The Treasure of Faith
(19thOrdinary Sunday: Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48)
“Blessed the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.” This phrase from today’s Psalm finds an echo in our second reading: “God is not ashamed to be called their God.”
This, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews insists, is because Abraham and other patriarchs acted “by faith.” Later generations were not so faithful. Psalm 95 expresses God’s frustration with his people during the wandering in the desert: “Forty years I loathed that generation; I said: ‘This people’s heart goes astray; they do not know my ways.’”
That is what we find at La Salette. Mary weeps over her people’s sufferings, to be sure, but also over their wayward hearts. They had forgotten the privilege of being chosen.
God chose a people for himself; he treated them as a personal inheritance. He rightly expected that they would in turn recognize him as their chief treasure. “I will be your God and you will be my people,” is one of the most important recurring themes in the Bible.
We see this carried out in the liberation of Abraham’s descendants from slavery. Our reading from Wisdom states that they had courage precisely because they had faith in God’s promises.
It is something of a mystery that believers can lose their faith. It may mean thatthe faith has not become their faith; in other words, it is not deeply personal. When religious practice becomes routine, it does not nourish the soul. One does not recognize the gifts offered through the Sacraments.
Or, it may mean that we do not wish to accept the moral demands that living by faith places on us. This was, for example, a major part of St. Augustine’s struggle before he finally was baptized. There are also many trials that put our faith to the test.
Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” There is no doubt where the Beautiful Lady’s treasure is: “My people…My Son.” In her words and in her tears, she reveals her abiding love for both.
It is that love that moved her to come to come and call us to live in faith, to appreciate the treasure that is ours.
(18thOrdinary Sunday: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2: 21-23; Col. 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21)
All the readings today caution us against greed and trusting in our possessions. St. Paul succinctly summarizes these thoughts: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
And yet, half of the message of Our Lady of La Salette is very much concerned with the things of earth: worm-eaten walnuts, rotting grapes, blighted, but potentially abundant, wheat and potatoes and, worst of all, the death of young children.
She could hardly tell her people not to worry about these things. She wept with them. What mattered to them mattered to her. These things are not vanity.
At the same time, she points out her people’s failure to think of what is above. Long before the famine began, they appear to have had little use for God. Religion had become the domain of “a few elderly women.”
In today’s Psalm we pray, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” This means living in the presence of God, not in constant fear of death. Two chapters after the “vanity of vanities” in Ecclesiastes, we read that there is “A time to give birth, and a time to die.”
The Beautiful Lady knows that, between birth and death, there is plenty in life to be afraid of; but, close to her, we need no longer be afraid. Under her guidance, we can achieve wisdom of heart. And yet, it is no contradiction to say she will teach us the fear of the Lord.
Sirach 1:12 is one of three verses in the Bible that tell us, “The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord.” But read the whole chapter, and you will learn that fear of the Lord is also wisdom’s fullness, garland, and root; that it “warms the heart, giving gladness and joy and length of days;” it is “glory and splendor, gladness and a festive crown.”
What could be more desirable?
The Beautiful Lady’s first words, “Come closer, my children, don’t be afraid,” set the tone for everything that follows. As we read each portion of the message, however distressing, we should continue to hear, “Don’t be afraid... don’t be afraid...” This will help us think calmly and peacefully of what is above.
(17th Ordinary Sunday: Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13)
“If I want my Son not to abandon you, I am obliged to plead with him constantly,” Mary said at La Salette. “However much you pray, however much you do, you will never be able to recompense the pains I have taken for you.”
Abraham’s pleading on behalf of innocent persons who might die in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is persistent, to say the least. His prayer is bold: “Far be it from you to do such a thing... See how I am presuming to speak.”
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he first outlined briefly the kinds of things we should pray for. Then, with the parable about an importunate friend, he stressed the need to persevere in prayer, to pray boldly. Finally he inspired confidence: “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
St. Paul speaks of a bond against us. In this context, a bond is a legal obligation which, if not honored, entails the forfeiture of money or something else of value, even one’s life. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God obliterated that bond and forgave all our sins.
This does not mean that Christians no longer have any obligations. They have the duty be faithful to the God who sent his Son to save us, they need to learn his will and to do their best to carry it out.
But, unfortunately, that has not always been the case. What the Beautiful Lady of La Salette saw among her people was the lack of respect for her Son and, more generally, for the things of God. It is not surprising that she spoke specifically about prayer—hers, and ours.
Speaking to two ignorant children, she kept it simple: an Our Father, a Hail Mary, more when you can. But our prayer really ought to be more like hers. We need to be aware of what is happening in and around us, and constantly bring our concerns and feelings to the Lord, like the Psalmist who, today, offers a prayer of thanksgiving, but sometimes cries out in despair, or complains, or asks for forgiveness, etc., etc., etc.
Our Lady of La Salette, Reconciler of Sinners, pray without ceasing for us who have recourse to you!
Welcoming the Word
(16thOrdinary Sunday: Genesis 18:1-10; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42)
“It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” Three times Paul writes: everyone.Translations vary, but this is what the original Greek says.
Why this insistence? Because no one is to be excluded from hearing the Good News. Everyone must be given the opportunity to believe and to persevere in the faith, “holy, without blemish, and irreproachable,” as Paul writes in verse 22 of this same chapter.
This same idea is reflected somewhat in the Gospel story of Martha and Mary. Listening to the Word of God is “the better part,” the first priority. No one is to be deprived of it.
As you know, Our Lady of La Salette also added emphasis to her final words by repeating, “Well, my children, you will make this known to all my people.” On one occasion, Mélanie was asked how she understood this expression. Did it refer only to people of the local area? She answered, “I don’t know... Everybody, I suppose.”
She was right, of course. Today Mary’s words are known to all corners of the globe.
The Beautiful Lady had something important to tell the children, so she invited them to come closer to her. Their fear was dispelled and, drawn into her light, they were ready to hear her great news. “We drank her words,” they said.
La Salette has its opponents. That is unfortunate, but no one is obliged to believe in apparitions. What is tragic, however, is that in every age there have been those who try to stop the Gospel from being preached. Paul himself was in prison. From there he wrote, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David: such is my gospel, for which I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:8-9).
Hospitality (such as we see in Genesis and Luke today) means receiving others warmly and generously. If our Christian life reflects this attitude towards everyone, if, like Mary, we invite everyone to ‘come closer,’ perhaps we will help them to welcome the Word as well.