(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.”
(Fourth Sunday of Easter: Acts 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18)
This is Good Shepherd Sunday. Each of the three years of the liturgical cycle has—on the fourth Sunday of Easter—we hear a different portion of John 10, where Jesus calls himself Shepherd.
“I know mine and mine know me,” Jesus says. This is the basis of trust for those who follow him. They know they are his; he will never abandon them. The Shepherd and his flock belong to each other. How many times God promises, “I will be your God, you will be my people.”
In his first letter, St. John uses a different image: “We are God’s children now.” This, too, is an invitation to trust.
“Come closer, my children, don’t be afraid.” Our Lady of La Salette claims Maximin and Mélanie as her children and, through them, all of us as well, whom she calls “my people.” She belongs to us, we belong to her. After being terrified at first, the children came to her with perfect confidence. Even though much of what she said was unpleasant to hear, she did not inspire fear.
St. Peter in his discourse powerfully urges his audience to put their trust in Jesus. “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."
In the rite of infant baptism, the priest addresses the child with the words, “The Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross.” Child and Savior belong to each other, so too the child and the Christian community. This means that each has a claim on the other.
In the Gospels, Jesus tells us that people of faith should expect God to hear their prayers. In Hebrews 4:16 we read: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (This verse, by the way, used to serve as the Introit for the Mass in honor of Our Lady of La Salette.)
But God has a legitimate claim on us: obedience and respect. This is not burdensome. It is part of the trust that we place in the Good Shepherd.
We belong to Christ’s flock, to the family of God’s children, to Mary’s people. Why would we ever be afraid?
Facts of Life
(Third Sunday of Easter: Acts 3:13-19; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48)
St. Peter takes a conciliatory approach in addressing those who crucified Jesus: “You acted out of ignorance.” And he offers them the prospect of having their sins wiped away.
St. John writes something similar to his Christian community. He takes for granted that they will commit sin, and assures them that they have an advocate, Jesus, who will not only plead their cause but is himself expiation for their sins.
Neither Peter nor John is remotely suggesting that it is all right to sin. That would be like saying it is all right to drink poison as long as you have the antidote.
Continuing the health analogy, it is a fact of life that people do eat things that are bad for them, or neglect things that are good for them. Diabetics can find it hard to resist sweets; overweight persons may be unwilling to exercise. So, too, a “besetting sin” can have tremendous power over us.
Peter and John were realists. They understood human nature and recognized that sin is a fact of life. They also realized that sin should not lead to despair. Peter knew this from personal experience. He denied Jesus. Afterward he proclaimed him to any who would listen.
Ignorance and doubt are also a fact of life. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ has trouble convincing the disciples that it really is he standing there, and finally he proves it by eating baked fish. At the same time he, too, points to the gift of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
At La Salette, Mary is painfully aware of the reality of sin. Her list of offences is not exhaustive, but enough to indicate the nature of the sins that cause her the deepest concern. Here, too, there is no need to despair. “If they are converted,” is a turning point in her discourse.
In all of the above, the promise is based on the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. That is why Jesus draws attention to his hands and feet, rather than his face, to verify his identity. That is why the Beautiful Lady wears a large crucifix. He who conquered death can surely conquer sin.
Yes, sin is a fact of life. But thanks to Peter and John and Luke, and Our Lady of La Salette, we are reminded of another fact of life, which we call hope.
(Easter: Acts 10:34-43; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9. Other options possible.)
In the first reading, Peter states that he and his companions were witnesses to three distinct realities: 1) Jesus’ public ministry; 2) the risen Christ; and 3) that Jesus has been appointed judge of the living and the dead.
Paul, in the second reading, bears witness to the resurrection of Jesus and, in a particular way, to its meaning for our Christian life.
Mary Magdalen, Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved also were witnesses, in the account we read today from John’s gospel. Witness to what, exactly? To nothing, to absence, to emptiness—or, more accurately, to mystery.
The mystery of Jesus’ resurrection is so fundamental that it is not easy to express in words what it means to us. In 1972, Easter fell on April 2. That day, the truth of Easter struck me in a way I cannot adequately describe. I can say, however, that it was the most life-changing spiritual experience of my life.
The beloved disciple, John, entered the tomb, saw, and believed. In that emptiness he experienced the deepest possible faith. His goal from then on was to help others to experience the same. Near the end of his Gospel, he writes: “These [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”
“Life in his name”—Mary at La Salette does not use those words, but that is the meaning of her message. Like Moses in Deuteronomy, she places before us life and death, and begs us to choose life. Those who do so become witnesses to the transforming mystery of what St. Paul calls a life “hidden with Christ in God.”
Not knowing, not understanding, is not necessarily a bad thing. Mélanie and Maximin did not know who was speaking to them, nor did they understand everything they heard; but at the Beautiful Lady’s invitation, they entered into that mystery, into what a 14th century spiritual classic calls the Cloud of Unknowing.
In telling others, like Peter, what they had seen and heard, the children were actually witnessing to what they did not know. They drew others into the mystery of Mary’s love, revealing the fathomless depths of God’s mercy, of which we too can be witnesses.
(Second Sunday of Easter: Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31)
The end of Chapter 4 of the Acts of the Apostles paints a picture of the first Christians as a perfect society. Chapter 5, however begins with the story of a couple who tried to perpetrate a fraud on the community, and Chapter 6 describes quarrels over the distribution of the donations brought to the apostles.
And in the Gospel, we find Thomas refusing to trust the other apostles.
This is not so surprising. Even today there are strong differences of opinions, and sometimes conflicts, among Christians. These have led to tragic divisions.
We are divided among ourselves because we are divided within ourselves. In other words, all of us are—and each of us is—always in need of conversion and reconciliation. None of us will ever be able to say, Now I’m perfect. But help is always available.
The Christian community in Acts received the grace it needed to overcome situations dangerous to their unity. Thomas received from Jesus himself the help he needed in his moment of crisis.
The first major divisions in the Church had begun in the fourth century, over matters of doctrine. Was Jesus really God? What does the Church believe about the Holy Spirit? The Nicene Creed goes back to those times.
Fast-forward to 1846. The grace of La Salette was given to the Church in response to a new danger, worse even than doctrinal differences. People had stopped caring about such things. They had become indifferent to doctrine, to the commandments, and to the practice of their faith. Either they had rejected these things outright, or they had simply drifted away from them.
Mary was rightly concerned about the impact of all this on her people. They could not afford to sever their relationship with her Son, their Savior.
At Mass, before the sign of peace, we pray, “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church.” Our sins and the faith of your Church refer to the same group of people. We are sinners, we are Church. These are not mutually exclusive.
Imperfect and weak our faith may be, but it is real and can grow if we will let it. That is the Beautiful Lady’s hope—and ours—as she calls us to reconciliation.
(Palm Sunday: Mark 11:1-10; Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1—15:47)
The readings for Palm Sunday create unexpected pairings. In the first Gospel passage, Jesus is recognized by the crowd as the one who comes in the name of the Lord, before whom they shout ‘Hosanna.’ Later the crowd clamors for his crucifixion. On Calvary, the Roman centurion supervising the crucifixion of Jesus comes to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
The Psalm, which begins with a famous cry of despair, ends on a note of exultation. God’s servant described by Isaiah is treated shamefully, yet firmly believes he will not be put to shame. And St. Paul portrays Jesus as emptying and humbling himself, obedient to the point of death, but also as exalted, given a name above all other names—Lord.
It ought not to surprise us to find similar pairings at La Salette. Mary appears in heavenly light, but she weeps. She speaks of the dire consequences of lost faith, and yet does so with infinite gentleness. She gives an important mission to two children who can scarcely make sense of what she has said to them.
When we look at the Church, we find much the same. The brilliant English author G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) pointed out many paradoxes which one finds in the Church: variously criticized as “the enemy of women, and their foolish refuge;” a “solemn pessimist and a silly optimist,” who produced “fierce crusaders and meek saints;” the list goes on at some length. He sums up his thoughts with the central paradox of Christian theology: “Christ was not a being apart from God and man, like an elf, nor yet a being half human and half not, like a centaur, but both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God.”
This pairing of “true man and true God” is indeed at the very center of our faith. Hard as it is to understand, we proclaim it in our creed.
These are not simply theological musings. They say a lot about us as well. As Christians we are a paradox; we are aware of the contradictions within ourselves, sinners and saints that we are, individually and as Church. The La Salette call to conversion must be taken seriously, but we will never be able to say: Now I am holy. And yet we do not despair of reaching that goal under the watchful eye of the Beautiful Lady.
Saved by Grace
(Fourth Sunday of Lent: 2 Chronicles 36: 14-23; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21)
Growing up in Nazareth, the Blessed Virgin must have learned the history of her people, the people of God. Remembering what had happened to them because of their infidelity, she came to La Salette to warn her other people, given to her at the foot of the cross, of what was about to happen to them, and for the same reason.
God had compassion on his people, but they ignored his kindness and suffered the consequences. Even then, he did not abandon them altogether. After 70 years of exile, he brought them back to their homeland.
From this point on, they took God’s law very seriously. Although eventually this led to the legalism that we associate with the Scribes and Pharisees, it was nevertheless better than the situation that is described in the first part of today’s reading from 2 Chronicles.
John’s Gospel says that God showed his love for the world by sending Jesus, so that we might have eternal life. This dovetails perfectly with Paul’s words about the richness of God’s mercy and the free gift of salvation.
It also dovetails with the La Salette event. Mary’s words and gentle demeanor, the light that surrounds her, her proximity to the children—everything reflects what John says: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that world might be saved through him.”
Even her language about the strong, heavy arm of her Son does not contradict this merciful attitude. Why would she speak in this way, if not to set us on the right path and spare us the punishment we deserve, to shield us from the justice of God? As St. Paul says, even when we were dead in our transgressions, God still had great love for us.
He asks only that we love him back and live accordingly. This is a form of submission—to authority, certainly but, at a deeper level, to grace. Think of the scene of the Annunciation, where Mary, full of grace, says: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” The desire to do God’s will makes it easy to submit to it.
This is perhaps what St. Paul means by saying we are created for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.
(Second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 22:1-18; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10)
At the conclusion of the dramatic story of what transpired on a mountain in the land of Moriah, Isaac’s life is spared, a substitute is found for the holocaust, and Abraham, who was willing to offer up his beloved son at God’s command, is rewarded for his unstinting faith. In Old Testament and New Testament times, the place where it was believed Abraham went to sacrifice his son continued to be venerated. The Temple of Jerusalem was built there.
In our second reading, St. Paul alludes indirectly to another small mount within easy walking distance of the Temple. The evangelists call it Golgotha.
And on an unnamed mountain, somewhere in Galilee, Jesus appeared in his glory, along with Moses and Elijah.
These various elements all find a resonance at yet another mountain, in the French alps, called La Salette.
In remembrance of the Passion of Jesus, the Beautiful Lady wears a large crucifix on her breast. It is the brightest point in the Apparition, the source of its light. The hammer and pincers, instruments of the Passion, draw attention to it in a unique way.
Reminding us of the covenant proclaimed through Moses, and calling us to the steadfast commitment of Elijah, she speaks in the manner of the prophets. (It is interesting to note that in 2 Peter 1:18, the place of the Transfiguration is referred to as ‘the holy mountain.’ We use the same phrase when we speak of La Salette.)
Finally, like God speaking to Abraham, Mary also makes a grand promise of hope and prosperity to those who will live by faith.
More important than any of these similarities, however, is the word Son. “Take your only son, whom you love, and offer him up as a holocaust;” “God did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all;” “This is my beloved Son.”
When Our Lady of La Salette speaks of her Son, it is to reproach her people for their ingratitude to him and their disrespect for his Name. We must never allow ourselves to forget that her Son is God’s beloved Son, handed over for us.
As he is at the heart of Scripture, he must be at the heart of our faith, of our way of life. Lent is a good time to ask ourselves if this is really the case.