(3rd Sunday of Lent: Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-42)
The French and Spanish Lectionaries include information that is not evident in the English translation of the first reading, i.e.: Meribah comes from the verb meaning “to quarrel,” and Massah “to test.” Both refer to the adversarial character of the episode when the Hebrews dared to bring a case against the Lord.
In Micah 6:1-2, the prophet summons his people: “Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice! Hear, O mountains, the Lord’s case... For the Lord has a case against his people.” Here is that Meribah word again, now as “case.”
The message of Our Lady of La Salette fits into this context. She calls her people to task for their sins, especially their indifference. Today’s Psalm, which also references Meribah and Massah, has the response, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
When Jesus asks the woman for a drink, she adopts a contentious attitude. “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Jesus takes no offense, but opens a dialogue with her with the words, “If you knew the gift of God.”
Much later in John’s Gospel, Jesus will declare from Golgotha’s height, “I thirst.” Here, in chapter 4, his thirst is brought on by the fatigue of his journey. But we get an inkling of that thirst that marked the whole of his life and ministry, that burning desire he expresses in John 12:32: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” In satisfying our thirst, Jesus satisfies his own.
On the cross, blood and water flowed from Jesus’ pierced side. The famous biblical commentator Matthew Henry explained this in the following words: “They signified the two great benefits which all believers partake of through Christ—justification and sanctification; blood for remission, water for regeneration; blood for atonement, water for purification.”
Catholic theology applies this also to the Sacraments.
At La Salette, there is a miraculous spring. It had long existed, but always dried up in the summer. But ever since the Apparition it has flowed without ceasing, a reminder of the Beautiful Lady’s tears, and of her deepest thirst—ours, too, if we only knew.
Fr. René Butler, M.S. and Wayne Vanasse
(2nd Sunday of Lent: Genesis 12:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9)
There is a slight contradiction between the Psalm and our second reading. In the first we read, “See, the eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for his kindness, to deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine.” Hope and reverential fear seem to be a condition for deliverance.
But then St. Paul tells us, “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design.” Here, salvation is unconditional.
We see this also in the first reading. Abram was called, and received God’s excellent promises, without having fulfilled any requirement. And in the Gospel, no reason is given why Jesus chose Peter, James and John to witness his Transfiguration.
The Lord calls whom he will, when he will, as he will. This is true for us, too. As La Salette Laity, Sisters and Missionaries, we share the free gift of Mary’s love.
As in the case of Abram, responding to the call means change, not necessarily geographical, of course, but a change of heart, open to further gifts: fear of the Lord, generosity in God’s service, willingness to bear our “share of hardship for the gospel.”
The life of faith, professing and living out the Gospel message as Catholics, has never been easy, but it seems more difficult in the modern age. It demands prayer. Prayer, in turn, requires silence, at least enough for us to be able to hear the words, “This is my beloved Son... listen to him,” spoken from a shining cloud, and silently echoed by a Beautiful Lady bearing his image on her breast.
And how can we read today’s Psalm without thinking of her? Through her tears she saw the sufferings of so many; she came “to deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine,” even though they were far from fearing the Lord or hoping for his kindness.
How do we share that deliverance? There is no one answer to such a question. But when we deeply desire to live out our vocation, an answer will present itself in due time, probably accompanied by the words, “Do not be afraid.”
Fr. René Butler, M.S. and Wayne Vanasse
Beware the Tempter
(1st Sunday of Lent: Genesis 2:7-9 & 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11)
When the celebrant washes his hands at the end of the offertory, he says, “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” As he is about to enter into the most sacred part of the Mass, he is reminded of his unworthiness to do so, both personally and as a mere human being.
The same thought is expressed in today’s Psalm, but is balanced, if you will, by the last verse: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” By God’s grace, our sinfulness is not an insurmountable obstacle to sincere worship.
St. Paul reminds us that “all sinned” when “through one man sin entered the world;” but that was not the end of the story. Acquittal has come through Christ. The Author of Life, who “formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life,” sent his Son Jesus to restore life.
But before entering fully upon his mission, Jesus was tempted. We can easily identify with this experience.
He triumphed over the Tempter, but let us not suppose that he was not really tempted. Jesus was truly human, and surely knew the appeal of easy gratification of his needs, of proof that God was watching over him, of royal power.
When we acknowledge our sins, we recognize the temptations to which we have succumbed. Or, as at La Salette, someone else may point out the ways in which we have yielded to the Tempter.
The Beautiful Lady spoke of the following offenses: abuse of her Son’s Name; working on the Lord’s Day; neglecting the Eucharist; going to the butcher shops, “like the dogs,” in Lent. What is the underlying temptation common to all of these?
The answer can be found in Jeremiah 2:20: “Long ago you broke your yoke, you tore off your bonds. You said, ‘I will not serve.’” Jesus’ responses to the Tempter are a declaration of his desire to obey the Father alone. “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
That is the model of how to resist temptation. But don’t wait till the temptation comes. Resist it in advance. Always beware the Tempter.
Fr. René Butler, M.S. and Wayne Vanasse
(7th Ordinary Sunday: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48)
“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” This sentence occurs four times in the Book of Leviticus.
Observe the reason given for the command. It is not the promise of prosperity, which we might expect. No, the reason is even more important. Everything connected to God is holy. His will is sacred. We obey out of reverence.
There is a similar passage in Leviticus 22:32: “Do not profane my holy name, that in the midst of the Israelites I may be hallowed. I, the Lord, make you holy.” Our holiness is God’s doing. St. Paul echoes this thought when he writes, “The temple of God, which you are, is holy.”
The psalmist exclaims: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name.” Mary at La Salette wept at the profanity directed at her Son’s name. This was but one of the signs that her people had abandoned their identity as God’s temple. Instead of praying, they blasphemed; they made a mockery of religion.
The call to holiness is a tall order. It needs to permeate every aspect of our life. St. Paul expresses this as follows: “If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.”
Mary chose Mélanie and Maximin as her witnesses. The message of divine wisdom was entrusted to uneducated children, so that no one could miss the meaning of her words.
The wisdom of this world is contrary to the message of today's gospel in particular. Turning the other cheek is (and probably always has been) counter-cultural. It is hard even for committed Christians.
Fortunately, our holiness is not a matter of who is right or wrong, of winning or losing. It is first and foremost a question of sharing in the Lord’s holiness or, as Jesus puts it, being “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In our efforts to make the Beautiful Lady’s message known, we can advance toward that goal, and maybe transform some little part of our world along the way.
Fr. René Butler, M.S. and Wayne Vanasse
Hammer and Pincers
(6th Ordinary Sunday: Sirach 15:15-20; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37)
Among the most distinctive features of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette, as you well know, are the hammer and pincers on either side of the crucifix. We are used to seeing them attached to the cross, but in fact they were not.
People seeing these for the first time always ask what they mean. You are familiar with the traditional interpretation, but I think it might be more helpful to respond with another question. Supposing Mary simply showed herself to the children without saying a word, how would we understand her purpose?
Carpenters’ tools in and of themselves would have no special meaning. But, as they are associated with the Crucified One, they must have a connection with the Passion of Jesus. And they served opposite purposes.
It is no wonder that they have always been explained as calling us to choose between “life and death, good and evil,” as we read today in Sirach, who is paraphrasing Moses’ speech in Deuteronomy 30:15.
All of today’s readings are about choice. The psalmist chooses fidelity to God’s statutes; Paul has opted for “God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden;” and Jesus says four times, “You have heard... but I say to you,” demanding our allegiance to his teaching.
We tend to see choice as a moral question, and that is often the case. That is certainly the perspective of Sirach. It is easy to forget that the Sermon on the Mount is more demanding than the Commandments. That is what Jesus meant by saying, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Still, what Sirach says is true: “No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.” In other words, when we sin, it is because of our choice. There may be mitigating circumstances, of course, especially if we are not truly free.
That said, before any concrete decision there must be an underlying fundamental resolve: as disciples of Christ, to strive with all our heart to live by his word.
That is what the Beautiful Lady came to tell us. She put before us a choice: failure to submit, with its consequences, or conversion, with its benefits. Exact opposites, just like the hammer and pincers.
Fr. René Butler, M.S. and Wayne Vanasse
Weakness and Power
(5th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 58:7-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16)
In many cultures, people prefer to shed tears in private than where others can see them. Perhaps this is because tears are sometimes seen as a sign of weakness. From that point of view, Our Lady could say, with St. Paul, “I came to you in weakness.”
In fact, much of what St. Paul says in today’s second reading could be said of Mary at La Salette. This is especially true of her wearing the crucifix: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
We have often noted that, according to Maximin and Mélanie, the light of the Apparition emanated from that crucifix. In John 8:12 Jesus says of himself, “I am the light of the world.”
In this week’s Gospel, he reminds us that we, too, are the light of the world. He also describes us as salt of the earth.
It is hard for us to imagine tasteless salt. The Beautiful Lady talks about blighted wheat, literally, but the image could apply figuratively to her people. When put to the test, what was their faith? It crumbled, like the ears of wheat.
St. Paul also states, “I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom,” and “My message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power.” At La Salette, Mary went so far as to speak the patois, the local dialect, typically associated with uneducated rural classes, in contrast with the French that she used at the beginning. And she spoke of things that her people could understand.
Coming in weakness is not the same as being powerless. It means that the power that we might show is not ours, but comes from God. Mary’s simple words had power, which she communicated to the children, empowering them to make her message known.
How bright our light could shine, quoting Isaiah now, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted.”
All this and more we may be empowered to do, but, always remember, the glory is God’s.
Fr. René Butler, M.S. and Wayne Vanasse
(Presentation of Jesus: Malachi 3:1-4; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40)
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes that Jesus “had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way.” There is a text in Galatians 4:4-5 that points in the same direction: Jesus was “born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law.”
The Gospel account of the presentation of Jesus in the temple refers twice to the Law, at the beginning and near the end. The legal requirement Joseph and Mary were fulfilling is found in Exodus 13: “Consecrate to me every firstborn; whatever opens the womb among the Israelites, whether of human being or beast, belongs to me.” In the case of smaller animals, the firstborn was to be slaughtered as a sacrifice; a donkey could be ransomed with a sheep.
The text adds: “Every human firstborn of your sons you must ransom.” Remember that Moses was leading God’s people to Canaan, a land where child sacrifice was not unheard of. Here God expressly forbids that practice.
There is a delicate irony here. Jesus, who came to ransom us, first had to be ransomed himself! The Redeemer had to be redeemed—bought and paid for, so to speak— “to ransom those under the law,” as quoted above.
This has consequences in our life of faith. La Salette can help us understand them.
We have to recognize the gift of redemption that has been won for us. The Beautiful Lady indicates means for achieving that goal: prayer, the Eucharist, penance, respect for the Lord’s Name and the Lord’s Day.
Then we need to recognize our own need of redemption. Mary uses the term “submit.” This will involve purification, a sometimes painful process. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: “Jesus himself was tested through what he suffered.” And old Simeon told Mary in the temple, “you yourself a sword will pierce.” (“How long a time I have suffered for you,” she said at La Salette.)
Finally, like Mary, we must welcome the Redeemer into our life. We can make ours the words of today’s Psalm, expressing the desire “that the king of glory may come in!”
(3rd Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 8:23—9:3; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Matthew 4:12-23)
In the face of the confusion and even rivalry that we find reflected in our second reading, Paul goes to the heart of the matter: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
As we can see in this and various other texts of the New Testament, disunity among believers was an ongoing concern. As it happens, we have just concluded the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25). The fact that this is an annual event is a sign that the problem, unfortunately, still exists.
Separation, of course, is natural. People who have been joined by bonds of affection may move to different cities or countries; couples vow to be faithful “until death do us part,” and so on. Peter, Andrew, James and John left their families to follow Jesus. Separation is part of every human life.
Division is different. It implies a kind of separation that has a different kind of cause, usually conflict, the sources of which seem virtually endless.
Our Lady of La Salette addresses one sort of division in particular, occasioned by the indifference of those whom she calls “my people” toward the one she calls “my Son.” As La Salette Religious and Laity, whenever we see division, we feel a desire to draw people back together again and, if necessary, back to God.
Some divisions are of a specifically religious character. Just as the Beautiful Lady could not stand by and simply allow us to suffer the consequences of our sins, just as St. Paul could not be indifferent to the divisions among the Corinthians, so also we feel the need to respond to the divisions and suffering in our Church. But there are many situations in our world as well and, probably, much closer to home, in need of our charism of reconciliation.
Matthew sees the move of Jesus to Capernaum as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” In responding to his call, and to Mary’s desire that we make her message known, we can do our part to bring light into the darkness.
How? That depends on the uniqueness of our individual call, personality and gifts. Be creative!
Called, Formed, Sent
(2nd Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 49:3-6; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34)
St. Paul presents himself as “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus,” and reminds the Corinthians that they are “called to be holy.” In the first reading, we read of one who says that the Lord “formed me as his servant;” John the Baptist speaks of “the one who sent me to baptize with water.”
All of these are reflected in the Psalm response: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”
God’s servant further declares: “I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord.” He claims no merit other than what the Lord has done for him and promises to do through him: “I will make you a light to the nations.”
When God chooses persons for his service, it is not necessarily because they possess special skills. On the contrary, he looks upon them, makes his choice and then bestows his gifts on them. John the Baptist, for example, was empowered to recognize Jesus as Lamb of God and Son of God.
We have often observed that the children chosen by Our Lady of La Salette had no special talent for the mission she confided to them. She provided what they lacked, and they were remarkable in resisting bribes and threats, in answering objections and trick questions. Thus did she call them, form them, and send them.
We may say the same for ourselves. Whatever our vocation may be, however we were attracted to it, it was God’s doing. Thus, one of the most important principles of the spiritual life is this: go where you are drawn. Discernment, after all, is precisely the prayerful discovery of the answer to the question asked by Saul on the road to Damascus: “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10)
A La Salette vocation is often, so to speak, inserted into or overlaid onto another vocation. In the varied circumstances of our life as laity, religious or clergy, we find ourselves drawn to the Beautiful Lady. She who declared herself the handmaid of the Lord, invites us to serve the Lord with her.
Like Maximin and Mélanie, we might not be the candidates we ourselves would choose, but we can trust Mary to provide guidance and inspiration.
Voice of the Lord
(Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 42:1-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17)
Great singers and speakers know how to modulate their voice. In this way they can communicate the subtleties and depths, the infinite variety of emotions of the words they say or sing. God knows this.
This explains why there are so many books in the Bible. As varied and ‘modulated’ as they are, they all speak with God’s voice, which in today’s readings is heard from the heavens, from a prophet and from an apostle. The psalmist hears it in the thunder, perhaps, and describes it as mighty and majestic.
We cannot hear God’s voice as we do those of the people around us. At Mass we rely on lectors and priests (or deacons) to announce the word eloquently but simply, to speak it in such a way that the word may live, and so touch our hearts and minds directly.
The Scriptures do not hesitate to speak with a woman’s voice, most notably in the Song of Songs, and in the books of Ruth, Judith and Wisdom. La Salette is well situated within this tradition.
As we listen to the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, we might wonder what he means when he says to John, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Many scholars, ancient and modern alike, agree that it means carrying out God’s will.
This principle lies at the heart of Mary’s message at La Salette. God’s will for us is always for our good. Giving thanks to him is, as we say just before the Preface at Mass, right and just. But this justice goes beyond the fulfillment of legal requirements.
The biblical concept of justice refers to a state of being in which all is as it ought to be, where everyone does what is right and just. It brings joy and peace to all.
Without using the word, the Beautiful Lady was describing the injustice of her people. In neglecting the things of God, they had placed themselves in a state in which all was not as it should be, and found themselves far from joy and peace.
Like Jesus, God calls us to be his beloved children, with whom he is well pleased. By modulating her voice to that message, Mary communicates it to us anew, in a wondrous way.