(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.”