Worthy Wife, Worthy Faith

(33rd Ordinary Sunday: Prov. 31:10-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30)

The poem in praise of a worthy wife, eight verses in the Lectionary, is actually twenty-two verses long. Most of them describe her accomplishments.

But one verse stands out as different from the rest. Instead of saying what she does, it portrays who she is: “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Here as in many other places in the Book of Proverbs, we find the foundation of a worthy life, on which everything else is built.

The foundation of our Christian identity is the gift of faith. When it is weak, it cannot support the other spiritual gifts God wants to grant us.

St. Paul tells us, “We are not of the night or of darkness.” But there are times, perhaps, when we are. Our Lady of Salette, appearing in light, comes to help us walk in the way of the Lord. She is a beacon of unfailing hope; she bears the image of Perfect Love on her breast.

In her discourse she addressed issues of faith, particularly our relationship with God; but she certainly did not exclude concern for the well-being of others, as she demonstrates by her tears.

One day the Apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith (Luke 17:5). We would do well to make the same prayer from time to time, for ourselves, our families and friends. Then we may grow in hope and especially in love—the greatest of the everlasting gifts—becoming more charitable and loving, harvesting what God has sown in us.

Or, to use the image of today’s parable, we will be empowered to be good and faithful servants even in small matters. Each according to our ability, and cooperating with divine grace, we will be able to capitalize on the talents confided to us and make a worthy return to the Master when he comes.

Questions are thus raised: Who am I as a believer, and how may I best place myself at the service of the Lord? Answers vary, but they have a common foundation: faith and hope and love, and abiding joy.

Today’s collect expresses this thought as follows: “It is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the author of all that is good.”

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Choose Wisdom

(32nd Ordinary Sunday: Wisdom 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matt. 25:1-13)

The parable of the foolish and wise virgins is a cautionary tale. Having failed to welcome the bridegroom on his arrival, the foolish ones are themselves no longer welcome at the feast. Their lack of wisdom has cost them dearly.

Jesus warns his disciples to be like the wise virgins, not only anticipating his return but also doing what is required to prepare for it. 

In the Bible, wisdom encompasses many ideas, such as practical skills, shrewdness, deep thoughts and, as in the parable, prudence. It also includes the study of the Scriptures, so as to learn how to use the knowledge obtained, in view of distinguishing right from wrong, in accordance with God’s will.

Thus we read today in Psalm 63, “I will remember you upon my couch, and through the night-watches I will meditate on you.” In another Psalm (119) we find the famous verse, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.”

But unless this wisdom is desired, it will not be found. That is why, in 1846, a Beautiful Lady appeared to two ignorant children in the French Alps, in a globe of light. She meant her words to be a lamp for the feet and a light for the path of her people.

By her beauty and her gentleness, she draws us, like Mélanie and Maximin, into her light or, more precisely, into the light of her crucified Son. Wise Virgin that she is, there are things of which she, like St. Paul, does not want us to be unaware. So she lights the way between Jesus and her people, and shows the distance sin creates between him and us. 

Finally, by her compassion, she leads us to hope for the wisdom that comes with repentance, as well as the benefits promised to those who return to the Lord.

Mary speaks of prayer, the Lord’s Day, the Mass, and Lent. These, along with our personal commitment and devotion, are like the oil in the parable, symbolic of the ongoing renewal of our life in Christ.

May our lamp be ever lit as we pray with the Psalmist, “Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory... in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.”

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

See What Love!

(All Saints: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1‑3; Matthew 5:1-12)

There are two recurring themes in today’s readings: counting, and purity.

In Revelation we see two groups among the saved: one hundred forty-four thousand from the tribes of Israel, and then a multitude which no one could count. In 1 John, we are counted among (called) the children of God. And there is a list in the Gospel enumerating several beatitudes—a sort of manual of discipleship.

One of these reads, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” John writes, “Everyone who has this hope... makes himself pure.” And in the first reading, the uncounted multitudes “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

The Psalm unites the two themes in these words: “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? or who may stand in his holy place? One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.”

We desire to be counted among the “servants of God,” the term used in Revelation. If we are to be truly faithful in his service, we need to be clean of heart.

This notion is similar to that of pure gold; all impurities have been removed. In moral terms, it refers to the integrity of Christian life, the fullness of Christian love.

In our La Salette context, we can paraphrase St. John: See what love the Beautiful Lady has bestowed on us that she calls us her children, her people. In wearing the glowing image of her Son on her breast, she shows us God’s boundless mercy. Like all of today’s readings, she offers us a bright hope, which, however, is based upon one primary expectation: submission, which she also calls conversion.

This need not discourage us or, worse, lead to scrupulosity. Still, it calls for serious commitment to the person of Jesus Christ and the practice of our faith, humble acceptance of Church teaching, and honest examination of conscience.

St. John tells us that we shall see God as he really is. Let it be our prayer that, with a meek and humble heart, we may have the sure hope of being counted among those who seek God’s loving face.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Reputation

(30th Ordinary Sunday: Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40)

No one could ever accuse St. Paul of flattery. So, when he writes to the Thessalonians, “You became a model for all the believers,” he  must mean what he says.

How different from the words of the Beautiful Lady! Her people, far from being held up as a model, have earned a completely opposite reputation, which might be called spiritual laziness. After her Apparition, however, a certain number of people, Maximin’s father among them, resolved to restore her good opinion, so to speak.

Reputation is important. None of us likes to be ridiculed, insulted or made to look less than what we think we ought to be. We all would prefer to be known for the good we do than for our faults. 

Paul tells the Thessalonians that other Christian communities have heard “how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Thus they observed the Greatest Commandment. 

But they observed the Command to love their neighbor as well. They were known for their missionary zeal: “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth.” 

La Salette Missionaries, Sisters and Laity have a reputation, among other things, for a welcoming spirit and a desire to promote reconciliation. As individuals we sometimes fall short, but we can hope that it might be said of us that our love for God spills out into love of our neighbor.

We must maintain a certain balance, especially when our faith might be unwelcome in the foreign land that is our modern secular society. It is then that the witness of our Christian way of life most matters.

This includes Paul’s famous list of fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” We might also add the witness of Mary at La Salette: her tears and unceasing prayer, in response to sin and suffering.

In this way we hope to live in peace with all. May our reputation at least arouse curiosity in others, and draw them to the One who draws us. 

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Tell his Glory

(29th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 45:1-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21)

Our Lady told Maximin and Mélanie to make her message known to all her people. Initially, that simply meant to tell people what they had seen and heard. Today’s Psalm suggests, however, a deeper significance.

“Tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.” The joyous context of these words shows that, here too, it is not just a matter of communicating information, but sharing the enthusiasm of our faith.

The Beautiful Lady expresses her sadness not only about poor Mass attendance in the summer, but also about the disrespectful attitude of those who go to church in the winter, only to make fun of religion.

We know for ourselves the difference in attending Mass and participating fully in it. Distractions are many and often unavoidable, but our intent at least ought to be, as the psalmist says, to “worship the Lord in holy attire,” responding to his holiness.

Giving glory to God is at the core of the La Salette event. We do so when we honor his name, respect his day of rest, observe Lenten penance, pray faithfully and well, and recognize his fatherly care in our lives.

But it is at the Mass, as the Church’s chief form of public worship, that we can cry out: “Give to the Lord, you families of nations, give to the Lord glory and praise; give to the Lord the glory due his name!” 

The Eucharist is called “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Everything else in our life of faith flows from it, and everything leads back to it. In it “is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324).

This has practical consequences for us. Not only should we give God glory in the worthy celebration of the Sacrament, but we should so live in the public square as to “repay to God what belongs to God.”

Isn’t that what Mary was doing when she sang her Magnificat?

St. Paul writes, “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” This is a goal which we all should aspire to.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

The Lord will Provide

(28th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 25:6-10; Philippians 4:12-20; Matthew 22:1-14)

Just look at all things that God promises, in our first reading, to provide for his people! The image of rich food and choice wines is so enticing, it might almost distract us from all the rest. 

There is so much more: he will destroy death forever, wipe away tears from every face, remove his people’s reproach from the whole earth. See how in each case God’s intervention is definitive, complete.

So too in today’s Psalm, which sums up the reality from our perspective: “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”

And yet, it seems that today these images have lost their appeal. It is like the wedding guests who not only refuse to come to the feast, but abuse the messengers. How discouraging this can be for believers, as they see their numbers decrease.

In 1846, the anticlerical legacy of the French Revolution was still strong. This was the context of Mary’s Apparition at La Salette. Reproaching her people, she hoped to remove their reproach; speaking of the death of small children, she hoped they would turn in trust to the One who has destroyed death forever.

It is one thing, like St. Paul, to know how to live in humble circumstances and with abundance, materially speaking. Many people manage that. But it is quite another thing to deprive ourselves of what the Lord offers us. Paul makes a promise every bit as wonderful as Isaiah’s: “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

This requires chiefly one thing: the wedding garment, which is faith. And the living faith that the Beautiful Lady wishes to reawaken will enable us to do the three things she asks of us: to convert, to pray well, and to make her message known.

Conversion includes but is not restricted to returning to the Sacraments. If we remember the seven “Capital” sins, we can ask the Lord to “enlighten the eyes of our hearts,” so as to discern what virtues and behaviors we personally will need to cultivate, and “so that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call.”

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Anxiety, with Trust

(27th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43)

St. Paul writes, “Have no anxiety at all.” Surely this is unrealistic. In fact, the same Apostle wrote to the Corinthians, “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3).

The world we live in has always provided every generation ample cause for worry. Natural disasters, disease, social unrest, economic uncertainty are all around us. We also deal with personal loss, conflicts and self-doubt, etc. How is it possible to be without anxiety?

For some it is even hard to find time to pray, or have a proper frame of mind for prayer, so as to live in the peace of Christ.

Strangely, Isaiah’s song about his friend’s vineyard was, in fact, meant to heighten his people’s stress. The things the Lord will do to his vineyard are listed in order to get his people’s attention. He would rather not punish them, but how else can he persuade them to change their ways?

At La Salette, Mary used the same approach as Isaiah, and for the same purpose. If her people refuse to submit, the causes of their anxiety will only get worse, and it will be their own fault for, in their own way, like the chief priests and the elders in the Gospel, they have rejected her Son.

It certainly is appropriate for us to apply Isaiah’s message, and Mary’s, to ourselves. The vineyard lovingly planted in each of us by God at our baptism, needs to be watered and pruned, so that we can produce sweet grapes to make fine wine. The Beautiful Lady provides us with an examination of conscience, in view of our ongoing conversion.

St. Paul further says, “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” When thanksgiving is at the heart of our prayer, trust is reinforced. This is part of praying well.

In this context, I highly recommend the Book of Tobit as a marvelous example. Two unhappy persons, in separate scenes, pray for death. In each case the prayer begins with praise of God! 

Are anxiety and trust incompatible? No, but Mary’s love and tears will inspire trust and relieve anxiety.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Seeing Signs, Being Signs

(26th Ordinary Sunday: Ezekiel 18:25-28; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32)

“As for you, you pay no heed!” says the Beautiful Lady, speaking of her efforts on our behalf. A little later, in reference to the poor harvests: “I warned you last year with the potatoes. You paid no heed.”

The attitude she describes might be mere heedlessness, a failure to notice. After all, how could Christians of such weak faith be expected to recognize signs coming from heaven? But that is no excuse, because they did not even care to see.

In the Gospel, Jesus says to the chief priests and the elders: “When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did.” The chief priests and the elders were aware of this, but they did not see it as a sign, least of all intended for them. This is what St. Paul calls vainglory.

The Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette state in their Rule, “Attentive to the signs of the times and after prayer and discernment, we generously undertake those apostolic tasks to which we believe Providence is calling us.” The La Salette Sisters are “mindful of the urgent needs of people contingent upon the milieux, countries and times.”

La Salette Laity, too, must be aware that times change. The charism of reconciliation is one, but its expression is infinitely variable. We need to pay heed to the circumstances where it is needed, and find the appropriate way to bring it to bear.

This requires a certain death to self, i.e., the acknowledgement that we are not all-knowing and the willingness to work together. This is the point St. Paul makes to the community of Philippi, and he gives the example of Jesus, who “emptied himself,” so as to be truly one with us.

The psalmist often humbles himself by admitting his sins, but today he asks God, as it were, not to notice them, as he prays: “The sins of my youth and my frailties remember not.” In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we trust that “He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.”

When we are open to receiving and sharing God’s mercy, who knows? We may ourselves become a sign.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Worthy of the Gospel

(25th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20-27; Matthew 20:1-16)

There are many individual verses in Scripture that can be said to summarize the Message of La Salette. We find such a verse in today’s second reading: “Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Since in many places the Anniversary of the Apparition is being celebrated this month, let us see how La Salette helps us respond to Paul’s exhortation.

Respect for the Lord’s Name and the things of God is not simply the opposite of disdain. Yes, disrespect is to be avoided; as Isaiah says, “Let the scoundrel forsake his way.” But if our respect does not lead to a deep abiding love for the Lord, it is not yet “worthy.”

Praying well naturally includes the avoidance of distractions—though sometimes distractions are the real prayer. But Isaiah also says, “Let the wicked forsake his thoughts.” A genuinely prayerful life is, as it were, so filled with prayer as to leave no room for wicked thoughts. As today’s Psalm says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.”

The evangelical spirit, inherent in Paul’s vision of Christian life and in the example he sets, reminds us that the following of Christ is not a private devotion. If we are to make Mary’s message known, all the more we must live to attract others to the Gospel. There must be no selfish thinking, no comparing our achievements (like the workers in the vineyard) to those of others.

Submission is much more than doing as we are told. Isaiah reminds us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Those who want a God suited to their own thoughts and ways are inclined to blame him in hard times.

It is in such moments that we need to remember that “The Lord is just in all his ways and holy in all his works,” not in a way to inspire fear, but drawing us to “turn to him for mercy” to quote again the psalmist and Isaiah.

In Philippians 1:6, St. Paul expresses his confidence “that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” It is he who gives worth to what we do.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

The Mystery of Forgiveness

(24th Ordinary Sunday: Sirach 27:30—28:7; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35)

Today we begin with statistics. How often, I wondered, did God forgive his people, as compared to the times he punished them. It took little research to show that, in the vast majority of cases, forgiveness is either given or promised.

One of the classic texts is found in today’s Psalm: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.” 

In the first reading and the Gospel, it is clear that our starting point or, if you prefer, our default position, ought to be a readiness—dare we say eagerness?—to forgive.

During my research, however, I was struck also by the number of times forgiveness is paired with atonement. A typical example is in Leviticus 5:13: “The priest shall make atonement on the person’s behalf for the wrong committed, so that the individual may be forgiven.”

Herein lies the connection to the reading from Romans. Paul writes: “For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living,” The context for this saying is made clear in the very next sentence: “Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.”

We are not lords of one another. That title belongs exclusively to Jesus. It was bestowed on him when he offered himself on the cross as atonement for our sins. As his disciples, we do not have the option to withhold forgiveness.

Part of the submission to which the Beautiful Lady of La Salette calls us is that we accept the mercy won for us by her Son. Once we do so, it will be a joy for us to honor him as he deserves.

Novelist Terry Goodkind writes, “There is magic in sincere forgiveness; in the forgiveness you give, but more so in the forgiveness you receive” (Temple of the Winds, p. 318).

Substitute the word “grace” for “magic,” and see how the text is transformed: no longer words of wisdom, but an invitation to enter into one of the great mysteries of our faith.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

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