanding, to direct my steps, to console me by your maternal protection, so that exempt from all error, sheltered from every danger of sin, strengthened against my enemies, I may, with ardor and invincible courage, walk in the paths traced out for me by you and your Son.”
Mary’s purpose in coming to La Salette is beautifully summed up in this prayer. Many pilgrims to the Holy Mountain express the same thought through the symbolic gesture of literally following the path taken by the Beautiful Lady from where the children first saw her to where she stood and spoke to them, and then to where she wound her way up the steep hillside to the spot where she rose in the air and disappeared from sight.
Like drinking the water of the miraculous fountain, this prayerful physical movement is a commitment to living by the light of La Salette, which simply reflects light of the Gospel.
Looking at today’s Gospel, one might be inclined to compare the apocalyptic description of the end time to the prophetic warnings of Our Lady of La Salette. That is not incorrect, but we must extend the comparison further. The hope Mary offers—not only of future abundance but also of her watchful care—is in keeping with Jesus’ promise that he will “send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds.”
Being his elect does not mean we are perfect. If we ever are perfect it will be the Lord’s doing, “for by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.”
The same God who made the stars in the heavens, can make stars on earth. We call them saints.
(32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 1 Kings 17:10-16; Heb. 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44)
The life of a widow was hard. 1 Timothy 5 offers a series of precepts for the care of widows; Exodus 22:21 reads, “You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.”
The poor widow of today’s Gospel, like many people of her day, was probably paid daily for whatever work she could find. But, instead of putting aside what little she could, she chose on this occasion to put all she had, a pittance compared to what others gave, into the temple treasury.
If she had not done so, her contribution would never have been missed. And yet it is famous, because it was noticed, praised by Jesus himself. He did not draw a moral, and so we are free to draw our own. At the very least it means that whatever we do out of a generous faith has meaning for God.
In our second reading we read that Jesus, by his sacrifice, took away the sins of many. Had it not been for the resurrection, his sacrifice on the cross might have gone unnoticed by history. Unfortunately, over time, in many parts of the Christian world, its importance came to be taken for granted, if not forgotten.
In 1846, she who had stood at the foot of the cross came to a mountain in France. Two innocent children were given a message to remind their people—her people—how far they had strayed, how little they understood the worth of what was accomplished for them by her Son, who was “offered once to take away the sins of many, [and] will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”
Recently I read one of the great Christian classics, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. A pilgrim named Christiana, on learning of Jesus’ sacrifice and the forgiveness it brings, exclaims: “Methinks it makes my heart bleed to think that he should bleed for me. O thou loving One! O thou blessed One! Thou deservest to have me; Thou hast bought me. Thou deservest to have me all; Thou hast paid for me ten thousand times more than I am worth.”
Indeed, we can never truly repay the price paid for us. Our first response may be regret, but then comes gratitude, and then the desire to give what we can in return, no matter how great, no matter how small.
The Lord our God
(31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Deut. 6:2-6; Heb. 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34)
The Israelites, in Egypt and in Canaan, were surrounded by peoples that worshiped many gods. Moses and the prophets often had to remind them that they had one God only, the Lord.
In Christianity, there is one Savior, Jesus, in whom “all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20). So, why do we call Our Lady of La Salette Reconciler of Sinners?
She did not take this title to herself. It was given to her by the faithful. They were not theologians, nor were they heretics. They understood, as we do, that Mary is a reconciler by association with the One Reconciler. On the one hand she pleads with him constantly on our behalf; on the other she comes to draw us to him, bearing the supreme symbol of reconciliation on her breast, her crucified Son who, as the Letter to the Hebrews declares, “is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”
The Beautiful Lady ultimately invites us to make our own the words of the Psalmist: “I love you, O Lord, my strength, O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my God, my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!”
Notice in particular the use of the word ‘rock.’ It is often used as a metaphor for God as the firm foundation of our faith. Jesus used it at the end of the Sermon on the Mount to describe his teaching (Mt 7:24).
Notice also the insistence on the pronoun ‘my.’ God is not just strength, rock, fortress, etc., in some abstract way, but he is claimed in a personal way. In a similar manner, we call God ‘our’ Father, and Jesus ‘our’ Lord and, yes, the Blessed Virgin ‘our’ Lady.
The same insistence is seen in the ‘first of all the Commandments,’ cited in the Gospel and in Deuteronomy. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Faith is not pure theology, or academic knowledge of Scripture. Unless thefaith becomes our faith, myfaith, yours too, the most important element is missing.
I will Bring them Back
(30th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Heb. 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52)
We have no trouble connecting La Salette with images used in today’s responsorial Psalm: “Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves”—tears (Mary’s and her people’s) over blighted crops, followed by a promise of abundant harvests.
The context of the Psalm, as also of the first reading, is a vision of God’s people returning from exile. This is God’s doing. No one is excluded.
The context of La Salette is similar. Christians were living in exile from their own faith. In hard times they had only themselves to count on, and they had proven inadequate to the task. Through the Beautiful Lady, God was offering to bring them back.
The people of Israel were in exile some seventy years. They had ample time to reflect seriously on their apostasy and that of their ancestors. When they were finally allowed to return to their homeland, they were resolved to be faithful to God and worship him alone. They were ready to submit.
At La Salette, Mary says, “I warned you last year with the potatoes. You paid no heed.” Like Israel of old, her people failed to understand what was coming. They, too, were in danger of being abandoned. Jesus had been, in the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, “able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring,” but now the time had come when his Mother was “obliged to plead with him constantly.”
She spoke of submission, not of a slavish sort, but born of trust. Take the Blind Bartimaeus, for example. He knows he has no special claim on Jesus’ attention; he says nothing to those who try to silence him, but continues to cry, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Standing before Jesus, he calls him Master.
All of this bespeaks a rightly submissive spirit. He is powerless to change his situation, but believes that Jesus can lead him out of darkness into light.
Our Lady reminds us that we can be brought back from whatever darkness or slavery or exile we may be experiencing. What is required on our part is to recognize our need, and to turn to the Lord with unwavering hope. Then our tongue will be filled with rejoicing.
(29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 53:10-11; Heb. 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45)
Imagine the disappointment of James and John! After they declared their readiness to drink from the same cup and share the same baptism as Jesus, and were assured by Jesus that they would indeed do so, their ambitious request was then denied.
Ambition is not evil in itself, but it lends itself to selfishness. That is why St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians, when he urges the Christians to strive for the greater gifts, immediately goes on to tell them, with many examples, that the greatest of all the gifts is love.
Maybe this is why Our Lady of La Salette chooses as witnesses simple children who would be less likely to understand the nature of the gift they have received and so less inclined to indulge in vainglory.
Our ambition should be to do our very best in God’s service and leave the judgment of our efforts up to him. Mary’s visit to La Salette was a sort of “evaluation” of her people. They had come up short. They were far from ambitious for the things of God, and she wanted them to understand the danger they were putting themselves in.
At the same time, she did not wish to discourage them. Her message bids us, in the words of our reading from Hebrews, to “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”
Jesus teaches his apostles that they must not claim any personal merit in their call. Yes, they have received authority from him, but it is to be exercised in service. Any good they are able to accomplish is no achievement of their own but is God’s work.
Whatever hardships we endure are in imitation of our Lord, who came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many,” who, as God’s servant, “was tested in every way, yet without sin,” and “through his suffering shall justify many.”
Psalm 116 contains the lovely verse, “How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me?” The next time you stand before a crucifix, remember what the Lord Jesus has done for you. Compare that to what you have done for him. Then answer the Psalmist’s question. Be ambitious!