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.”
In Good Company
(5th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11)
We have often observed in these reflections that Mélanie and Maximin, by reason of their social standing, lack of education, and personal character, were unlikely candidates for a heavenly revelation. Today’s readings show us that they were in good company.
“Woe is me, I am doomed!” cries Isaiah, aware of his unworthiness to witness God’s glory. St. Paul says he is “the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle,” because of his history as a persecutor of the Church. And when St. Peter witnesses the miraculous catch of fish, his natural instinct is to tell Jesus to have nothing to do with a sinner like him.
This is not false humility; each one speaks the truth. At the same time, however, each one, once reassured, responds to the call that accompanied the experience. Isaiah volunteers his services: “Here I am, send me.” Peter and his companions left everything to follow Jesus. And Paul acknowledges how God has worked through him: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.”
Like Isaiah, Paul, Peter, Maximin, and Mélanie, none of us deserves the place we have been given in God’s plan. We accomplish nothing on our own. “You built up strength within me,” the psalmist reminds us.
Jesus knew what he was doing that day on the Sea of Galilee. Mary knew what she was doing that day in the French Alps. Both needed good witnesses, and the most reliable witnesses are those who can’t possibly have made up the things they are saying, and have no reason to do so.
Right after responding to his call, Isaiah was told that the people would not listen to him. Some of Paul’s letters are devoted chiefly to correcting errors of doctrine or morals in the communities he founded. Peter’s flaws are well documented in all the Gospels. Mélanie and Maximin were sidelined when their mission was assumed by the Church. Failures? No.
Success is not a condition of sanctity. What counts is being faithful to the end, like them, in spite of the obstacles around us and within us.
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?