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.
(Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 40:1-11; Titus 2:11 to 3:7; Luke 3:15-22)
The first Ecumenical Council, held in 325 A.D., stated emphatically that Jesus was the Son of God, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” The Bishops who gathered at that Council summed up in that way the teaching they had received from their predecessors, based in turn on the preaching of the Apostles and the whole New Testament.
They reflected on texts such as we find in today’s Gospel. The voice from heaven says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This is only one of many passages that indicate the relation of Jesus to God as his Father.
The Mother of Jesus can therefore be called, according to another Council in 430 A.D., “Mother of God.”
At La Salette she directs our attention to her Son. Even before speaking a word, she shows him to us in the large, dazzlingly bright crucifix she wears on her breast. It bears repeating here that Mélanie and Maximin said that all the light that made up the Apparition seemed to flow from that crucifix. (One could almost say that, in this sense, the Beautiful Lady, too, was “light from Light.”)
But she speaks of her Son as well. “I shall be forced to let go the arm of my Son… Those who drive the carts cannot swear without throwing in my Son’s name.” All together, “my Son” occurs six times in her discourse. She doesn’t say “beloved,” but who could doubt it?
“My people” occurs three times. Again, “beloved” is not used, but who could doubt it?
A striking difference between the Gospel scene and the Apparition, is that the Father is “well pleased” with his beloved Son, whereas Mary came to tell us that her Divine Son was not well pleased with her people. She gave specific examples of things that “make the arm of my Son so heavy,” and described past and future consequences of such behavior.
But at the same time she offered simple, very basic means of remedying the situation. She did not wish to deprive us of hope.
She knew that our sinfulness does not mean we are not beloved. Why else would she have come?
Unveiling the Obvious
(Feast of the Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12)
It sometimes happens that we don’t see what is in plain sight, or that we don’t notice what we see every day. It takes another person or some event to make us see it. La Salette is such an event, the Beautiful Lady is such a person.
It’s a bit like the scholars consulted by Herod to find out where the Messiah was to be born. They were experts. You would think they would already know, but they seem to have found the relevant passages quickly enough. But apparently nothing had been farther from their minds than to ask this question. It took the arrival of Magi to point them in that direction. Only then was the veil removed from God’s word, “hidden” in Micah 5:1 and 2 Samuel 5:2.
The Mother of God came to La Salette to reveal, i.e., to “un-veil” what her people should have been seeing all along, namely God’s place in their lives, God’s will for their lives, God’s care for their lives—we might even say, God’s stake in their lives.
Today’s Gospel, and the reading from St. Paul as well, show God extending his salvation beyond the Chosen People, universally. La Salette shows us that, in that process, God never forgets or ignores the “local scene.” Recall the story of the boy Maximin and his father seeing the blighted wheat at the field of Coin, and then sharing bread on their way back home, a scene of no special significance but remembered by Mary just the same.
I often like to say that Our Lady’s concern about wheat and potatoes and bread shows us that what matters to us matters to God. At the same time she calls us to respond in a way that shows that what matters to God matters to us.
“Nations shall walk by your light,” says Isaiah to his people. We, too, individually and collectively, are God’s people, and we can be a light, a star, if you will, by which others can see to find their way to (or back to) God.
Thus, Isaiah’s prophecy, “Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow,” will continue to be fulfilled. With Mary, we can be part of the unveiling of God’s loving presence, which has been there all along!
La Salette Family
(Feast of the Holy Family: 1 Samuel 1:20-28; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52)
Hannah had made a deal with the Lord. If he gave her a son, she would give her son back to the Lord. And so she did. He would minister in the Lord’s house. In becoming a member of Eli’s household, he entered what we might call the Temple family.
In the Scriptures, house and family and similar words are often used and translated interchangeably. Today I would like to reflect on the La Salette family.
Unlike natural human families, we have not grown up together. On the contrary, we live in different worlds: country, language, culture. There are many things that divide us. What unites us, however, first and foremost, is our love for a Beautiful Lady. We take her words to heart, we try to live by them, we do our part to make them known.
Then there is a ‘La Salette culture,’ which is filtered through our local cultures. For many, it is summed up as Reconciliation; for others, the Weeping Mother, or the invitation to ‘come closer,’ or the challenge to recompense the pains she has taken for us.
Everywhere events, political and otherwise, raise concerns that touch the La Salette heart. For example, who of us can fail to be aware of famine and the death of children, of which Mary spoke, and which is still a reality in many parts of the world. Such things evoke a La Salette response in us, tears first, perhaps, but also a desire to reach out to those who suffer.
Here we can read again the words of St. John: “We should believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” Mary at La Salette leads us to a renewed faith, which in turn, especially through the sacraments, nourishes our love of neighbor.
At the end of the Gospel, we are told that Mary “kept all these things in her heart.” Her coming to La Salette was, precisely, a matter of the heart. Without love, her presence and her message make no sense.
The boy Jesus said, “I must be in my Father’s house.” Members of the La Salette Family who go to the Holy Mountain for the first time, often have the experience of being home. Why not? After all, they are in their Mother’s house.
(4thSunday of Advent: Micah 5:1-4; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45)
Mary had received great news, two things. First that she was to be the mother of the Messiah. Second, that Elizabeth, an elderly relative, was six months pregnant! Her response was to go, indeed, to hurry to Elizabeth’s home to help her. She who had called herself the handmaid of the Lord, eager to do his will, placed herself also at the service of her kinswoman.
When Mary arrived, her greeting was great news to Elizabeth’s ears, literally a revelation, as she suddenly understood Mary’s place in God’s plan and called her “mother of my Lord.”
At the birth of Elizabeth’s son John, his father Zechariah rejoices that God has “visited” his people, a typically poetic biblical expression to say that God has intervened in his people’s life and history.
Angels visited shepherds with “good news of great joy,” the shepherds visited the Holy Family in the stable, later the Magi, guided by Micah’s prophecy, also found him.
Through missionaries especially, the Church “visits” many peoples, bringing the great news that we call the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Our Lady of La Salette is often called a “heavenly Visitor.” She “visited her people,” bringing what she called “great news.” The news was not just for the two children to whom she appeared, since she told them—twice—to make this known to all her people.
The children did indeed make it known. Then, in 1852, just six years after the Apparition, the Bishop of Grenoble founded the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette for the same purpose, and in 1855 his successor stated clearly that the Church had taken up the mission originally entrusted to the children.
“The Church” means both the Bishops who have the first responsibility to see that the authentic Good News is passed on from one generation to the next, and the Christian faithful who share how both the Gospel and, in the case of the Beautiful Lady, the great news of La Salette, have touched their lives with peace.
Micah says of the Messiah: “He shall be peace.” Our world sorely needs that Visitor still.
(3rd Sunday of Advent: Zephaniah 3:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18)
In some respects, the most important words spoken by the Beautiful Lady of La Salette were the first: “Come closer, children, don’t be afraid.” Without these, the rest of her message would never have been heard.
We love such assurances, because we need them. They abound in today’s Scriptures. Zephaniah: “Fear not... be not discouraged.” St. Paul: “Have no anxiety at all.” And our responsorial psalm, which is not from the Book of Psalms but from Isaiah 12: “I am confident and unafraid.”
In the Gospel John the Baptist encourages his listeners to be generous in sharing, to avoid greed, to be honest, to be satisfied with what they have. These are excellent ways to reduce stress and anxiety in life.
But then comes the shock. The Baptist adopts a more ominous tone in preaching about the one who is to come after him. “His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Luke then concludes, “Exhorting them in many other ways, he [John] preached good news to the people.” The Good News is not always pleasant news.
Any public speaker knows that you need to find diverse ways to reach people. The more diverse the audience—adults, teens and children, various cultures or levels of education, etc.—the more difficult that task is. There needs to be something for everyone.
The Blessed Virgin understood this. First she had to establish that she is on our side (“Don’t be afraid... How long a time I have suffered for you...”), and then she was free to say other things her people needed to hear. Some would respond more to her warnings, others to her promises, others again to her tears, or her concern for their well-being.
We often point out that Mary’s “great news” is like the “Good News,” not only in its content but even its style. Both can be demanding, even harsh to certain ears. Both confront us with choices.
None of this means we need to live in fear. Whether the call comes to us from the Scriptures or from La Salette, we can be confident and unafraid.
Remembered by God
(2nd Sunday of Advent: Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:4-11; Luke 3:1-6)
At the end of her Apparition, Our Lady of La Salette rose above the children, as Maximin tried to seize one of the roses around her feet. She seemed to look at the only point on the horizon where one could see beyond the surrounding mountains.
What made me think of this is a sentence in our first reading: “Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God.”
I will not claim that Mary was thinking precisely of this text from Baruch but, still, the match is nearly perfect. It was surely just such a vision and hope that inspired her to grace us with her presence.
And there is more. Devoted as we are to the Beautiful Lady, our hearts are attuned to the themes of mourning, glory, peace, worship, mercy and justice, all of which are found in the same reading.
What moves me most powerfully is the image of Jerusalem’s children returning to her, “rejoicing that they are remembered by God.” A similar thought is expressed in Psalm 136:23, “The Lord remembered us in our low estate, for his mercy endures forever.”
A very famous passage from Isaiah 49 says the same, but from a negative perspective. “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
St. Paul writes to the Philippians, “God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He not only longs to be with them, but he desires every spiritual good for them. The encounter with God is the goal.
John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, sent to prepare God’s people for just such an encounter. Mary at La Salette carries on the same tradition.
To facilitate the encounter, we need to remove any obstacle that might prevent or even delay it. If we can rejoice that God has remembered us, perhaps then we will never forget him.
Be Vigilant at All Times
(1st Sunday of Advent: Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thess. 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-36)
Vigilance is like attention or observation but adds an element of persistence and urgency. When we are vigilant, we are careful not to allow something to escape our notice. We are anxious to see what is coming, whether bad, so as to avoid it, or good, so as to embrace it.
Beginning twenty verses before today’s text, Jesus predicts various dire events, emphasizing the hardships they will cause. After all that he adds: “When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
This turns our expectation on its head. Can the bad be the harbinger of good? Can famine and the other troubles mentioned by Mary at La Salette, for example, actually lead to hope? The answer is yes, if we are vigilant enough to see not only the events, but their meaning.
The people around La Salette were vigilant, to be sure, but the signs they observed concerned the weather and its effects on their agriculture. They knew that famine was coming. But Our Lady points out that they had failed to understand the ‘warning,’ a year earlier, in a blight on the potatoes. “Instead, when you found the potatoes spoiled, you swore, and threw in my Son's name.”
The Day of the Lord can inspire hope or fear, depending on our attitude. In our reading from Jeremiah (a prophet of doom if ever there was one) we find “those days” to be all hope and joy. In 1 Thessalonians, St. Paul comments at length on it: “You yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night... Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober” (1 Thess. 5:2,6).
In our second reading, St. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians, who are conducting themselves to please God, to “do so even more.”
This too is a form of vigilance. The more intense our relationship with the Lord is, the more we will see what he intends. La Salette points us in that direction. So does the Church in this Advent season. We cannot fail to recognize Christmas when it comes, but we must not miss its deepest meaning.