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.
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.
(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.”
Profession of Faith
(1st Sunday of Lent: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13)
The harvest ritual prescribed by Moses includes a statement about God’s deliverance of his people from slavery. It takes the form of a historical record, but it is a profession of faith in the God who saves.
St. Paul invites us to affirm our faith: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Faith, living faith, is the foundation of all Christian life. It is expressed in communitarian and personal ways. We see both at La Salette.
Lent, a communitarian tradition, has existed in the Church for many centuries. At the time of the Apparition, the penitential practices associated with this season were more rigorous than they are today, especially as regards fasting. In her discourse, Our Lady of La Salette referred directly to her people’s total disregard for this annual discipline.
As for the personal expression of faith, she spoke of the importance of prayer—nothing elaborate, but at least enough to maintain daily contact with God, at night and in the morning. More when possible.
Faith itself is communitarian, insofar as we share the same beliefs. It is personal, too, but not in the sense that we may choose what to believe and what not to believe. Rather, it acknowledges that each of us is unique and so we do not all respond with the same intensity to each aspect of our faith. For us who have a strong attachment to La Salette, for example, reconciliation, wherever it appears, resonates in a special way.
In fact, that is how these reflections are written, by listening to the echoes, back and forth, between Sacred Scripture and the event, message and mystery of La Salette.
Lent is a time to revive personal faith in the context of the faith of the Church, to remember that we do not live by bread (or meat) alone. Pay special attention to your inner response as you encounter the readings. You may discover a new depth in your relationship with Christ, a stronger challenge to live by his teaching, a deeper conviction in your profession of faith.
The Word: Spoken, Written, Lived
(8th Ordinary Sunday: Sirach 27:4-7; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45)
Sirach is one of the Wisdom Books, full of common sense. Much of Jesus’ teaching falls in this same category. Thus we hear today two sayings that are almost interchangeable.
Sirach writes: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one's speech disclose the bent of one's mind.” Jesus says: “Every tree is known by its own fruit... for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”
So, when people in anger use the name of Jesus Christ, what fruit is displayed? Mary at La Salette refers to this directly. Her people, her Christian people, in thus abusing the name of her Son, reveal an unchristian heart.
Someone might say, “I don’t mean anything by it.” But this only makes the behavior worse. How can we pronounce that name as if it meant nothing? Remember what St. Peter said to the Sanhedrin: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Looking at this from the opposite direction, there is God’s Word, in the Sacred Scriptures. In the Gospels, the word “written” occurs about fifty times, invoking the authority of God’s Word to settle questions or prove a point, as St. Paul does when he writes, “Then the word that is written shall come about: Death is swallowed up in victory.”
The Beautiful Lady complains that her people show no interest in hearing the Word of God. “Only a few elderly women go to Mass.” What a far cry from Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).
Most of us have to rely on translations to understand the Scriptures. At La Salette Mary switched to the local dialect when she saw that the children did not grasp what she was saying in French. This shows how important it was to her that they make her message known to all her people.
God’s all-important Word must be translated, too, not just into the many languages of the world, but into the one language that really matters—the language of our life.
(7th Ordinary Sunday: 1 Samuel 26:2-23; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38)
The transforming power of God’s grace is wonderfully demonstrated by his forgiveness, eloquently described by the psalmist: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.” (Compare also Micah 7:19, and Isaiah 38:17.)
The Bible makes no secret of David’s sinfulness; yet it also says that his heart was “entirely with the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4). He refused to kill Saul, his sworn enemy, because Saul was the Lord’s anointed.
Paul’s reflection on the earthly man and the heavenly man is mysterious, mystical. Even for him it is hard to explain the change that will surely take place in the resurrection.
The demands Jesus makes on his disciples are so familiar to us that we might not notice how counterintuitive they must have been to his audience. They require a serious change of heart. “Do to others as you would have them do to you”—easier said than done.
Mary at La Salette also calls for change. Conversion is hard enough for us, but submission is disagreeable, even when accompanied by the promise of abundance.
A sign that such a transformation is possible may lie, perhaps, in Maximin and Mélanie themselves, though not in a moral sense. Under interrogation, they demonstrated a perseverance and an intelligence that no reasonable person could have expected of them. When they spoke of the Apparition, Mélanie became more communicative, Maximin more composed.
Children understand that tears have a connection to life, often to situations that call for consolation: pain, grief, fear, etc. When they visit a La Salette shrine for the first time, they feel bad for the Beautiful Lady, and ask their parents, “Why is she crying?”
Mary answers the question herself. Her people have forgotten her Son. This must not continue. She is obliged to plead with him constantly on our behalf. We can never repay her for the pains she has taken for us; but this does not mean we cannot try.
God’s transforming grace is powerful at La Salette, not only on the Holy Mountain, but in all who take Mary’s words, tears and love to heart.
(6th Ordinary Sunday: Jeremiah 17:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26)
All the readings, including the Psalm, contain a sort of ultimatum. Place your trust in God and you will thrive; if not, you will wither. Unless you love God’s law, you will be blown away like chaff. The only way to be sure of our salvation is to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Woe to you if you are rich, filled, laughing and well spoken of.
In the message of La Salette, either we refuse to submit or we are converted.
The Gospel passage stands out from the rest, however, because it does not contain the element of choice that they imply. The urgent option is not whether to be rich or poor.
The beatitudes in Matthew are better remembered and, we might say, generally preferred to those we read today. Luke’s version is blunt, even troubling. Is it really better to be poor than rich?
The issue is not a moral one, as though the poor were good and the rich were wicked. There are passages in both the Old and New Testaments that seem to equate wealth and evil, but these highlight the danger of riches: greed, selfishness, injustice. At this point in Luke’s Gospel, however, that is not the issue. It has to do with the right perception of blessedness.
The Beautiful Lady understood the fear of her people, faced with the prospect of having no bread to eat. Like Jeremiah she urges us to put our trust not in ourselves but in God, by honoring the Lord’s Day.
The first reaction to an ultimatum is to reject it. The prophets would surely have preferred other ways to persuade their listeners. Heaven knows they tried; but still the people of God seemed determine to follow a path to destruction.
Children who are not growing as they should, and adults who are in an abnormal state of decline require special care. We can apply this concept also to the spiritual life.
Either we thrive or we do not. The goal of the prophet, the psalmist, St. Paul, Jesus and Our Lady of La Salette is to provide whatever we need for our spiritual well-being. In other words, to paraphrase a text from John 10:10, they all want us to “have life and have it more abundantly.”