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.

Telling the Story

(2nd Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:12-16; Revelation 1:9-19; John 20:19-31)

“Write down what you have seen, and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards.” Jesus says this to John in the first chapter of Revelation and, quite naturally, we assume it refers to the prophetic visions that will be described in the ensuing chapters.

But there are three parts to the assignment, the first of which is “what you have seen.” May this not refer to John’s Gospel and Letters?

The opening of 1 John insists on this: “What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

On September 20, 1846, a Sunday evening, Baptiste Pra, Mélanie’s employer, invited Pierre Selme (whose sick shepherd Maximin had replaced for just six days), and Jean Moussier (another man of the same hamlet, Les Ablandens) to come to his house. They asked Mélanie to tell them again what the Beautiful Lady had said to her and Maximin on the mountainside the day before. More importantly, they wrote it down!

They were not well educated, but they were able to translate into French the parts spoken in the local dialect. It was not quickly done. Why did they do this? The only reasonable explanation is that they felt it was important to do so. 

They gave their document a curious title: “Letter Dictated by the Blessed Virgin to Two Children on the Mountain of La Salette-Fallavaux.” This shows they understood that this was to be passed on to others. We mean exactly the same when we speak of the message of La Salette.

But let us look at our Gospel. While we may not think that one passage is more important than another, Thomas’s story—absence, refusal to believe, ultimatum, profession of faith—is well worth telling.

It is also a message. And lest we miss that point, John adds: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” 

The La Salette story serves exactly the same purpose.

The Empty Tomb

(The Easter Vigil offers seven Old Testament readings, a New Testament reading, plus the Gospel. The Easter Sunday Mass also has options to choose from.)

All four Gospels speak of women going to the tomb on Sunday morning and finding angels there instead of the body of Jesus. In Luke the angels say to the women, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised.”

The empty tomb is one of the most powerful symbols in all the Scriptures, probably because a tomb is usually so absolute, so final. When Jesus rose from the dead, he gained a double victory. He conquered death; death is no longer the end, and therefore it has lost its power to inspire despair. At the same time, he overcame sin once for all.

For our part, we need to enter into that triumph by continually accepting the salvation acquired for us. This is easier said than done, which explains why so many private revelations, including La Salette, draw us back to this truth.

We have been set free. We are no longer imprisoned by or entombed in sin. In Romans 6, St. Paul wrote: “We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him… For sin is not to have any power over you.”

The message of La Salette is addressed to people who have yielded to the power of sin by turning away from the love of God. Even today, the title of Mary as “Reconciler of Sinners” is validated as pilgrims visiting La Salette shrines throughout the world turn back to God. This is no easier today than it was in 1846. It takes a powerful grace to turn a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. But Mary’s tears at La Salette can soften the hearts of those who might otherwise resist her words.

St. Paul writes: “Death is swallowed up in victory;” and, in another place, “You too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.” In this way we acquire a new self-image. Yes, we are still sinners, but we are not defined by our sin. 

Rather, we are defined by the supreme moment in the life of Jesus, his resurrection. His triumph is our triumph. His empty tomb is our empty tomb. 

Alleluia!

She who Weeps

(Palm Sunday: Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14—23:56)

The outline of the Passion is the same in all four Gospels but there are details that are unique to each one. For example, Luke alone records Jesus’ encounter with the weeping women on his way to Calvary. He tells them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children.” A similar painful image is used by Our Lady of La Salette: “Children under the age of seven will be seized with trembling and die in the arms of those who hold them.” 

Anyone who has lost a child can understand the weight of grief evoked by these words. At La Salette Mary weeps, in a sense, for herself and for her children, her people. Her tears are a source of consolation for us. They are also a renewed invitation to return to the Lord with all our heart.

I am reminded of other biblical texts: “No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying. No longer shall there be in Jerusalem an infant who lives but a few days, nor anyone who does not live a full lifetime” (Isaiah 65:19-20); “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

The old order of sin and death has been replaced by the new order of grace—of hope, of life, of love—by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Luke’s Passion also includes three “last words” of Jesus not found in the other Gospels.

The first is: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” At La Salette, Our Lady makes us painfully aware of our offenses, but assures us that she pleads ceaselessly on our behalf.

The second is addressed to a confessed criminal: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” The Beautiful Lady highlights the importance and the benefit of conversion. 

And the third is: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” In encouraging us to pray, Mary teaches us to adopt Jesus’ attitude of absolute trust. 

None of these similarities should surprise us, coming from her who stood at the foot of the cross and wept over us at La Salette.

The Best is Yet to Come

(5th Sunday of Lent: Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11)

St. Paul writes that he has accepted the loss of all things for the sake of Christ. What things? In the verses immediately before this passage, he states: “In righteousness based on the law I was blameless.” He was a perfect pharisee, in the best sense of the word, one who loved God’s Law and strove to observe it perfectly.

In his world that was a lot to lose, but compared to “the supreme good of knowing Christ,” he now considered it “rubbish.” And he concludes: “Forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”

Isaiah even goes so far as to tell us to forget God’s former triumphs, because what lies ahead is greater still: “I am doing something new!”

Today’s Gospel story is usually titled The Woman Caught in Adultery.In the spirit of today’s readings, however, we ought to change that to The Woman Saved by Jesus.Saved from two things: from stoning and from sin. We must believe that at the same time as Jesus told her, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more,” he made it possible for her to live a new life. Her future would be more important than her past.

That hope is the goal of conversion, which is the point of Lent. That was the Beautiful Lady’s hope in coming to La Salette. Her people had been “caught” in their sins and were facing due punishment. Her Son was once again in the position of letting the penalty stand or offering salvation. His preference is clear, and the message for us is the same as to the woman: “From now on do not sin any more.”

But is that really possible? Actually, it is. Sin means turning our back on God. Conversion means turning to him once again, seeking his grace and strength, rediscovering the joy of his love and putting that love into practice. Our Christian life will have its imperfections, but living in Christ will remind us that it is he who saves. We sow in tears, but by his power we will reap rejoicing.

La Salette calls us to that same conviction that the best is yet to come.

Be Reconciled

(4th Sunday of Lent: Joshua 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:11-32)

Today’s second reading is used also in the Mass in honor of Our Lady of La Salette, and is very dear to the heart of La Salette Missionaries. It describes our mission perfectly. “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

The story of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel illustrates the way in which reconciliation comes about. The destitute son needs what his father can provide. So he decides to humble himself and beg for it. But the father needs something, too. He needs his son to be well, to be happy, to be safe. So, given the opportunity, he makes that happen, he welcomes him home—and with what a welcome!

We cannot be reconciled to God without wanting to, without needing to. Our reasons don’t have to be perfect, but still we need to humble ourselves before him. Then we discover that the reconciliation has been there all the time, just waiting for us to accept it. In that moment, too, we discover that the Father intensely desires our return. We can say that he needs it, too.

We see this reality in the Sacrament of Penance, today more commonly called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In it we find that when we are ready to return, the Father is ready to welcome us 

There are two other parables before the story of the Prodigal Son. They are the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. Both end by saying how much joy there is in heaven when a sinner repents. 

The older son, who is now the sole heir, has nothing to lose by his brother’s return, but he has not desired or needed this reconciliation. It doesn’t make sense to him, it seems unfair.

Sometimes reconciliation requires retribution, the making of amends. But these are two different things. Reconciliation is less about justice than about relationship. The Prodigal Son has lost his position as legal heir, but his vital relationship with his father is restored.

Everything about La Salette concerns that vital relationship. Be reconciled to God!

Compare and Contrast

(3rd Sunday of Lent: Exodus 3:1-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-12; Luke 13:1-9) 

At some point in our education, most of us have been given an assignment to analyze the similarities and differences between two or more authors, historical events, etc. I cannot resist the temptation to compare and contrast La Salette and today’s reading from Exodus.

God says to Moses, “Come no nearer!” 

The Beautiful Lady says: “Come closer, my children.”

God says, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people... so I know well what they are suffering.”

Mary tearfully describes the sufferings of her people.

God: “I have come down to rescue them and lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey.” 

Mary: “I am here to tell you great news... Rocks and stones will be turned into heaps of wheat.”

St. Paul writes that what happened to the ancestors of the Jewish people in the desert serves as an example, a cautionary tale, for his Christian readers. And Jesus, by the use of parables, invites his disciples to compare and contrast his words with their lives.

In particular, Jesus makes a comparison between his listeners and the victims of two catastrophes. “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

This quotation figures significantly in a detail of La Salette history. On November 3, 1874, Fr. Sylvain-Marie Giraud, Superior General of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, had an audience with Pope Pius IX. Fr. Giraud asked what one should think about the “secrets” of La Salette, which Mélanie and Maximin had sent to the Holy Father—for his eyes only—many years earlier. Pius IX answered: “What to think of the secret? This: unless you do penance, you will all perish.” 

With these words, the Pope indicated that he attached little importance to the secrets as such. That has always been the position of the La Salette Missionaries of as well. What is normative is the message as approved in 1851 by the Bishop of Grenoble.

And that message can be summed up by another comparison, from today’s Psalm: “As the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is the Lord’s kindness toward those who fear him.”

God’s Free Gift

(2nd Sunday of Lent: Genesis 15:5-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28-36) 

In the discussion of the value of faith and works, no text is more essential than Genesis 15:6: “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” St. Paul commented on it at length in Romans 4.

Psalm 143:2 pleads, “Do not enter into judgment with your servant; before you no one can be just.” Abram’s faith, therefore, is not a proof of his righteousness before God; but the Lord “credited” it to him, as if to say, “It’s not perfect, but it will do.”

This is important to remember when we reflect on La Salette. The conversion Mary seeks is not only to respect the Lord’s name and the Lord’s day, to observe Lent, and to pray faithfully. The importance of these attitudes and activities lies in their meaning, which comes from the faith that accompanies them.

James 2:26, however, makes the point that faith without works is dead. In other words, real faith requires concrete expression in the manner of our life.

Neither faith nor works have the power to qualify us as righteous. That is God’s free gift, to Abram and to us. It is by his mercy that he chooses to consider our faith strong and our works great.

We often long for what is beyond our grasp. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” writes St. Paul. He speaks of our status as not yet fully achieved, with the expectation that Jesus will bring about its fulfillment.

Jesus chose just three of his Apostles to witness his transfiguration on the mountain. That also was a free gift they didn’t deserve. Peter was right to say, “Master, it is good for us to be here.” He understood the privileged nature of the event. 

Many La Salette pilgrims share this feeling. Even the mountain itself hints at the spiritual heights to which the Beautiful Lady wishes to raise us.

After Mary disappeared on that September 19, 1846, Mélanie said she thought the Lady must have been a great saint. Maximin answered, “If I had known that, I would have asked her to take me with her.” Indeed, with her help we can dare to pray the words of today’s Psalm: “I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living.”

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