(3rd Sunday of Advent: Zephaniah 3:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18)
In some respects, the most important words spoken by the Beautiful Lady of La Salette were the first: “Come closer, children, don’t be afraid.” Without these, the rest of her message would never have been heard.
We love such assurances, because we need them. They abound in today’s Scriptures. Zephaniah: “Fear not... be not discouraged.” St. Paul: “Have no anxiety at all.” And our responsorial psalm, which is not from the Book of Psalms but from Isaiah 12: “I am confident and unafraid.”
In the Gospel John the Baptist encourages his listeners to be generous in sharing, to avoid greed, to be honest, to be satisfied with what they have. These are excellent ways to reduce stress and anxiety in life.
But then comes the shock. The Baptist adopts a more ominous tone in preaching about the one who is to come after him. “His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Luke then concludes, “Exhorting them in many other ways, he [John] preached good news to the people.” The Good News is not always pleasant news.
Any public speaker knows that you need to find diverse ways to reach people. The more diverse the audience—adults, teens and children, various cultures or levels of education, etc.—the more difficult that task is. There needs to be something for everyone.
The Blessed Virgin understood this. First she had to establish that she is on our side (“Don’t be afraid... How long a time I have suffered for you...”), and then she was free to say other things her people needed to hear. Some would respond more to her warnings, others to her promises, others again to her tears, or her concern for their well-being.
We often point out that Mary’s “great news” is like the “Good News,” not only in its content but even its style. Both can be demanding, even harsh to certain ears. Both confront us with choices.
None of this means we need to live in fear. Whether the call comes to us from the Scriptures or from La Salette, we can be confident and unafraid.
Remembered by God
(2nd Sunday of Advent: Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:4-11; Luke 3:1-6)
At the end of her Apparition, Our Lady of La Salette rose above the children, as Maximin tried to seize one of the roses around her feet. She seemed to look at the only point on the horizon where one could see beyond the surrounding mountains.
What made me think of this is a sentence in our first reading: “Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God.”
I will not claim that Mary was thinking precisely of this text from Baruch but, still, the match is nearly perfect. It was surely just such a vision and hope that inspired her to grace us with her presence.
And there is more. Devoted as we are to the Beautiful Lady, our hearts are attuned to the themes of mourning, glory, peace, worship, mercy and justice, all of which are found in the same reading.
What moves me most powerfully is the image of Jerusalem’s children returning to her, “rejoicing that they are remembered by God.” A similar thought is expressed in Psalm 136:23, “The Lord remembered us in our low estate, for his mercy endures forever.”
A very famous passage from Isaiah 49 says the same, but from a negative perspective. “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
St. Paul writes to the Philippians, “God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He not only longs to be with them, but he desires every spiritual good for them. The encounter with God is the goal.
John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, sent to prepare God’s people for just such an encounter. Mary at La Salette carries on the same tradition.
To facilitate the encounter, we need to remove any obstacle that might prevent or even delay it. If we can rejoice that God has remembered us, perhaps then we will never forget him.
Be Vigilant at All Times
(1st Sunday of Advent: Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thess. 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-36)
Vigilance is like attention or observation but adds an element of persistence and urgency. When we are vigilant, we are careful not to allow something to escape our notice. We are anxious to see what is coming, whether bad, so as to avoid it, or good, so as to embrace it.
Beginning twenty verses before today’s text, Jesus predicts various dire events, emphasizing the hardships they will cause. After all that he adds: “When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
This turns our expectation on its head. Can the bad be the harbinger of good? Can famine and the other troubles mentioned by Mary at La Salette, for example, actually lead to hope? The answer is yes, if we are vigilant enough to see not only the events, but their meaning.
The people around La Salette were vigilant, to be sure, but the signs they observed concerned the weather and its effects on their agriculture. They knew that famine was coming. But Our Lady points out that they had failed to understand the ‘warning,’ a year earlier, in a blight on the potatoes. “Instead, when you found the potatoes spoiled, you swore, and threw in my Son's name.”
The Day of the Lord can inspire hope or fear, depending on our attitude. In our reading from Jeremiah (a prophet of doom if ever there was one) we find “those days” to be all hope and joy. In 1 Thessalonians, St. Paul comments at length on it: “You yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night... Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober” (1 Thess. 5:2,6).
In our second reading, St. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians, who are conducting themselves to please God, to “do so even more.”
This too is a form of vigilance. The more intense our relationship with the Lord is, the more we will see what he intends. La Salette points us in that direction. So does the Church in this Advent season. We cannot fail to recognize Christmas when it comes, but we must not miss its deepest meaning.
A Holy House
(Feast of Christ the King: Daniel 7:13-14; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33-37)
“Holiness befits your house, O Lord, for length of days,” declares the psalmist. This statement of fact is also a commitment to preserve the holiness of God’s house, especially if we take ‘house’ in the sense of ‘household.’
This calls for integrity, the striving to be what we know we are meant to be as Christians. In Revelation Jesus is called “the faithful witness,” and that is how we see him before Pilate. He declares: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” A true disciple of Christ does the same.
When Our Lady told Mélanie and Maximin to make her message known to “all my people,” they became faithful witnesses. No one was excluded; the children went, as it were, to many nooks and crannies, and spoke to all who would listen.
The truth to which they witnessed was specific, limited to what they had seen and heard in the hills above the village of La Salette: ruined crops, the people’s infidelity, lack of respect for the things of God, as well as the all-important fact that conversion is always possible. The light of faith can enter through the tiniest opening of the heart or mind.
In Daniel’s vision, “The one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion.”
Mary uses the image of the Arm of her Son as an expression of his dominion, but other parts of her message echo Revelation’s words about Jesus, “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” He is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, seeking out in every time and place those who belong to the truth and hear his voice.
Accepting his dominion is an act of submission—not groveling, but in genuine humility, seeking the remedy to the ills we have brought upon ourselves. He is eager to bless us with peace and make us holy.
The Beautiful Lady seeks to draw us more completely into the household of God, so that her people can become ever more truly God’s holy People. For holiness befits his house for length of days.
Like the Stars
(33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Daniel 12:1-3; Heb. 10:11-18; Mark 13:24-32)
Would you like to be a star? The prophet Daniel tells us how: “Those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”
Of course, if we are to lead others to justice, we need to be on that path ourselves. Can we find it on our own? No. The act of trust expressed in the responsorial psalm is our hope, too: “You will show me the path to life.”
This reminds me of the Consecration to Our Lady of La Salette. The prayer concludes by asking her “to enlighten my understanding, to direct my steps, to console me by your maternal protection, so that exempt from all error, sheltered from every danger of sin, strengthened against my enemies, I may, with ardor and invincible courage, walk in the paths traced out for me by you and your Son.”
Mary’s purpose in coming to La Salette is beautifully summed up in this prayer. Many pilgrims to the Holy Mountain express the same thought through the symbolic gesture of literally following the path taken by the Beautiful Lady from where the children first saw her to where she stood and spoke to them, and then to where she wound her way up the steep hillside to the spot where she rose in the air and disappeared from sight.
Like drinking the water of the miraculous fountain, this prayerful physical movement is a commitment to living by the light of La Salette, which simply reflects light of the Gospel.
Looking at today’s Gospel, one might be inclined to compare the apocalyptic description of the end time to the prophetic warnings of Our Lady of La Salette. That is not incorrect, but we must extend the comparison further. The hope Mary offers—not only of future abundance but also of her watchful care—is in keeping with Jesus’ promise that he will “send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds.”
Being his elect does not mean we are perfect. If we ever are perfect it will be the Lord’s doing, “for by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.”
The same God who made the stars in the heavens, can make stars on earth. We call them saints.
(32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 1 Kings 17:10-16; Heb. 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44)
The life of a widow was hard. 1 Timothy 5 offers a series of precepts for the care of widows; Exodus 22:21 reads, “You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.”
The poor widow of today’s Gospel, like many people of her day, was probably paid daily for whatever work she could find. But, instead of putting aside what little she could, she chose on this occasion to put all she had, a pittance compared to what others gave, into the temple treasury.
If she had not done so, her contribution would never have been missed. And yet it is famous, because it was noticed, praised by Jesus himself. He did not draw a moral, and so we are free to draw our own. At the very least it means that whatever we do out of a generous faith has meaning for God.
In our second reading we read that Jesus, by his sacrifice, took away the sins of many. Had it not been for the resurrection, his sacrifice on the cross might have gone unnoticed by history. Unfortunately, over time, in many parts of the Christian world, its importance came to be taken for granted, if not forgotten.
In 1846, she who had stood at the foot of the cross came to a mountain in France. Two innocent children were given a message to remind their people—her people—how far they had strayed, how little they understood the worth of what was accomplished for them by her Son, who was “offered once to take away the sins of many, [and] will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”
Recently I read one of the great Christian classics, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. A pilgrim named Christiana, on learning of Jesus’ sacrifice and the forgiveness it brings, exclaims: “Methinks it makes my heart bleed to think that he should bleed for me. O thou loving One! O thou blessed One! Thou deservest to have me; Thou hast bought me. Thou deservest to have me all; Thou hast paid for me ten thousand times more than I am worth.”
Indeed, we can never truly repay the price paid for us. Our first response may be regret, but then comes gratitude, and then the desire to give what we can in return, no matter how great, no matter how small.
The Lord our God
(31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Deut. 6:2-6; Heb. 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34)
The Israelites, in Egypt and in Canaan, were surrounded by peoples that worshiped many gods. Moses and the prophets often had to remind them that they had one God only, the Lord.
In Christianity, there is one Savior, Jesus, in whom “all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20). So, why do we call Our Lady of La Salette Reconciler of Sinners?
She did not take this title to herself. It was given to her by the faithful. They were not theologians, nor were they heretics. They understood, as we do, that Mary is a reconciler by association with the One Reconciler. On the one hand she pleads with him constantly on our behalf; on the other she comes to draw us to him, bearing the supreme symbol of reconciliation on her breast, her crucified Son who, as the Letter to the Hebrews declares, “is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”
The Beautiful Lady ultimately invites us to make our own the words of the Psalmist: “I love you, O Lord, my strength, O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my God, my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!”
Notice in particular the use of the word ‘rock.’ It is often used as a metaphor for God as the firm foundation of our faith. Jesus used it at the end of the Sermon on the Mount to describe his teaching (Mt 7:24).
Notice also the insistence on the pronoun ‘my.’ God is not just strength, rock, fortress, etc., in some abstract way, but he is claimed in a personal way. In a similar manner, we call God ‘our’ Father, and Jesus ‘our’ Lord and, yes, the Blessed Virgin ‘our’ Lady.
The same insistence is seen in the ‘first of all the Commandments,’ cited in the Gospel and in Deuteronomy. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Faith is not pure theology, or academic knowledge of Scripture. Unless thefaith becomes our faith, myfaith, yours too, the most important element is missing.
I will Bring them Back
(30th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Heb. 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52)
We have no trouble connecting La Salette with images used in today’s responsorial Psalm: “Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves”—tears (Mary’s and her people’s) over blighted crops, followed by a promise of abundant harvests.
The context of the Psalm, as also of the first reading, is a vision of God’s people returning from exile. This is God’s doing. No one is excluded.
The context of La Salette is similar. Christians were living in exile from their own faith. In hard times they had only themselves to count on, and they had proven inadequate to the task. Through the Beautiful Lady, God was offering to bring them back.
The people of Israel were in exile some seventy years. They had ample time to reflect seriously on their apostasy and that of their ancestors. When they were finally allowed to return to their homeland, they were resolved to be faithful to God and worship him alone. They were ready to submit.
At La Salette, Mary says, “I warned you last year with the potatoes. You paid no heed.” Like Israel of old, her people failed to understand what was coming. They, too, were in danger of being abandoned. Jesus had been, in the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, “able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring,” but now the time had come when his Mother was “obliged to plead with him constantly.”
She spoke of submission, not of a slavish sort, but born of trust. Take the Blind Bartimaeus, for example. He knows he has no special claim on Jesus’ attention; he says nothing to those who try to silence him, but continues to cry, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Standing before Jesus, he calls him Master.
All of this bespeaks a rightly submissive spirit. He is powerless to change his situation, but believes that Jesus can lead him out of darkness into light.
Our Lady reminds us that we can be brought back from whatever darkness or slavery or exile we may be experiencing. What is required on our part is to recognize our need, and to turn to the Lord with unwavering hope. Then our tongue will be filled with rejoicing.
(29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 53:10-11; Heb. 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45)
Imagine the disappointment of James and John! After they declared their readiness to drink from the same cup and share the same baptism as Jesus, and were assured by Jesus that they would indeed do so, their ambitious request was then denied.
Ambition is not evil in itself, but it lends itself to selfishness. That is why St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians, when he urges the Christians to strive for the greater gifts, immediately goes on to tell them, with many examples, that the greatest of all the gifts is love.
Maybe this is why Our Lady of La Salette chooses as witnesses simple children who would be less likely to understand the nature of the gift they have received and so less inclined to indulge in vainglory.
Our ambition should be to do our very best in God’s service and leave the judgment of our efforts up to him. Mary’s visit to La Salette was a sort of “evaluation” of her people. They had come up short. They were far from ambitious for the things of God, and she wanted them to understand the danger they were putting themselves in.
At the same time, she did not wish to discourage them. Her message bids us, in the words of our reading from Hebrews, to “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”
Jesus teaches his apostles that they must not claim any personal merit in their call. Yes, they have received authority from him, but it is to be exercised in service. Any good they are able to accomplish is no achievement of their own but is God’s work.
Whatever hardships we endure are in imitation of our Lord, who came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many,” who, as God’s servant, “was tested in every way, yet without sin,” and “through his suffering shall justify many.”
Psalm 116 contains the lovely verse, “How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me?” The next time you stand before a crucifix, remember what the Lord Jesus has done for you. Compare that to what you have done for him. Then answer the Psalmist’s question. Be ambitious!
(28th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wisdom 7:7-11; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30)
The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us: “Everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.” Yes, we know there will be a time of judgment, just as we know we will die some day, but we prefer not to dwell on these things.
In finance, accounting includes a report on income and expenses. But how is that report to be evaluated? By comparing it to the budget. That is the criterion for determining fiscal health.
Our brief text from Hebrews sums up the “budget” with the expression, “the word of God.” We will be judged by our lived response to God’s word.
Our Lady of La Salette points to the “budget” by her allusions to the commandments, which most Christians think of as the first criteria for the account we must render to God. Most of us memorized them as children; I still remember a sung version I learned in elementary school in the 1950’s!
But the word of God is much more than the Ten Commandments. Wisdom is preached as the ultimate goal in much of the Old Testament, the highest expression of God’s word, the best teacher in God’s ways. Her praises are sung in our first reading.
In the New Testament, the criteria for our account are too numerous to count. The sermon on the Mount comes immediately to mind, especially the beatitudes. Today’s Gospel teaches about the danger of being overly attached to material wealth.
Solomon states: “I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” In 1 Kings 3: 11-12, God congratulates him for not asking for long life, riches, etc., but for discernment to know what is right. So God gives him what he asked for.
Underlying all these texts is a desire to know God’s will so as to carry it out. It was the lack of this desire that our Mother Mary observed among her people, and she came to La Salette in the hope of opening their ears to God’s word, their eyes to God’s work, and their hearts to God’s will.
Only in this way can we commit ourselves to living a Christian life and be ready to plan our “budget” in view of the final accounting.