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.

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.

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