(Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12)
For Christians, the word Epiphany has a limited, specific meaning. If you look it up in a dictionary of Ancient Greek, you might be surprised to see how many meanings it has. Examples include: what something looks like; when something or someone comes into view; what is visible on the surface; the sensation created by someone. In short, something or someone is seen or noticed.
The Magi created a sensation when they arrived in Jerusalem. Before that, they saw a star come into view. They received an epiphany and then became one themselves when they appeared on the scene.
Another translation of the Greek word is simply Appearance, interchangeable with Apparition.
At La Salette, the bright globe of light the children first noticed revealed within itself a woman seated, her face in her hands, weeping. Thus begins the story of her epiphany, her Apparition. Mélanie and Maximin described what they saw. This created a sensation. We could paraphrase the words of the Gospel and say: The mayor was greatly troubled, and all the region around La Salette with him. And, like Herod, local authorities tried to hush everything up.
Epiphanies are not restricted to visual phenomena, however. Just as we say, “I see,” meaning “I understand,” there is more to an epiphany than meets the eye.
This is why we devote more attention to the message of the Beautiful Lady than to her appearance; why we study the history of the event, before and after September 19, 1846; why the lives of the two children matter; and why the Apparition is still an epiphany today.
Isaiah, as a prophet, experienced many epiphanies. St. Paul experienced one, on the Road to Damascus. As a result, both proclaimed the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan of salvation: “Nations shall walk by your light;” “The Gentiles are coheirs… copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
The Magi represented the Nations. They walked by the light of a star which changed their lives.
As long as La Salette remains an epiphany, it will have the power to change lives.
(Fourth Sunday of Advent: 2 Samuel 7:1-16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38)
The motto of the Society of Jesus is: Ad majorem Dei gloriam—For the Greater Glory of God. Today’s reading from St. Paul expresses, in a long sentence, the same sentiment: “To him who can strengthen you… be glory forever and ever.”
God’s glory is infinite. We cannot possibly add to it. We can, however, seek to reflect his glory more and more in our lives. It is a matter of service, whether great or small, according to our call and our abilities.
A famous biography of St. Teresa of Calcutta described her as having done Something Beautiful for God. King David had the same idea, but it was not his vocation. Still, he was rewarded for his desire to serve, and the promise made to him was fulfilled in Jesus, through the words of an Angel: “Of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Not all of us can glorify God as we might wish. The choice is not ours to make. Mary surely never expected to be the mother of the Messiah. But she did not refuse God’s call, and lived her vocation according to the gifts she had received. In fact, immediately after the Annunciation, she left home to help her cousin. In this and throughout her life the Lord was glorified (“magnified”) in her.
Mélanie never expected to encounter the Blessed Virgin and to be given a message for all her people. The time came, later, when she would gladly have served God as a religious Sister, but it was not to be. Instead, she faced many trials, and the Lord was glorified through her fidelity.
We cannot take the credit, however, when God is glorified in our lives. In one of the Prefaces at Mass we recognize this explicitly: “Although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness but profit us for salvation.”
Sometimes, all we can do is to acknowledge his glory, and to proclaim it as, for example, we do in today’s Psalm: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!”
In this context, we can understand the message of La Salette as an echo of Psalm 34:4, as though Mary were urging us: “Glorify the Lord with me, together let us praise his Name.”
(Third Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 61:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28)
In her Magnificat (today’s Responsorial Psalm), Mary joyfully identified herself as God’s servant. This means she understood her role in God’s plan. John the Baptist identified himself as a Voice. He, too, knew his role, his place.
The Beautiful Lady of La Salette did not identify herself in this way, but she did indicate her role: “I am here to tell you great news.” She identified herself, therefore, as God’s Messenger.
Isaiah describes himself in similar terms. He is sent by God to bring tidings, to proclaim, to announce.
What we do, however, does not define us completely. When St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to rejoice, to pray, to refrain from evil, there is an underlying reality that explains the doing, the role, the behavior. They are disciples of Jesus Christ, and therefore they live in a certain way.
That is Mary’s message at La Salette. The difference is that St. Paul was encouraging Christians who were aware of their identity, while Our Lady was speaking to those who had lost that sense of Christian identity, whose behavior contradicted it in many ways.
Conversion, a turning back, a return to a Christian way of life, might restore that identity. Mary promises that if her people are converted, their fields will again produce abundantly. In a mirror-image way, this would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: “As the earth brings forth its plants…, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.”
What all plants do, regardless of species, is to grow and produce fruit. That is the way God made them, and so they do God’s work. What true disciples of Christ do is to grow in their faith and produce fruits of righteousness, made holy and preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord. This is what God calls us to, it is his work and, as St. Paul writes, he will also accomplish it.
There should therefore be no difference between who we are and what we do. A poet named G.M. Hopkins wrote that everything in the universe cries out: “What I do is me: for that I came.” This applies to John the Baptist, to Mary and—why not?—to us.
Preparing the Way
(Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8)
In 1972, when I was a seminarian studying in Rome, my parents came to Europe and we traveled to the Holy Mountain of La Salette, which is about a mile above sea level.
We took the bus from Grenoble (about 700 feet above sea level) along a narrow, winding and increasingly steep road. My poor mother was terrified, and stared at the floor of the bus for much of the trip! She would surely have preferred that the valleys were filled in and the mountains made low!
In the ancient East, new roads might be built in anticipation of a monarch’s visit, or at least the old roads repaired. It’s not unlike the modern custom of a red carpet.
Isaiah’s call to prepare the way of the Lord had nothing to do with physical mountains and valleys. His concern, like that of John the Baptist, was the fact that the ups and downs and rough places of our lives can at times become an obstacle to God’s plan for us.
Those who go up to the Mountain where the Virgin Mary appeared, encounter the same message: a call to repentance and the forgiveness of sins. In her message she reminds us, in simple language, of the ordinary means to achieve that aim.
John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus. His goal was that his own disciples be ready to abandon him and follow the One who was to come after him. He took that role seriously, in all humility. In John’s Gospel, he says of Jesus and himself, “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Similarly, at La Salette, Mary asked nothing for herself. All she wanted was to persuade her people to follow her Son again, returning to the practice of their faith.
“Come, Lord Jesus!” is a recurring theme in Advent. It refers not only to the coming Feast of Christmas, but to the final return of Jesus in the end-time. St. Peter writes that we should not only wait for that coming, but so live as to hasten it.
As challenging as the call to conversion is, it really should be appealing to us. After all, why wouldn’t we want to be in a right relationship with God?
Mary prepares the Lord’s way to us, and ours to him.
Wakeful and Faithful
(First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 63:16-64:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37)
Every year on the First Sunday of Advent, the Gospel (whether Mark’s, Matthew’s or Luke’s) tells us to “watch,” “be vigilant,” “stay awake” for the Master’s return.
The Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette, like most apparitions, serves a similar purpose. It is as though the Blessed Virgin is saying to us, “Open your eyes! Look at what you are doing! Why do you pay no heed? Wake up!”
Just as the Master’s return cannot be predicted, no one could have anticipated such an event as an apparition in such a remote place. No one could have expected either Mélanie Calvat or Maximin Giraud, of all people, to have such an encounter and bring back such a surprising message.
Yet, when Mary says, “If the harvest is ruined, it is only on account of yourselves,” does not her voice resonate with the words of Isaiah: “You have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt”? What a dreadful prospect!
In both instances, God’s people were taking him for granted. They never expected that God would really abandon them. They were, after all, his people. He had a responsibility to them.
What they forgot, precisely, is that they were his people, that they had a responsibility also to him. Here again we see the prophetic character of La Salette, as the Beautiful Lady speaks of warnings given in the past, of the lack of fidelity in her people’s lives, of the need for submission.
The image of servants is one of submission. Their one responsibility is to carry out their master’s will faithfully, ideally out of love for the master, like the Christians of Corinth, to whom St. Paul writes: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Later in the same letter, he emphasizes that the gifts are meant to be put to use for the good of the community.
Let us be faithful, wakeful servants, lovingly submissive, waiting not in fear but in joyful anticipation and expectation that the Lord will indeed reveal himself to us in new ways in this new liturgical year.
Like King, Like Queen
(Solemnity of Christ the King: Ezekiel 34:11-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46)
Hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, sick, in prison. That’s the checklist Jesus uses in the famous judgment scene in Matthew’s gospel. There is another list, in today’s reading from Ezekiel, where the Lord catalogues all the things he will do for his sheep which, as we find in the preceding verses (not included), the official shepherds have failed to do.
But, as with other lists in the Scriptures, these are not exhaustive. They point us in a certain direction and allow us to see beyond the list, to draw up “new, improved” lists according to the world we live in. This is exactly how many Religious Orders came into existence. Some literally feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Some meet other, equally urgent, needs.
Interestingly, though hunger and sickness are specifically mentioned in the message of La Salette, the perspective is quite different. There they are seen as the consequence of sin.
When people bring misfortune on themselves, we can be “judgmental,” content to blame them. But we are not dispensed from reaching out to them in their need. Jesus identifies himself with “the least,” the lowest of the low, whom we might think of as “those people.” What we do or fail to do—even for them—we do or fail to do for him. Jesus says that none of us has the right to look the other way when confronted by the essential needs of others.
Our Lady, whom we also call the “Queen of La Salette,” not content to blame her people, saw beyond their sufferings. She came to “seek out the lost and bring back the strayed,” (cf. Ezekiel) promising abundance “if they are converted.”
She spoke of Lent. How can we adopt Lenten practices, and not be aware of the death of children and the famines that continue to occur in our world? If we are converted, we will not turn a blind eye.
In the Gospel, it is clear that the failure to respond to the needs of others reflects a failure to grasp the full implications of discipleship.
Once again, the message of Our Lady of La Salette is remarkably close to the message of Christ. King and Queen are in perfect accord.
Seat of Wisdom
(Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wisdom 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13)
Confucius says: By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
The foolish virgins of the parable suffered the bitter consequences of experience. Parents and teachers try to help children avoid just such situations. Ideally, youth will learn to reflect before they act. That is the goal of Wisdom, personified in the first reading.
Wisdom is described as resplendent; and “she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them.” How can I read these words without thinking of the Beautiful Lady?
One of the titles in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin is: Seat of Wisdom. Explanations differ, as does the iconography. Essentially, however, we are to understand that Jesus in his humanity learned some of his wisdom from his mother, who in turn acquired hers as she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
The refrain of the Responsorial Psalm, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God,” is similar to a wise concept that is popular today, namely that there is in each of us a God-shaped hole that only God can fill. As long as it remains empty, we thirst.
St. Paul addresses the question of death so that the Thessalonians will not be unaware of the hope that is theirs. If we see that in the light of Jesus’ words, “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour,” we encounter the deeper wisdom of the parable.
At La Salette, Mary comes not to impart knowledge, but wisdom, which is deeper, richer, more meaningful. She wants her people to learn from painful experience. She shows them what is happening (“I warned you last year with the potatoes. You paid no heed.”)
She also shows what might be (“If they are converted…”), and hints at the wisdom contained in the Church’s rhythm of prayer: daily (evening and morning), weekly (Mass), annually (Lent).
She wants us to “pay heed,” to imitate her, reflecting on all these things in our heart.
Call to Integrity
(Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time: Malachi 1:14-2:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-13; Matthew 23:1-12)
Today’s reflection is definitely off the beaten path.
Malachi’s strong words to the priests of his day, and Jesus’ criticism of the Scribes and reminded me of a curious, tangential episode in the history of La Salette.
During her Apparition, Our Lady of La Salette spoke privately to each of the children, telling them not to share with anyone what she said just then.
These “secrets” were not included in the Bishop’s approval of the Apparition in 1851, and the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette are, you might say, allergic to them, and show little interest in them.
In 1851, Maximin and Mélanie were persuaded to write down their secrets for the Pope. The letters were later lost, and rediscovered only in 1999.
Mélanie’s secret included the following: “Priests and Religious women, and the true servants of my Son will be persecuted, and many will die for their faith in Jesus Christ… Among the Ministers of God and the Brides of Jesus Christ, there will be some who will give themselves over to disorder, and that will be something terrible.”
But 28 years later, in 1879, Melanie published a much longer version, beginning with the following: “The priests, ministers of my Son, the priests, by their wicked life and their lack of piety in celebrating the sacred mysteries, by love of money, honors and pleasures, have become sewers of impurity.” There is no mention of some dying for their faith.
Recent Popes—Francis, Benedict XVI and John Paul II—have pledged to repair the great harm done, especially but not exclusively to children, as well as to the Church, by priests and religious.
St. Paul, on the other hand, never one to understate his ministry, writes: “We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children... Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” There are similar passages in many of his letters.
God grant that similar passages be written in bold letters, so to speak, in the lives of all whose lives are dedicated to the service of God and his people.
Always and Everywhere
(Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40)
Years ago, I attended a wedding where the couple composed their own vows. The groom began with the promise to respect and support his wife, in good times and bad, etc., and concluded with the words, “As long as we both shall love.”
He seemed not to realize that he had just implied that a time might come when they no longer loved each other! True love admits of no such possibility. It is ‘always’ and ‘everywhere.’ And true love is what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel.
Our Lady’s true and boundless love of God and neighbor is expressed at La Salette in the words, ‘my Son’ and ‘my people.” We find it in her gentle tone, her tears, her closeness to the children.
When she reminded Maximin of his visit to a farm at Coin, she showed how God’s love surrounds us at all times, in every place. She wants us to be imitators of her, responding to God’s love always and everywhere.
When in Luke’s Gospel Mary said to the angel, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word,” she didn’t mean just here and now, but everywhere and always. The same is true of her song, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. The Almighty has done great things for me.”
We might wonder what it means to love ‘with all our mind.’ We might think that there is little difference between loving with all our heart and all our soul; or we could try to explore each term for subtle changes of meaning. But this is no academic exercise. The meaning is clear: true love of God and neighbor is, by its very nature, ‘always’ and ‘everywhere.’
Examples abound among the saints. St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, wrote a beautiful Act of Love that begins: “I love you, O my God, and my one desire is to love you until my dying breath.” He truly lived that prayer, personally and in his ministry to others.
Why God should want our love is a mystery. Yet it is so important, that he made it the greatest of all the commandments. He doesn’t need it; we do. And since it is only through his goodness that we have anything to offer him, he makes it possible.
Yes, we really can love God always, everywhere, truly.
(Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 25:6-10; Philippians 4:12-20; Matthew 22:1-14)
“On this mountain,” proclaims Isaiah, “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of his people he will remove.” In telling the story of La Salette, we invariably speak of a mountain, of tears, and reproaches.
In tears on that mountain, the Blessed Virgin Mary reproached her people especially for their lack of a living faith.
Another image in common between La Salette and this reading from Isaiah, and with the Gospel, is the banquet. It occurs explicitly in Isaiah and Matthew, and implicitly in Our Lady’s message, when she speaks of the Mass. On the Mountain of La Salette she reminds us of the feast that the Lord has provided in the Eucharist.
The identification of the Eucharist as a banquet goes back at least as far as St. Augustine, who died in the year 430 AD. He wrote: “You are seated at a great table… The table is large, for the banquet is none other than the Lord of the banquet himself…; though host, he himself is both food and drink.”
In Matthew’s version of the Parable of the Wedding Feast, the invited guests refused to come. Some even engaged in gratuitous violence towards the messengers. Indifference and hostility toward religion in many places is a fact that Christians have to face.
The above quotation from Augustine is from one of his sermons, but it is not directly about the Eucharist. It is about martyrdom. The body derives little sustenance from a small host and a sip from the chalice, but the spirit is strengthened, encouraged, emboldened. As St. Paul writes, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”
From this point of view, we can put the Beautiful Lady’s words, about lack of reverence for the Mass, in the same context as what she says about the famine. She weeps because her people are faced with starvation, physically and spiritually.
In the Act of Consecration to Our Lady of La Salette we say: “May I so live as to dry your tears and console your afflicted heart.” One way to accomplish that goal is our faithful and loving participation in the Eucharist.