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.