THE FIRST INTERNTIONAL ENCOUNTER OF LA SALETTE LAITY
France - 1 to 10 September, 2011
HOW TO LIVE OUT AND GIVE WITNESS TO THE MESSAGE OF LA SALETTE IN OUR LIFE AND OUR COMMITMENTS
By Fr. Isidro Augusto Perin, MS
The title of this talk might give rise to some confusion and questionings:
a) Live out what and how?
b) Give witness to what and how?
c) And where do this, so as to be respectful of our cultural differences?
With these questions in mind, I intend to speak today on the message of La Salette taking as the starting point the expression which permeates our La Salette world: "the Beautiful Lady". The term "Beautiful" carries with it values that mark both medieval and modern theology: "Beauty", Goodness" and "Truth." These values are deeply embedded in the La Salette message; they can nourish our life and give credence to our witness where we live and work as La Salette Lay Associates.
My presentation will be in four parts:
1) Beauty, goodness and truth – how do we understand these terms?
2) A rereading of the La Salette message in light of these three terms.
3) Beauty, goodness and truth as signs of hope.
4) Some conclusions.
This exposé based on Mary's message at La Salette intends to identify certain values that we can "live out" and "give witness to" as La Salette religious or laity. For each of the four parts of the presentation there is a question for reflection. The questions are meant to promote further understanding of the presentation, in the small groups. Small group discussions are a good place for enrichment, helping to adapt the presentation to the reality of each country or culture.
Part I: BEAUTY, GOODNESS AND TRUTH: What do these terms mean?
Pilgrims at the shrine and readers of La Salette literature are sometimes surprised by such expressions as "the Beautiful Lady, the beauty of the place, the uniqueness and severity of the message, the brilliance of the crucifix, the joy of the two children whenever the recalled the event of their lives on September 19, 1846..." Modern man is trying to find a brilliance capable of orienting his search for truth and his relationship to the world, to human beings, and to God. This search is to identify the Divine that lives in him through Beauty, Goodness, Truth and every action that contributes to human development. "Good" describes every person who struggles with all his/her energies to respect creation, promote peace, and foster ecumenism and intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. ... "True" describes the person who identifies the signs of God's varied actions en all creation, opening a window to the insight of humanity's definitive future.
When we cultivate our physical, cultural and spiritual selves, we help transform the world so that it reveals the Beauty of the creator. When we love, we generate reconciling force in the world which reveals the Goodness of the One who loved us from all time. When we live in unity with others we give witness to the Truth, according to which every person is called to the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity. The fostering of the Goodness of human beings is a Beautiful and wonderful action, as is letting ourselves be moved by the abandoned of this world so as to see the Beauty of God who dwells in them, or letting ourselves be inspired by the gift of nature, recognizing the Beauty of the Creator. Letting ourselves be touched by the Beauty of the human heart and of all creation is the first mission of anyone who seeks to contribute to the future of humanity. The way of Beauty helps us discover the most genuine holiness, meaningful in today's world. "Live in the world without being of the world" for God's sake is the bible understanding of true holiness. (1) Beauty is union because it leads to communion with God. Beauty is a longing for the parusia because it opens us to communion with the One who has begotten us from all eternity.
These present times are marked by ideologies and utopias that are clearly rationalist and materialist and, as a result, Beauty has been gradually eliminated, exiled and reduced to insignificance on the principle that it adds nothing to the economic world-view. Beauty is insignificant to a market economy. When theologian Urs Von Balthazar saw how damaging this mind set is to Christian life and holiness, he decided to take up the topic of Beauty and its importance for today's world. "A world without Beauty is one that has lost its attraction... A world that is incapable of valuing Beauty is a world where truth no longer has meaning." (2)
Theology lost interest in this topic for a while but is once again taking up the mystery of Beauty. For a while, Beauty was relegated to the sphere of emotion, subjectivism and the arbitrary. ... But on the contrary, Beauty has become a privileged way of identifying, in time, a fullness of human existence which makes us rebel in the face of extreme poverty, impersonalism, division, war and fatalistic attitudes. ... This is more than a destabilizing pious intuition... From this perspective, Beauty is an invitation to plunge into the history of salvation, a mystery which, in spite of our human fragility, points to an eschatological horizon. Beauty is, therefore, a fascinating image of that definitive world which surpasses this visible one.
What Beauty are we talking about? Undoubtedly, it's the esthetic and spiritual beauty of the message of Mary at La Salette. The point of this reflection is to awaken a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the esthetic and spiritual Beauty that leads to contemplation of the wisdom of God's eternal Beauty. As an esthetic and spiritual "given", Beauty opens us to the discovery of new insights in a world that has lost its points of reference. All of us MS, MSF, SNDS and La Salette Laity are called to identify and seek this Beauty of which Pavel Florenskij speaks: "The revealed truth is love. Love is Beauty." "It is right and just and good to let God's love invade our whole being so that it can be in us a transforming presence."
First question: How do we live out and witness to these values in our reality?
Part II: A REREADING OF THE LA SALETTE MESSAGE IN LIGHT OF BEAUTY, GOODNESS AND TRUTH
There are aspects of the La Salette event which lead to this reflection.
First, the maternal character with which Mary makes an option in the face of the suffering of her people.
Ls is a tiny village lost in the Alps. Around the middle of the 19th century, it was totally unknown. The twelve hamlets of the ar4a had a population of about six hundred. The population was poor, suffering failed harvests and epidemics, and knew little beyond their limited world. Can we find signs of Beauty, Goodness and Truth in this rugged place inhabited only by uneducated, suffering peasants? It shouldn't strike us as strange if we recall the phrase: "From Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?"
So it is that on September 19, 1846, two shepherds, Maximin and Melanie, ages 11 and 14 respectively, were startled to see a globe of light in a ravine "as if the sun had fallen there". Within the light they perceive the figure of a woman, seated, her face buried in her hands, her elbows on her knees, wearing a crucifix on her breast. The figure of Christ seems alive and is the source of the intense radiance that surrounds all three. She give a message to the children, then walks a short distance and, elevated about a meter, "melts into the light", according to the description given by Maximin and Melanie.
Her first words express here motherly vocation: "Draw near my children. Don't be afraid. I am here to tell you great news." Mary is faithful to the mission she received at the foot of the cross: "Woman, behold your son... behold your mother... and from that hour the disciple received her into his home." (4) At first the children thought they had come across a "mother whose children had mistreated her so she came to the mountain to cry." Only after the Beautiful Lady disappeared did Melanie exclaim: "Maybe it was a great saint!", followed by Maximin's comment: "If only we had known, we could have asked her to take us with her to heaven." The general ignorance of the children made it impossible for them to identify the Beautiful Lady. It was grandmother Pra who recognized the identity of the visitor: "This is surely the Blessed Virgin; only she has a Son who rules in heaven."
The message of La Salette contrasts with the pastoral of the period which, at times, projected the image of a demanding God, ready to condemn and demand works of reparation to appease Him. In fact, Mary's first words to the two children could be understood in this very way: "If my people will not submit, I will be forced to let go the arm of my Son. It is so strong and so heavy I can no longer hold it back... How long a time I have suffered for you! If I want my Son not to abandon you I am obliged to plead with him constantly. And as for you, you pay no heed... During Lent, they go to the meat market like dogs."
Such recriminations, similar to so many others in vogue during that time, seem to be inconsistent with the mission Mary received at the foot of the cross, that is, the mission to watch over her children disoriented by sin and guide them to the new life her Son wants for them. Mary, at Ls, tells what makes the arm of her Son so heavy: some of the more frequent sins of the time such as the desecration of the name of her Son, the profanation of Sunday, the abandon of prayer and religious practice. Gaudium et Spes helps us give these complaints a more modern language: "Man is divided due to sin. All human life, individual and collective, is marked by the struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. But in this situation man finds that he is incapable of himself to overcome the assaults of evil: he is imprisoned by various tendencies." (5)
In her apparition Mary helps Maximin and Melanie to read from a different angle the history of their contemporaries and, in it, identify the challenges and stimuli that come from God.: "If the harvest is ruined... if the wheat turns to dust... if the potatoes rot...if the walnuts are blighted... if the grapes dry up... it's only your own fault." She helps to revive our memory: "I warned you last year with the potatoes but you paid no heed." Mary not only identifies the current evils but shows how the behavior of human beings contributes to their suffering. "On the contrary, when you found the potatoes spoiled, you swore and threw in my Son's name." By commenting on the events, Mary wants to raise awareness of the need to go beyond inertia, apathy and resistance, and assume responsibility in search of a radical change: "If they are converted, rocks and stones will turn into heaps of wheat, and potatoes will be self-sown in the fields." Mary sends us to the heart of our world and of the gospel: "The Kingdom of God is at hand. Be converted and believe in the Good News." (6) "Seek first the Kingdom of God and God's Justice, and the rest will be given to you." (7) It's not a question of limiting our liberty; but it is a question of "submitting", which means putting ourselves in the dynamic of Christ, accepting the gratuitous love of God and loving God back with all our energies and all our strength.
Regarding her maternal face, two surprising details need our reflection:
Letter a. The eminently concrete message. There is a close link between the way Mary speaks at Ls using the rural nineteenth century dialect, and the "way" of the Bible. Both lead the hearer to identify God's presence in the heart of lived concrete reality. Recall the episode of Coin. Mary helps us see, through the details of our existence, the discreet presence of God who "does wonders" and is always faithful to the covenant established with His people.
Letter b. The power of the tears of a mother: Melanie categorically affirms: "She cried the whole time she spoke with us... I saw her tears flow and fall incessantly." John Paul II offers his interpretation for so many tears: "The tears of Mary at La Salette remind us of her tears at Calvary. They are a sign of her constant tenderness toward her people. They are also a sign of the impotence Mary feels in the face of our grievous refusal to God and our indifference in the face of earthly realities-" (8) This attitude toward God and toward earthly realities points to the need for conversion. "Her maternal love leads her to be concerned about the needs of her Son's brothers and sisters, whose journey upon the earth is fraught with dangers and difficulties." (9) The loving tears of Mary show that she is alert both to the indifference and sin of humanity, as well as to its hopes and historic longings. Her tears show us the urgency of the call to conversion! The maternal heart that Mary reveals at Ls confirms her spiritual maternity and assures us that she will complete the mission she received from her son at the foot of the cross. As a mother, Mary directs us unceasingly to the Word of God, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and the Gospel often forgotten and trivialized.
I believe that Mary's tears and attention to the suffering of her people show that she is concerned about every person in difficulty and that she believes in the efficacy of faith and love. She lived her faith as she went into the exile of Egypt or as she stood at Calvary or as she experienced the surprise of the resurrection of her son. That's why she is able at Ls to give witness to the Beauty and the Goodness of human beings when they decide to return to the way of compassion, solidarity, respect for creation and intimate union with the One who is the Way on which to travel, the Life meant for sharing, and the Truth we profess in hope.
Two, two: The down to earth pedagogy Mary uses with Maximin and Melanie. Mary adapts to the children's dialect and teaches them to read the signs of the times present in the reality that surrounds them: ruined wheat, rotten potatoes, blighted walnuts, dried grapes, children who are stricken and die in their mothers' arms. These are all things the children were familiar with. They are also aware of how their contemporaries responded to these problems: an abandon of prayer and religious practice, profanation of the Lord's name. The weight of the problems give rise to questions: If God is good, how can He permit such things? Does God avenge human failings? Many find God guilty of these evils, which explains the profanation of the Lord's name, the indifference toward Lenten practices, and the abandon of Sunday Mass and prayer in general.
Mary interprets things differently: "If the harvest is ruined, it is only on account of yourselves. I warned you last year with the potatoes, but you paid no heed." In other words, Mary invites her people to carefully re-examine its behavior, actions and convictions. "You will know the tree by its fruit" says Jesus. "It's not what enters a person that poisons the heart; the venom from within is what poisons everything." Such was the reflection made by a Brazilian pilgrim in 2007 after meditating on the message of Ls.
Mary at Ls uses a down-to-earth pedagogy when she tries to educate human beings by helping them discover their responsibilities in their present lives. Mary doesn't introduce herself as an object of devotion, rites or pious practices. She is present as an intelligent mother who participates in the dramas, anguish and hope of the sons of God scattered in the "vale of tears". She invites us to identify the challenges in our lives that impede a refreshing communion. As at Cana of Galilee, she shows the way to overcome human deficiencies: ""Do whatever He tells you".
Mary at La Salette employs a pastoral pedagogy that became well known after Vatican II: SEE, JUDGE, and ACT. These are three interrelated stages. First, become aware of the reality we live; then evaluate it in light of God's Word; finally propose concrete plans of action capable of transforming that reality that has been seen in the light of the Good News. SEE, JUDGE and ACT are three pillars of Christian asceticism. The conversion of which Mary speaks implies a victory of truth over hypocrisy, of goodness over irritability, of love over hate. All this requires the courage to let ourselves be touched by the Beauty of the vocation of every human being, called to journey on the earth while living in God and for God.
Second Question: The method of SEE, JUDGE and ACT is a call to the conversion of our pastoral practice. How can we use this method in our pastoral practice?
Two, three. The image of God she reveals. "Have you never seen ruined wheat, my children?" "No, madam." "But you, my son, surely you must have seen some once, at Coin, with your father. The owner of the field told your father to go and see his spoiled wheat. And then you went. You took two or three ears of wheat in your hands, you rubbed them together, and it all crumbled into dust. While you were on your way back and you were no more than a half hour away from Corps, your father gave you a piece of bread and said to you: 'Here, my child, eat some bread while we still have it this year; because I don't know who will eat any next year if the wheat keeps up like that.'
This is La Salette's secret: It had been quite some time since Mr. Giraud had abandoned the practice of the sacraments and taken up his place at a bar in front of the church. From his bar-stool he mocked those going to church. When Maximin tries to tell his father about the apparition, Fr. Giraud responds with irony: "my child, it's impossible that the Virgin Mary would appear to you, considering who your father is." He ties Maximin to the leg of the heavy table so no more storytelling can take place, but Maximin blurts out: "She spoke of you, Papá!" "What did she say" answers Mr. Giraud, intrigued. Maximin repeats what the Lady said about that day at Coin. That night Mr. Giraud had trouble sleeping and early the next morning had his son take him to the place of the apparition. Maximin tells him about the apparition in great detail. Mr. Giraud drinks the icy water from the stream and feels immediately healed of his asthma. This is the first miracle of La Salette. Mr. Giraud turns his life around and from that day on participated in daily Mass.
For the contemporaries of the apparition, accustomed to blame God for all the ills that befell them, Mary proposes a God who is near and who accompanies human beings in the ups and downs of their existence, a God who shares a father's concern about feeding his family in a time of scarcity and passes over the fact that this father despises God. Mary at La Salette presents us with a God who has a special love for the lost sheep. She holds out to us the image of a God "rich in mercy" who watches over the details of our live: its struggles, failures, hopes and disappointments.
By recalling the event at Coin, Mary has us enter into the mystery of a God who is one with human beings in the concrete circumstances of their life. God pays attention to the gestures, actions and signs of solidarity, mutuality and communion between persons, be they Christians or not, practicing Catholics or not. There is God, companion on our daily journey. God walks side by side those who seek perfection and holiness. Nor does God leave aside those who journey unaware of the evangelical value of every little kindness. Mary invites us to a personal transformation (conversion), to overcome our smallness, to diminish our fears and our paralyzing prejudices. By recalling the moment at Coin, Mary manages to modify Mr. Giraud's vision of the world, of others and of God, enabling him to enter deeply into the knowledge and wisdom of the Father. He now understands that every person has dignity and responsibilities in this world and that God gives strength to those who are willing to help others. Based on the simple, seemingly insignificant gesture of a father offering bread to his son, Mary teaches us that every action done with love and out of love, turns into an invitation to "be perfect and the Father in heaven is perfect."
Third question: God and human beings walk together in salvation history. How do we live out the mystery of the covenant in the concrete circumstances of our lives?
Three: BEAUTY, GOODNES and TRUTH: Signs of hope.
Pilgrims at the shrine pose a variety of questions. "Why does God permit evil in the world? How reconcile the Beauty of the luminous crucifix that Mary wears with cynical and cruel human behavior? How should we understand John Paul II's affirmation: "Ls is a message of hope?"
I believe that the Beauty shining in Christ's resurrection contrasts the horror of evil, which is simply a negation of Beauty. Beauty will always seem weak where social conflict triumphs, where violence and hate replace love and where oppression wins out over justice. This is the question posed by Dostoevsky: "What kind of Beauty will save the world?" "The Beauty that will save humanity is loving compassion in the face of suffering" responded Myskin from his death-bed. (10)
Cardinal Martini goes even further: "In the Paschal mystery, God reveals Himself Father, Son and Holy Spirit... We enter the Trinitarian mystery through the Son... The trinity is not an abstract theory or play on words; it is rather Someone who lives in us and who introduces us into the heart of his divine mystery. Based on this we can raise some questions about the world and history, without concerning ourselves with immediate answers. The questions lead us to the passionate love and mercy with which the Blessed Trinity crated the world and re-creates it anew leading it to perfection. (11)
Mary at Ls uncovers the correlation between Beauty and the following of Jesus, between Beauty and redemption. According to the Bible, Beautiful is the person who welcomes the Word of God and lives it. Jesus is the "most Beautiful among the sons of Adam" because He always obeys the Father's will: "My nourishment is to do the will of the One who sent me to do His work." (12) "The One who sent me is with me; He doesn't leave me alone because I always do what pleases Him." (13) Mary is "the most Beautiful among women" (14) because her yes to God was a constant in her life. (15) This is how Mary presents herself at Ls; always ready to do the will of her Son and to r4emind us to accept the demands of the gospel. Devotion to Mary offers the opportunity to let ourselves be captivated by the spiritual Beauty visible in the light that flows from the crucifix that she wears.
It is true that our understanding of the Cross of Christ and of our own crosses that imprison us in a logic of death and destruction, trapping us in a spiral of impotence and lack of meaning. The luminous cross is a call to identify, in the midst of struggles for freedom from the present slaveries of the world, the rays of hope and the chains of light that clarify the vocation of every human being to live, in God and for God, a love that includes every human being.
Fourth question: What are the signs of hope that we discover in the event and the message of Ls?
Four: Some Conclusions
Four, one. The Beauty and Goodness that Mary exudes together with Jesus, Joseph and the people of her time give witness to the Truth of her intimacy with God and her maternal love for all generations. In her apparition she invites us to value simple things in such a way that the small gestures of our history become an open window to a divine horizon, a horizon that enables us to accept the realities of our times and transform them for eternity.
Four, two. Mary's personality, her actions, prayers and words, in Nazareth and Jerusalem and Ls, Lourdes and Fatima, always are Christ centered. Yesterday, today and always she exhorts us to persevere in joy and hope: "Blessed are you for having believed that the Lord will fulfill His promises in you." (16) In her actions, silence, words and suffering she makes Christ the center of her life and she proclaims that He is the source of hope for all who seek Him. This conviction lead John Paul II to affirm the "Ls is a message of hope." (17) The people of God, often discouraged by the reality in which it lives, continues to announce that Mary is the most convincing example of a woman capable of believing against all odds that god is faithful to His promises. Mary, all Beautiful, helps us discover the deepest meaning of holiness and unfailing fidelity. Her actions are Goodness because she shows that she is a compassionate mother, undeterred by our sin or the suffering of the brothers and sisters of her Son. Her prayer and her choices constitute the most genuine expression of her YES to God's will.
Four, three. Throughout history and today as well, we can state that men and women of different races and cultural horizons, find themselves called at Ls to rediscover in her Son Jesus, the Beauty which sanctifies, the Goodness that generates communion, and the Truth that leads to loving submission to the Father. These values permit people to enter into the adventure of the ways of conversion, of deeper faith, and of the discovery of a daily dynamism to discern, always in a new way, the motivation for being involved with and for Christ in service to "all men and the whole man".
1) Bruno Forte, Santitá Trinitaria del Sacerdote, Conference au Congrés Sacerdotale, Malta October, 2004.
2) H. U. Von Balthazar, La percepzione della forma: una estética teológica, Jaca Book, Melado, 1975, p. 11.
3) P. Florenskij, Amore e Bellezza, in Cristianísimo e bellezza.
4) Cf Jn 19, 25-27
5) Gaudium et Spes, nº 13.
6) Mc 1, 15
7) Mt 6, 33
8) Jean Paul II, Setter du 150ème anniversaire de lApparition de La Salette.
9) Lumen Gentium, nº 62.
10) Cf. F. Dotoesvski, L'Idiota, Milano, 1998, p. 645.
11) C. M. Martini, Quale bellezza salverà il mondo? Lettera Pastorale 1999-2000, centro Ambrosiano, Milano 1999, p. 21-22.
12)Jean 4, 34
13) Jean 8, 29.
14) Cantiques 1, 8
15) Luc 1, 38; 8, 21; 11. 28
16) Luc 1, 45
17) Jean Paul II, Letter du 150ème anniversaire de l'Apparition de La Salette.