Death, Faith, Life
(13th Sunday in Ordinary time: Wisdom 1:13-15 & 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43)
The Book of Wisdom acknowledges death as an unhappy fact of life. Our Lady of La Salette tearfully acknowledges the death of children in the arms of those who hold them. We, too, understand instinctively that this is not how things were supposed to be.
In today’s Gospel two persons in dire need approach Jesus. Jairus desperately wants his daughter to live. The woman in the crowd has been sick for twelve years and wants to live a normal life. They come to Jesus because they believe in his power to heal.
But their immediate reaction after each of the two miracles is not what we would expect. The woman tries to disappear into the crowd, but then feels obliged to come to Jesus “in fear and trembling” to tell him “the whole truth,” as if she feels guilty. Later, when Jesus raises the 12-year-old girl, her parents and the few disciples present are “utterly astounded,” as though they had not really believed it possible.
Does this mean their faith was insincere? By no means. It was real, but perhaps they were also “hoping against hope” (cf. Roman 4:18), like Abraham, the model of faith. This is why Jesus encouraged Jairus: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
When the Beautiful Lady enumerated the ills afflicting her people, she wept also over their response to their sufferings. Far from turning to God in faith, they abandoned hope, speaking blasphemies when they should have been saying prayers.
Mary’s tears reflect the words from Wisdom, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.” We find the same in Ezekiel 33:11, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” She wanted her people to understand that “God’s anger lasts but a moment; a lifetime, his good will,” as we read in today’s Psalm.
When we are open to experiencing God’s good will, especially in hard times, we can live again, and join the Psalmist (and the sick woman, and Jairus) in singing, “You changed my mourning into dancing; O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks.”
Called from Birth
(Birth of John the Baptist: Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26: Luke 1: 57-77, 80)
Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives wondered what her child would be. Now we know his story. His role was to go before the Lord to prepare his ways. He was well aware of his unworthiness. He seems even to have passed through a moment when he shared the sentiment of God’s servant in Isaiah: “I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength“ (cf. Matthew 11:2-6).
Mélanie Mathieu and Maximin Giraud were, we can say, called from birth to announce the event of La Salette. The later lives of both were largely unstable, partly because people around them thought they must be destined for a vocation in the Church. They were willing to try, but neither one succeeded.
From contemporary descriptions of Maximin, he might have been what is today called autistic, incapable of sitting still. He never did settle in any of the occupations he pursued and often found himself deeply in debt. He died in 1875, only 40 years old.
Mélanie was taciturn and excessively shy but, over time, there came a shift in her relation to the Apparition, as she herself became increasingly the center of attention. In later life she published writings describing her childhood as that of a mystic, in terms that have nothing in common with any of the early documents about the Apparition and its witnesses.
My purpose here is not to focus on the unworthiness of Mélanie and Maximin. That goes without saying. Like John the Baptist, through no merit of their own they were objects of God’s favor and plan.
Yes, we are all called to be saints. That doesn’t change who we are. The children’s flaws actually lent credibility to their account. Ignorant as they were, they were incapable of inventing such a story, much less such a message, and in a language they barely knew! But their simplicity, humility and constancy in telling the story made them more trustworthy still.
No one could have predicted what their lives would be after the Apparition. But now we know their story. At the heart of it we find an encounter with the divine, to which they were destined by God, and fidelity to the mission received, despite their faults. The Beautiful Lady’s witnesses are good models for us all.
(Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34)
A farmer’s wife once told me that the only legalized form of gambling in her state was farming. Jesus, on the other hand, presents farming as an act of faith. The seed is planted and is mysteriously transformed as determined by the creator to produce fruit and shade. It is God’s work. Such is the Kingdom of God.
None of this would have been lost on the communities around La Salette in 1846. Farming was their life, and now more of a gamble than ever, with the failure of both staples of their diet: wheat and potatoes.
“If you have wheat,” Mary said at La Salette, “you must not sow it. Anything you sow the vermin will eat, and whatever does grow will fall into dust when you thresh it.” The professors of the major seminary of Grenoble, writing to the bishop in December 1846, found this disturbing. “This recommendation appears suspect, contrary to the rules of prudence and the laws of the Creator… Did she really forbid sowing?”
The secular press said such an idea was an abuse of ecclesiastical authority to terrify the “less enlightened” portion of the population.
Indeed, taken out of context, Mary’s words seem almost cruel. But we must keep in mind the whole of the Apparition and the message.
Look at the second reading. St. Paul says that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” This is not a popular passage. But it is a reminder, a call to consider our way of life. St. Paul is here reinforcing what he said a few verses above: “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
God says through Ezekiel that he will plant a majestic cedar on a lofty mountain of Israel, which will bear fruit and provide shelter for birds. He will restore Israel’s glory, and make them once again a faithful people. “As I, the Lord, have spoken, so I will do.”
Mary’s words are in the same prophetic tradition. We can be faithful, we can walk by faith, if we will offer the submission of faith (cf. also Hebrews, 11). The rest (planting, growth, fruit) is God’s work.
Brother, Sister, Mother
(Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Genesis 3:9-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13—15:1; Mark 3:20-35)
We have a strange Gospel today. Jesus’ relatives thought he was out of his mind. The Scribes said he was possessed. Jesus responded with a mysterious saying about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Then his relatives showed up to ‘seize’ him—accompanied by his mother!
This is the context in which Jesus utters a seemingly dismissive saying about his mother: “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
The answer actually echoes Luke’s account of the Annunciation, where Mary says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Whoever does the will of God is Jesus’ brother, sister, mother. This is high praise.
Our reading from Genesis also dovetails with this idea. As early as 100 A.D., Church authors began to compare Eve and Mary, noting the fruits of the disobedience of the one and the obedience of the other. As Jesus was the new Adam, they saw Mary as the new Eve. This parallels Romans 5:12-19, where St. Paul contrasts Adam and Jesus.
When Mary at La Salette calls her people to submit, she is inviting us to be like her. It was through her humble submission that she received the privilege of being the mother of the Savior. Can we not humble ourselves before the Lord, trusting in his grace and favor? Can we not accept the sufferings we experience in our ‘earthly dwelling, a tent’ while hoping for ‘a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven’?
But there is more here than the matter of submission and acceptance. Jesus calls ‘brother, sister, and mother’ those who do the will of God who is his Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,” as St. Paul writes in Ephesians 3:15.
God seeks a relationship with us. The Beautiful Lady weeps because her people have not responded, have not recognized and desired the wonder of intimacy with God.
Mystics and saints may have found the words to express this experience, but it is accessible to all those who do the will of God. We have Jesus’ word for that.
(Corpus Christi: Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-26)
Two words stand out in today’s readings: blood and covenant.
A covenant is an agreement or treaty, in which the rights and responsibilities of the parties are stated clearly. It is something like a contract or a business arrangement.
It is much more than a contract, however, precisely because, in the Bible at least, it concerns first and foremost a relationship. The people of Israel understood what that implied, and said, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.” Their relationship with the God who had delivered them from slavery meant everything to them.
The covenant between God and Israel is summed up in the words, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”
“My people:” these words occur once at the beginning and twice at the end of Mary’s discourse at La Salette. She expresses herself in this way because she has a special place in the covenant, assigned to her at the foot of the cross. The people for whom her Son shed his blood are her people, too.
His covenant-blood is, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, more effective than the blood of any of the prescribed animal sacrifices. It is shed ‘for many,’ for the multitudes that will come to find salvation in him and celebrate that gift in the Eucharist.
“In the summer, only a few elderly women go to Mass. The rest work on Sundays all summer long.” At some point in their history her people had ceased to appreciate the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. Instead of being the sign of the Covenant, the Mass had become an unwanted obligation, a burden to be cast off. The gift was no longer being celebrated.
Anyone who thinks that Mary came to La Salette only to demand obedience to obligations is missing the point completely. Her message is aimed at restoring an awareness of the covenant between her Son and her people, and an appreciation of the immense worth of that relationship.
Taking her words to heart, we can pray with the psalmist, “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?”
Fear of the Lord
(Trinity Sunday: Deuteronomy 4:32-40; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20)
“The eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.”
If we could imagine the Blessed Virgin in heaven meditating on the Scriptures, we might think that these verses from today’s Responsorial Psalm made her decide to come to La Salette. She wanted her people to be preserved from the impending famine and delivered from the death of small children.
But there was a problem: her people were not among those who feared God. “Fear of the Lord,” is a recurring theme (about 750 times) in the Bible. It does not mean being afraid of God but being in absolute awe of him. (If you were being introduced to a famous person whom you greatly respected, wouldn’t want to avoid anything that might give offense?)
Mary told the children, “Don’t be afraid.” That did not keep her from trying to restore proper fear of the Lord among her people.
Clearly, like the generations after Moses, they had forgotten all the wonders God worked for them. They were baptized, as Jesus commanded, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, but their adoption as children of God had lost its meaning. It did not make them disciples.
They did not put their trust in God or hope for his kindness. They showed little respect for their Savior, using his name to vent their anger. They rejected the gift of the Sabbath rest. They refused God the worship that was his due. They did not fear him.
Still, they were living in fear, not of God but of a bleak future. The Beautiful Lady even accentuated this by prophesying the failure of the wheat crop, the potatoes, the grapes, even the walnuts.
But she didn’t stop there. A brighter future was possible, if only they could understand that the relationship between God and us is essential, not optional.
Her message is like that of Moses: “You must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other. You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today, that you and your children after you may prosper, and that you may have long life...."
All Things to All
(Pentecost: Acts 2:1-11; Galatians 5:16-25; John 15:26-27, 16:12-15)
Our title today is taken from 1 Corinthians 9:22, where St. Paul writes, “I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” But, compared to the Holy Spirit, St. Paul’s claim is empty.
After the second reading there is a ‘sequence,’ the poem Veni Sancte Spiritus. Here the Spirit is described as “source of all our store,” meaning that all spiritual gifts come from him. In one verse, he is “grateful coolness in the heat;” later, we pray that he will “melt the frozen, warm the chill.” In other words, the Spirit comes always with the gift that is needed.
In our readings we see this in the multiplicity of languages in Acts, in St. Paul’s famous fruits of the Spirit, and in Jesus’ promise that the Spirit of truth will guide us to all truth. Truth is unchanging, but its expression needs to correspond to the context in which it is spoken: language, culture, etc. We need the Spirit to accomplish that.
Mary came to La Salette to speak truth. Today I am inclined to think of the brilliant light in which she first appeared—which Maximin and Mélanie compared to the sun—as the fire of the Spirit, preparing her for what she was about to do and say.
Without using St. Paul’s words, she spoke, in two languages, of the works of the flesh (many forms of selfishness, distance from God) and demonstrated the fruits of the spirit in her demeanor and speech.
She used the gifts at her disposal: tears, beauty, costume, compassion, pleading (not afraid to describe herself as our advocate), honesty (not hesitating even to inspire feelings of guilt).
All this and more, to all her people, to speak the truth that they need to hear: that they are still loved by the God and Savior whom they have forgotten. Another quotation from St. Paul is appropriate here: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is why Our Lady of La Salette wears the Crucifix prominently on her breast.
Can we be all to all? Like Mary, can we speak the truth to our world? In what language (words and action)? The Spirit places gifts at our disposal. Let’s use them!
(Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:15-26; 1 John 4:11-16; John 17:11-19)
Why does God choose a particular person for a particular purpose? The Bible doesn’t say that Ruth, or Moses, or David, or even Mary was better than anyone else. They were God’s chosen instruments, prepared by him for a special role.
In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the same reality of choice, as “the lot fell upon Matthias” to make him a “witness to the resurrection.” The time had come to replace Judas. The disciples reduced the number of candidates to two, and then God chose between them.
Maximin and Mélanie were the chosen witnesses of Our Lady of La Salette. Why them? We can (and do) speculate, but the most honest answer is the simplest: we don’t really know. The La Salette Missionaries and the La Salette Sisters, as well as the many lay people devoted to our Weeping Mother are her chosen witnesses today. Why us? Again, we just don’t know.
Often the words, “Why me?” are used when something bad happens to us. But we might well ask the same question when something great and wonderful happens, and in particular when we recognize that God is calling us for a special purpose.
Many people can explain what first attracted them to another person, or to a religious order, or to a certain career or ministry. It is a different matter when we look at it from the point of view of being chosen. Why did that person, that vocation, that career or ministry choose me? In other words, what was/is God’s purpose for my life?
We do know this much, however. It isn’t because we are better than anyone else. Mary’s choice, like God’s choice, is a mystery—not to be solved, but to be lived.
Jesus had chosen his Apostles, and three years later, at the Last Supper he prayed to his Father to protect them, to “consecrate them in the truth.” After all, they were to be his faithful witnesses.
Therein lies the challenge, to live what we are called to be, focused on the what and the how and the where, much more than on the why.
Who Started it?
(Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 10:25-48; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17)
People in conflict, whether individuals or nations, children or adults, tend to blame each other for starting the quarrel. Even at La Salette, Mary literally tells her people, “If the harvest is ruined, it is only on account of yourselves.”
The same may occur in a positive context. It is gracious to give credit to others for their part in our success. In Acts, the Apostles never take the credit for their accomplishments. As in today’s reading, they acknowledge that the Holy Spirit takes the initiative, in spectacular ways and with extraordinary gifts, such as the gift of tongues.
Notice, however, that the new disciples are doing two things: speaking in tongues, and glorifying God. Which of these is more important?
In writing to the Corinthians St. Paul addresses a controversy surrounding the gifts, and famously concludes: “If there are tongues, they will cease... So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Which brings us to the Gospel and the second reading, both from John, where love is mentioned a total of eighteen times. We are “beloved,” and God is love. John’s “Let us love one another,” finds even stronger expression in the Gospel: “This I command you: love one another.”
The last words of last week’s Gospel were, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” The very next verse is the first statement of Jesus today: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” There is a connection, then, between glorifying God and abiding in the Lord’s love.
Mary appeared at a time of crisis in the life of her people. She chided them—lovingly—and then—lovingly—pointed them to the way of hope and peace. She is in turn much loved, but directs our love to her Son. Her message is echoed in the new translation of the Missal, in one of the forms of dismissal at the end of Mass: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
That includes love. John writes, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.” He sustains our love. He will see it through. Because he started it!
(Fifth Sunday of Easter: Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8)
After Saul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, he remained blind, and had to be led by hand into the city. The Lord sent a certain Ananias to pray over him and restore his sight. Ananias objected, “I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones;” but Jesus answered, “I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
In our first reading we see what Jesus meant. Saul is at first shunned by the Christians of Jerusalem; and even once he is accepted by them, the former persecutor is himself persecuted and must flee.
Saul, later known as Paul, would go on to produce abundant fruits of grace. But, as a new branch on the vine of Christ, he had to be pruned. Ouch! that hurts!
No one can be said to enjoy this part of discipleship, but it is inescapable. In the message of Our Lady of La Salette, her first words after calling the children to her, are, “If my people refuse to submit…” Submit? Ouch! No, thank you.
But when St. John tells us to love in deed and in truth, isn’t he saying fundamentally the same thing? It is easy to utter loving words, but putting love into practice puts serious demands on us. We are to love one another as Jesus commanded us.
Jesus presents the same thought in a very different way: “Remain in me as I remain in you... Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither...thrown into a fire.” Ouch!
It was clear to Our Lady that her people had not remained in her Son. Like any mother who sees her children not living in harmony, she was pained by the situation, and decided to do something about it, to ease their suffering
In the message of our heavenly Queen, there is much that can cause us pain and remorse. It is meant to be medicinal, its goal is healing.
We are in the Easter season, but did you notice that our responsorial Psalm is the same one as on Palm Sunday? Today we have the joyful conclusion of that Psalm, such a contrast to its opening cry of despair. Another Psalm puts it more concisely: “At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing.”