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?

Pray Well

(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.

(13thOrdinary Sunday: 1 Kings 19:16-21; Galatians 5:1-18; Luke 9:51-62)

The Psalmist sings today, “I set the Lord ever before me.” This serves at least two purposes. First, as we read in the second half of the same verse, it inspires trust. But it is also a reminder of our own commitment to the Lord.

Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,” knowing full well what awaited him there. He expects the same steadfastness from those who seek to follow him; in particular they must leave behind everything and everyone else. 

In 1846, the Revolutionary slogan, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” was well on its way to becoming the official motto of France. This attitude was directed, among others, to religion in general and, with particular ferocity, towards the Church. 

In was in this context that a Beautiful Lady, in tears, came to call her people back to the integrity of their Christian heritage. She could have spoken about many ways in which her people had proven to be unfaithful. Instead, she chose what we might call typical examples, making the point that there is such a thing as an authentically Christian way of life, which places legitimate demands on us.

St. Paul champions freedom, but shows that it does not mean license to do anything we please. While he does not want the Galatians (who were “biting and devouring one another”) to “submit again to the yoke of slavery,” i.e. to the legalism associated with keeping the Law of Moses, he writes, “Live by the Spirit.”

But this, too, is a form of submission, not to something outside of us but within. Thus is fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:33: “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” God is faithful, and we are to be faithful in return.

Fidelity is, after all, the touchstone of any serious pledge, not only in marriage or religious life, for example, but fundamentally and more broadly as applied to our baptismal vows, our discipleship.

In her Litany, Mary is called Virgin most faithful. From Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt to Cana to Calvary to La Salette and Lourdes and so many other places, she is a perfect example of commitment and love.

Food in a Deserted Place

(Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ: Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 19:11-17)

La Salette is a remote spot in the lower French Alps. Whereas millions of pilgrims visit Lourdes each year, only some 250,000 come to this mountain Shrine, and then mostly in the spring and summer. Otherwise, it is quite a deserted place.

That was certainly the case on September 19, 1846. A handful of persons, including the two children, Maximin Giraud and Mélanie Calvat, were minding cattle or mowing hay. From where they had their simple meal of bread and cheese, Maximin and Mélanie could see no one else.

Then, suddenly, a Beautiful Lady was there!

She spoke, among other things, of other deserted places—the churches. During the French Revolution roughly 50 years earlier, France had become fiercely anti-Catholic. Times had changed since then, but the effects were still felt, and the nominally Catholic population retained a certain hostility toward religion. 

Every now and then people leave the Catholic Church because of a conflict, or scandals, or rejection of Church teaching, etc. In so doing, they deprive themselves of the Eucharist. Today’s readings make it very clear how essential the Eucharist is to our Catholic Christian way of life. In both theory and practice, it is hard to imagine one without the other. Without the Eucharist, we find ourselves truly in a deserted place.

One of the longer Psalms describes a scene of persons wandering in a desert, hungry and thirsty. Finally they cry out to the Lord, who rescues them and leads them to a city. This portion of the Psalm concludes:

“Let them thank the Lord for his love,
for the wonders he does for men:
for he satisfies the thirsty soul;
he fills the hungry with good things.” (Ps. 107: 8-9)

Besides the readings, today’s Liturgy includes a Sequence, a poem written over 750 years ago by St. Thomas Aquinas when this Feast was first established.  It echoes those same sentiments of gratitude for the goodness shown us in the gift of the Eucharist.

In the Mass, Christ blesses us and fills us with very good things indeed. Why should anyone prefer the deserted place?

In Our Own Language

(Pentecost Sunday: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-13 OR Romans 8:8-17; John 20:19-23 OR John 14:15-26)

After the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon them, the Apostles addressed an international audience, speaking Aramaic while people of different nationalities heard them speaking in their own languages. This, of course, was the work of the Spirit, a unique sign.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this sign had continued to our own day? But this particular manifestation of the gift of tongues seems to have been reserved to that one event. Today missionaries spend a long time learning languages in order to preach the Gospel. 

At international gatherings of La Salette Missionaries, I have often provided simultaneous translation, and I am keenly aware of how inadequate that can be at times. Finding the right turn of phrase on the fly is always a challenge.

Mary spoke two languages at La Salette. She started in French, and then at a certain point saw that the children were confused. She said, “Oh, you don’t understand? I’ll say it another way.” The rest of her discourse was in the local dialect, except for the final command to “Make it known.”

One would think that Mary might have anticipated this problem. But, as the sign of many tongues at Pentecost showed that the Gospel message was universal, the Beautiful Lady, through the sign of just two languages, showed that her message was likewise not restricted to one place.

As Fr. Marcel Schlewer, M.S. points out, Our Lady spoke her people’s language in more than one sense. In the local dialect, in fact, she spoke of the things that mattered in their life—blighted crops, famine and children dying—showing that these things mattered to her, too. This was her “mother tongue,” i.e. her speaking as a mother. She also spoke to their hearts through the language of tears.

It is not surprising that different aspects of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette speak to each of us in different ways. We are each unique, after all, and we might say that the Holy Spirit, as at Pentecost, was at work to ensure that each of us would hear Mary “in our own language.”

Making it Known

(7th Sunday of Easter: Acts 7:55-60; Revelation 22:12-20; John 17:20-26)

Most people cannot recite the whole message of Our Lady of La Salette, but they always remember the beginning: “Come closer, my children, don’t be afraid,” and the end: “Well, my children, you will make this known to all my people.”

Jesus prays in John’s Gospel: “Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they [my disciples] know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known.” In Revelation, Jesus himself is the one who provides the testimony that his disciples are to give.

A martyr is one who witnesses to Christ by giving up his life, like the deacon Stephen. He was a true witness, whereas his death sentence was obtained through false witnesses.

Jesus also prays that his disciples “may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me.” It may be too harsh to say that Christians sometimes give false witness, but we can surely speak of counter-witness.

The Beautiful Lady addresses that reality. Who are these Christians, whom she calls her people, but who hold the Lord’s name in such little respect; who will not give God the day he has chosen for himself; who treat Sunday like any other day of the week, and Lent like any other time of the year?

Let us be careful not to restrict this reflection only to the words Mary spoke. Just as in the Scriptures a list is never complete, so too, she could well have concluded this part of her message with a phrase Jesus used in commenting on the hypocrisy of the Pharisees: “And you do many such things” (Mark 7:13).

It is commonly said that actions speak louder than words. The same may be said of inaction. Thus, in the penitential rite of the Mass, we say, “I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”

In every society, integrity is valued. Psalm 119:104 states, “I hate every false way.” La Salettecalls us to Christian wholeness. If we are to make the Gospel known we must live it; whatever is false among us, or within us, must be uprooted and cast away.

Keeping it Simple

(6th Sunday of Easter: Acts 15:1-2 and 22-29; Rev. 21:10-23; John 13:23-29)

Compared to Lourdes and Fatima, the message of Our Lady of La Salette is long and appears complex. Still, it is basically quite simple.

In the early Church, as described in today’s first reading, the situation had seemingly become very complex, due to the influx of gentile converts to the Christian way of life and faith. Some were convinced that these new believers had to convert first to Judaism. At the “Council of Jerusalem,” as it is sometimes called, an elegant solution was found, a minimum set of conditions, decided not by the power of reason alone, or by majority vote. We read, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us, not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities.”

At La Salette, Mary selected a few such necessities: personal prayer, Sunday worship, respect for the Lord’s name, the discipline of Lent.

In the early Church, anyone taking the basic requirements seriously would, of course, not stop there. So too at La Salette. It is a fact of human nature that, when we settle for the minimum, even that in due time gets neglected. The minimum is a foundation of sorts, but a foundation on which nothing is built will sooner or later crack and disintegrate.

In the gospel Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word.” This is another way of saying the same as above. Love of Christ is the foundation of the Christian way of life, but “keeping his word” is a sign of the genuineness of that love and the strength of our personal commitment to him. And yet it all ultimately very simple—follow him in love, learn to know his will, and seek to carry it out.

Experience teaches that this is easier said than done. This is why St. Paul in many of his Letters takes the Christians to task for their failure to understand the implications of their faith. 1 Cor. 13, (“Love is patient, love is kind,” etc.) for example, is so beautiful in itself that we can forget that Paul wrote this because the Christians of Corinth were not making the connection between faith and life.

La Salette also helps us make that same kind of connection. Pretty simple, really.

Wiping away Every Tear

(5th Sunday of Easter: Acts 14:21-27; Revelation 21:1-5; John 13:31-35)

When we see someone crying, our first instinct is, often, to wonder what is the matter and, perhaps not often enough, to wonder whether we can or should do something to ease the pain or grief that lies behind the tears. 

Those who are sometimes puzzled or even offended by Mary’s words at La Salette need to remember the tears that accompanied them. One and the same sorrow is at the source of both.

In today’s gospel Jesus offers the ultimate key to consoling the disconsolate. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” If only we could all live this new commandment perfectly! Not only would we do everything in our power to respond to all the suffering around us and in the world at large, but we would likewise devote our best efforts to eliminating the root causes of so much unhappiness.

Like Paul and Barnabas in the second reading, we would recognize that “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” But these hardships are different from the suffering that leads to despair. They are endured out of love, and in the midst of them the disciples of Jesus can support one another. More than once Jesus made it clear that his disciples could not expect an easy life.

Mary at La Salette wept for—and with—her people as she looked on their sins and hardships. Moved by the same love that moved her Son, she responded in her maternal way. She cannot make all our troubles disappear, but she offers a way through them, a way of trust, of hope, of faith.

No one person can do everything, but each can do something, however simple, in communion with the Lord, to "make all things new." 

The best-known English hymn to Our Lady of La Salette has the refrain:

I long to dry thy tears,
To make thy message known,
Of penance, prayer and zeal,
Until God calls me home.

One way to dry her tears is to look through her eyes on her people’s suffering, and then do our part to “wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Why Don’t they Get it?

(4th Sunday of Easter: Acts 13: 14, 43-52; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:27-30)

Have you ever had the experience of knowing something to be true but being unable to convince others? To you it is perfectly clear, but everyone looks at you as though you were speaking a foreign language, and you wonder, “Why don’t they get it?”

This was the experience of Paul and Barnabas. They went to the synagogue, eager to share with their Jewish brethren the fantastic news that the Scriptures had been fulfilled and the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. There was initial interest—we are told that almost the whole city gathered to hear them. Paul’s preaching was clear, logical, verifiable. Why didn’t they understand?

At La Salette, Mary addressed a similar situation when she said: “You take no heed!” Her people were oblivious to her concern for them, and to the ways she had tried to make them aware of the consequences of neglecting their faith.

So she did what she had to do to get their attention. She came, she wept, she spoke, sometimes even harshly—whatever it might take to make her people see what she saw.

The Church has often been in the same situation. We Christians have such Good News to share, but there are obstacles to faith. Secular society has little respect for believers. Scandals in the Church make it difficult to hear the Shepherd’s voice above the outcry. Rivalries among Christians distract them from the Christ they all strive to serve. In the case of Antioch in Pisidia, jealousy on the part of the synagogue leaders led to rejection of Paul’s preaching; then came opposition and, finally, persecution.

At the time of the Apparition, among the chief obstacles to the practice of the faith in France was the anticlericalism inherited from the French Revolution. Besides that, life was hard for so many. But Our Lady of La Salette chose not to stand by and watch her people bring destruction on themselves.

Her tears, her words and even her choice of witnesses, were to make sure that we “get it,” so that we might stand among the multitude shepherded by the Lamb of God to springs of life-giving water.

Guilty as Charged?

(3rd Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:27-41; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19)

A question often quoted in Christian sermons asks, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would they find enough evidence to convict you?” The Apostles, in today’s reading from Acts, sought no defense against the charges brought against them. They admitted their guilt, and they left the court “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” 

When we see how Mary at La Salette described the behavior of her people, we would have to conclude they could easily have pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the accusation of being Christian.

Earlier, in Acts 4:18, the Apostles had been forbidden to speak in the name of Jesus. At that time, Peter had answered: “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” Now, in Chapter 5, though they are found guilty of again speaking “in that name,” they are released, but with a warning which includes flogging. The verse immediately after our reading adds: “And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus.”

At La Salette, on the other hand, the Beautiful Lady states that her people, in moments of anger, “cannot swear without throwing in my Son’s Name.”

In Revelation we read today, “I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever." 

The whole universe praises the Father and the Son, except for “my people.” Mary complains on God’s behalf: “I gave you six days to work; I kept the seventh for myself, and no one will give it to me.”

Let us be clear. The message of La Salette is not limited to religious practices; their origin lies in a relationship of respect and love. This is what gave the Apostles courage in the face of persecution.

In the longer version of today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” If with Peter we may honestly answer, “You know that I love you,” and live accordingly, then yes, we are guilty of being Christians.

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