(23rd Ordinary Sunday: Wisdom 9:13-18; Philemon 9-17; Luke 14:25-33)
Usually the first reading is selected because it has some connection with the Gospel of the day. But it is hard today to see what that might be.
When Jesus tells us to hate our parents, siblings and ourselves, we quite naturally think that he can’t mean literally what he is saying. Isn’t it Jesus who preached love of enemies? Surely this must be just one of his enigmatic sayings.
That may be, but it is not quite so strange as it appears. The two short parables about building a tower and preparing for battle make the same point. It would not make sense to start building without being sure of the means to complete the work. It would be foolish to call up the militia if there is little hope of victory. It’s a question of elementary human wisdom.
Herein lies the connection with the reading from Wisdom, which is part of a very long prayer attributed to Solomon. “The deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans,” he says. Without God’s gift of wisdom, Solomon could not hope to govern well; but he trusted that the Lord would guide him.
All the great cultures have had teachers of wisdom. Some philosophers have had a profound influence on their societies; many of the ancient thinkers are still studied and analyzed in our own time, while new philosophies strive to find their place in the history of thought.
Jesus was also a wise teacher, but he was more. He insisted that his followers must rely on him alone; they must be ready to give him their all, even if that means carrying a cross. This is not abstract philosophy, but wisdom of a very practical kind.
We see this also in the discourse of Our Lady of La Salette. She uses concrete examples—her people’s violation of the commandments, the consequences of disobedience, the hope of abundance, God’s constant caring presence in our lives—to teach the lessons of true discipleship.
In today’s psalm we pray: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” In taking us to task, the Beautiful Lady did not intend to frighten us but rather to help us envision a careful plan to live out our Christian commitment.
(22ndOrdinary Sunday: Sirach 3: 17-29; Hebrews 12:18-24; Luke 14:7-14)
Appearing in the French Alps, Mary abided by the injunction of the first reading: “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are.” She did not choose the “lowest place,” geographically speaking. She did, however, associate herself with lowly people—not just two ignorant children, but generally speaking with the people of the locality.
Life in the mountains has never been easy. That year, 1846, had been harder than usual. With both the wheat and potato harvests blighted, the locals were rightly alarmed. Meanwhile, farmers in other areas with good crops began to hoard them, raising the prices beyond the means of the poor. Even Mr. Giraud, Maximin’s father, who was slightly better off than some of his neighbors, was worried.
Our standard of living is important to us. As much as we admire St. Francis of Assisi or other saints for deliberately embracing poverty as a way of life, few of us are drawn to imitate them.
We might, under certain circumstances, be willing to accept a certain decline in our fortunes. But we would not spontaneously “take the lowest place.” Even people who decide to live more simply are usually in a position to guarantee that their desires and needs will be met.
Mélanie came from a desperately poor family. Her parents really had no choice when they sent her out. from the age of eight, to work on the farms in the region of Corps, making for one less mouth to feed, at least in the summer. Their house was at the far end of the poorest street in town, the lowest place. In a bigger city, it would have been a slum.
By choosing her, the Blessed Virgin in a sense lifted her out of that world, bestowed a dignity upon her that should could never have achieved otherwise. Who could have expected that her name would be remembered over 100 years after her death?
Mélanie did not become rich. She relied on the kindness of others throughout her life. She could apply to herself the words of the Magnificat: ”He has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” Had she not been so lowly, she might never have been chosen.
(21st Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-13; Luke 13:22-30)
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews displays common sense when he writes, “All discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain.” Who among us has not had this experience? Parents, teachers, bosses, and others have the responsibility to point out our mistakes and faults, and to do what it takes to correct them.
The Blessed Virgin found herself in that position. Her people were in need of correction on many counts. The specific sins that she enumerated, far from being a complete list, were a list of symptoms, pointing to an underlying spiritual illness.
Her purpose was to present a diagnosis and a cure. The disease was severe, so the treatment had to be aggressive, beginning with a bitter pill: submission.
In the time of the prophets, this had taken the form of exile. Isaiah, however, saw the silver lining in that cloud. “I will set a sign among them; from them I will send fugitives to the nations that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.” As a result, people of many nations would turn to the Lord.
In the time of exile, then, God’s people had returned to their faith. Unfortunately, as we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus foresaw a time when peoples from all parts of the earth would enter the kingdom of God, while his own people would be cast out; they would not be recognized when they sought admission.
The Beautiful Lady tells us that a better outcome is possible for those who take her message to heart. The discipline she proposes, like that mentioned in Hebrews, brings “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”
Isaiah prophesied the return of the exiles to God’s Holy Mountain. The phrase “Holy Mountain” occurs some twenty times in the Old Testament. For La Salette Missionaries, Sisters and Laity, the “Holy Mountain” invariable refers to the place in the French Alps where Mary appeared.
On her Holy Mountain she invites a different sort of exiles to return, not to any particular place but to the Lord himself, who makes holy any place of his choosing, where they may find peaceful fruit.
(20thOrdinary Sunday: Jeremiah 38:4-10; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53)
There is no such thing as an isaiad, or a hosead, or an ezekielad. A jeremiad, on the other hand, means a keen lament, of the kind typically found in Jeremiah. Not only is the book of Lamentations traditionally attributed to him, but no other prophet was so opposed in his mission or so unhappy in his vocation as he.
Parts of the message of Our Lady of La Salette have the character of a Jeremiad. She complains of the seeming futility of her efforts on her people’s behalf: “As for you, you pay no heed.”
In Jeremiah 14:17 we read: “Let my eyes stream with tears night and day, without rest, over the great destruction which overwhelms the virgin daughter of my people, over her incurable wound.” The Beautiful Lady likewise weeps over her people—but also over her crucified Son, whose image she wears over her heart.
The cross was an instrument not only of torture but of shame, as the letter to the Hebrews acknowledges very clearly: “Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame.”
Crucified with real criminals near an entrance to the city, helpless, mocked, naked to the eyes of every passerby, Jesus suffered humiliations we can scarcely imagine. This was part of the “baptism with which I must be baptized,” of which we read in the gospel.
The image of Jesus crucified is the most powerful symbol of God’s love for us. But Jesus himself recognized that many would reject him, and that faith in him would lead to division. This is no less true today than it was then.
Maybe this is one of the reasons why many Christians wear a cross, “the emblem of suffering and shame,” as the song goes. We know we are not worthy of the great gift Jesus won for us. He endured the cross “for the sake of the joy that lay before him,” a joy that surely includes us. There is no shame in being a disciple of Jesus.
Maximin said his first thought on seeing the Lady was that she had been beaten and fled to the mountain to “weep her eyes out.” Yes, Mary’s eyes streamed with tears at La Salette. Let us so live as to console her afflicted heart.
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.
The Law of Reconciliation
(15thOrdinary Sunday: Deut. 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37)
We have a choice between two Responsorial Psalms today. Psalm 69 invites us to turn to God in times of trouble; Psalm 19 sings the praises of the Law of the Lord. Both speak to a La Salette heart.
The Beautiful Lady describes the behavior of her people at the prospect of famine: “When you found the potatoes spoiled, you swore, and threw in my Son's name.” In this situation, blasphemous language seems to have come to them more spontaneously than prayer.
The Law was one of God’s greatest gifts to his chosen people, a source of pride, even. The psalmist recognizes this in many other places, notably at the end of Psalm 147: “He has proclaimed his word to Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances to Israel. He has not done thus for any other nation; his ordinances he has not made known to them.” Moses makes an impassioned plea: “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes.”
But Mary has seen that her people do not love God with all their heart, being, strength and mind.
Her remedy for this situation is presented in what today we would call a “multi-media” approach. There is the message, of course. But her tears say what words cannot. Light contrasts with the darkness she describes. And, most important of all, the crucifix she bears on her breast reminds us, as we read in St. Paul today, that God, through Jesus, chose “to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
At the end of the Good Samaritan Parable, Jesus says: “Go and do likewise.” That is: “Ask not, then, Who is my neighbor? but, To whom can I be a neighbor?”
This is an invitation to go beyond the Law. The spirit of reconciliation is not confined to certain persons or to the observance of certain precepts.
The message of La Salette does not directly address the question of the “neighbor.” But when we contemplate this visit of the Blessed Virgin, coming to our aid and showing us the way, how could we fail to hear the invitation to go and do likewise?
(14thOrdinary Sunday: Isaiah 66:10-14; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-20)
There is nothing wrong in taking satisfaction in the successes and joys that come our way. We must, however, learn to acknowledge their source. As Jesus said: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21).
But, we may wonder, “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” (Psalm 116:12). This is where prayer comes in.
Mary asked the children at La Salette, “Do you say your prayers well?” They admitted they did not.
Prayer takes many forms. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, beginning with number 2626, describes them as: Blessing and Adoration; Petition; Intercession; Thanksgiving; Praise. The Beautiful Lady mentions the Our Father and the Hail Mary, the Mass, and Lent. Spiritual authors distinguish discursive prayer, contemplation, Lectio divina, and so on.
Failure to acknowledge who God is and who we are is poison to the spiritual life. Prayer is by no means the only response to God’s goodness, but it is fundamental. Without it, whatever else we do in his service and the service of others can lead to a warped sense of self-sufficiency.
Yes, St. Paul sometimes boasts of his accomplishments, but even then he acknowledges that God has made them possible. His feeling is best expressed, however, in his heartfelt prayer: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The seventy-two disciples in today’s Gospel are thrilled at the powers Jesus has given them; but he cautions them: “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Isaiah uses the lovely image of a nursing mother to prophesy a time of abundance. At La Salette, our mother Mary spoke of “heaps of wheat.” In both cases, the future event is preceded by a time of hardship and mourning, after which “the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.”
Praying well is nothing more nor less than regular personal communication with our all-powerful God. Its importance cannot be exaggerated.