Rest in the Lord

(16th Ordinary Sunday: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34)

It is time to once again stop and reflect on today’s readings from a La Salette perspective.

Jeremiah proclaims God’s condemnation of “the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture.” But does the flock bear no responsibility? Real sheep cannot be blamed for being sheep, but when dealing with human beings, the image can go only so far. We have a conscience.

In its chapter on The Dignity of the Human Person, the Catechism of the Catholic Church includes a section on conscience. It begins with a quotation from Vatican II: “Man has in his heart a law inscribed by God.... His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

It then presents Church teaching under four headings, one of which is, The Formation of Conscience. The underlying premise is faith, such as the Psalmist today expresses in the Lord, his Shepherd.

Around the time of the French revolution, the philosophy of separation of Church and State, logical enough in itself, had led to serious anticlericalism. Since then, it is possible in France to celebrate a “civil baptism” for a newborn child, who is placed “under the protection of the Republic’s lay institutions.”

This attitude was behind people’s neglect of the Eucharist, and of religious practice in general, which Mary complained of at La Salette. Her people had been led astray.

Jeremiah conveys God’s promise: “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock.” The Beautiful Lady offers hope to those who will but return to her Son.

Today there are many “shepherds” competing for the trust of the flock. The list includes scientists, governments, psychologists, news commentators, etc. Some are overtly hostile to religion. How are we to cope?

Today’s Gospel offers a hint. Jesus says to his Apostles after their missionary journey, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” That didn’t happen, but the principle is sound. We need to get away sometimes from all the distractions, to rest with the Lord who refreshes our soul, and to pray well.

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

What we Were... What we Are

(15th Ordinary Sunday: Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13)

The La Salette connection to today’s first reading is obvious. Amos says, “I was no prophet...; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

The Blessed Virgin spoke to two children who were certainly no prophets. She took them from following their cows, and said, “You will make this known to all my people.”

The Apostles, sent out as missionaries by Jesus in today’s Gospel, could say much the same thing: I was just a fisherman, just a tax collector, just an activist. The Lord took me from that, he changed my life entirely. Much later Paul, not one of the original Twelve, did not hesitate to tell others that he had been a persecutor of the Church until his encounter with Jesus.

Put yourself in their sandals. What were you? What are you now? We have all experienced life-changing events, of course. Some, like faith, are fundamental.

Even for those who have been practicing Catholics all their life, there comes a moment when prayer, the sacraments, Scripture, etc., all take on a new, more personal meaning and importance; they matter as they have never mattered before. This is conversion.

It may take place gradually, but at La Salette, it tends to be more sudden. Many an unsuspecting tourist to the Holy Mountain returns later as a pilgrim. The confessional is where most La Salette miracles take place.

In the second reading, Paul reminds us twice that we are chosen by God. Both times, however, he adds, “in him,” namely, in Christ. As La Salettes we might be tempted to think we have been chosen “in Mary,” but that would be incorrect. The very heart of the Beautiful Lady’s Apparition is Jesus, whose crucified image she wears over her heart.

If we truly believe, and have our faith properly rooted in Christ, then we can give glory to God as he summons us and sends us out to prophesy, to proclaim, to make a message known. We may have been something else, but now as we are converted and reconciled to God through his Son, we can in confidence turn our attention to the mission, whatever, wherever it may be.

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

Sufficient Grace

(14th Ordinary Sunday: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6)

Most of us are willing to make sacrifices for a cause, or for others, perhaps even for our faith. But can we honestly say with St. Paul: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ”? That’s no small feat!

Yet, that is what Paul claims in today’s second reading. Note, however, that originally he was not at all content, when he was being tormented by what he calls “a thorn in the flesh,” and when his insistent prayer for release was not heard. Finally the Lord replied, “My grace is sufficient for you.” That was a revelation to Paul and, through him, to us.

Sufficient grace was promised to Ezekiel in the first reading. He describes it as a spirit entering him and setting him on his feet, preparing him to face the rebellious people of God. “Whether they heed or resist, they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”

Have you ever been in that position? Holding others accountable is a thankless job, and those who are called to do so may well be perceived as a thorn in the flesh and treated with hostility.

For us who love Our Lady of La Salette so much, it is impossible to think that anyone could be hostile to the Apparition. But we must acknowledge that some things in the message and history of La Salette are troubling, both to ordinary folk and to theologians.

Maximin and Mélanie had to deal with that opposition; but they received sufficient grace to accomplish their mission in their time and place. Even though they were given an education, they remained fundamentally the simple persons they had always been. Like Jesus in the Gospel, they were criticized for being who they were.

But we may boast of their weaknesses. Look at what was accomplished through them. There can be no doubt that the Beautiful Lady accompanied them. Can we doubt that she accompanies us?

Conversion is a difficult but essential part of the message each of us strives to make known. By the sufficient grace of God, may the people know, in our time and place, that a prophet was among them.

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

In the Crowd

(13th Ordinary Sunday: Wisdom 1:13-15 & 2:23-24; 2 Cor 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43)

Imagine yourself in the crowd following Jesus in today’s Gospel. Do you press in as close as possible to the famous man? Or do you say, “I’m out of here!” and go to the fringe of the crowd, where you can watch from a comfortable distance?

It all depends on how you feel in large groups, being jostled about, with people brushing against you, as in the scene Mark describes. But wait! As followers of the Lord, should we not be open to the possibility that someone in the crowd needs something from us?

Avoidance is not the mark of Jesus’ disciples. On the contrary, we are called to be attentive to the needs of those around us and to respond as we are able. Sometimes we may be inclined to pass judgment on those in need; that is only an attempt to justify our unchristian behavior.

We find the best example in Jesus, of course. But the Beautiful Lady of La Salette tells us herself that we will never be able to repay her efforts on our behalf as she deserves. And now, she comes, hoping to preserve her people. Her message may be summed up with the words of Jesus to Jairus: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

If we live by that saying, we may well hear the voice of Jesus saying to us as to the woman who touched him, “Your faith has saved you” and, as to the daughter of Jairus, “I say to you, arise!”

Perhaps it is that experience that makes the Sacrament of Reconciliation so important at La Salette Shrines. When we approach Jesus in the person of the priest, like the woman in the Gospel who “told him the whole truth,” we believe that power goes out from him, healing us and helping us to go in peace.

This experience also can form us, so that we may be prepared and willing to be touched by those in need of reconciliation, healing, conversion and comfort. Thus we participate in “the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,” of which St. Paul writes in the second reading.

What a beautiful way to imitate Christ and our Blessed Mother! Let us go into our world, with today’s Psalm response in our hearts, “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.” Amen! Amen! Amen!

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

Storms and Faith

(12th Ordinary Sunday: Job 38:1, 8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41)

If we notice only the words God speaks to Job in the first reading, we can miss an important point: “The Lord addressed Job out of the storm.” God is not only the Master of the storm, he is there within it.

Job had to deal with physical sufferings, bewilderment, and the misguided comfort offered by his friends. All this caused a storm within him. What he did not know was that God was in the storm with him, protecting him even as he allowed Job to be tested.

In the Psalm, God raised up the storm and then, in answer to prayer, “hushed it to a gentle breeze.” The Gospel shows Jesus sleeping during a squall, while the boat was filling up with water. The disciples’ cries to him were not prayers but complaints: “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus in turn reproaches them: “Do you not yet have faith?”

The Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette raised the same question. Panic in the face of the approaching famine was beginning to assume storm-like proportions in the local towns and beyond. Where was their faith? The Beautiful Lady came to show them that they were not abandoned, and that what mattered to them mattered to God.

We too can cry to the Lord in our distress (in our storms), if only with the imperfect faith of the disciples. It may not be a rescue in the way we imagine it and, like Job, we may have to ride out the storm.

Look at our lives during times of trouble and discord or loss. It is at these times we come to appreciate the people who are there to offer comfort, support, and help. We learn who our true friends are.

This is true in our spiritual lives as well, if we have faith, and believe Christ is with us, ready to command the seas to be calm and the winds to be still. In fact, we might ask ourselves what our faith in God would look like if we never had to live through storms.

The second reading appears to have little in common with the rest, but “the conviction that one died for all” touches every aspect and moment of our lives, whether peaceful or stormy, for “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.”

La Salette helps bring that truth home as well.

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

Humble Courage

(11th Ordinary Sunday: Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34)

In today’s first reading, God declares, “I, the Lord, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree.” Can you hear an echo of this in a much more familiar passage?

We are thinking of Mary’s Magnificat: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.”

The key notion in both texts is humility, which is equally essential to the message of Our Lady of La Salette. The Beautiful Lady saw that her people had been brought low. But instead of humbling themselves, they revolted. Far from them was the attitude expressed in today’s Psalm: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High, to proclaim your kindness at dawn and your faithfulness throughout the night.”

Remember how the Magnificat begins. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” This is not as easy as it sounds. Among like-minded friends, yes, we might proclaim God’s greatness and kindness. But it is a different matter in our everyday world. It can take courage.

Twice in our second reading St. Paul says that “we are courageous,” because “we walk by faith, not by sight.” In other words, we place our life in God’s hands, and trust him to accomplish his work in us and through us, as mysteriously as he causes seeds and plants to grow. Jesus uses this image in today’s Gospel to describe the kingdom of God, to which each of us belongs.

Recognizing our own distinct role is not easy, however, because we are not always attentive to the subtle movements of the Spirit within us. Here are some questions that may help in that discernment. Who is your favorite saint? What is your favorite prayer, hymn, scripture passage?

More specifically for us, what is your favorite part of the story of La Salette? What part of the message stirs you most deeply?

The answers to these questions can help us discern the manner in which the Lord wishes us to serve him. Accepting that call will probably require courage; it will certainly require humility.

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

“My Blood of the Covenant”

(Corpus Christi: Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26)

Moses in our Exodus reading says, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you.” This is very similar to Jesus’ words in the Gospel, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

The first is the blood of animals sacrificed on behalf of the chosen people. The second is the blood of Christ, “my blood,” shed for many, i.e. for all who will enter into his covenant.

A covenant is between two or more parties. Each has reasonable expectations of the other, each pledges to be faithful to the agreements made. Notice that before Moses sprinkled the Hebrews with the blood of the covenant, they declared, “All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do.” Time and again they failed, but the Lord always took them back.

After the New Covenant, the same thing happened. At La Salette the Mother of Jesus complained: “In the summer, only a few elderly women go to Mass. The rest work on Sundays all summer long. In the winter, when they don't know what to do, they go to Mass just to make fun of religion.”

Considering the centrality of the Eucharist as “source and summit” of the Church’s life, this is damning criticism indeed. For years, in many Christian communities, Church attendance has been in decline. Surveys claim that a shocking percentage of Catholics do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. (This may be because they can’t explain it.)

This is what happens when we forget that the Covenant in Christ’s blood is, first and foremost, a relationship. Today’s Psalm puts it in these terms: “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me? The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the Lord.”

If only we could be perpetually aware of God’s goodness to us! We would then be less inclined to take it for granted, or even to neglect the gift of the Eucharist, the “efficacious sign” (i.e. sacrament) of Christ’s pouring out his precious blood for us.

At Mass we echo the Psalmist’s words: “My vows to the Lord I will pay in the presence of all his people.” This, too, is part of making Mary’s message known.

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

Have you Noticed?

(Trinity Sunday: Deuteronomy 4:32-40; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20)

How many times have you thought of the Blessed Trinity in the last week? Let’s suppose you attended a Sunday Mass, recited the Rosary three times, and prayed Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer from the breviary once.

That adds up to a minimum of twenty-five times that you either heard or read or said the names of Father, Son and Spirit together. But the question is: did you think of them? Were you attentive or, to use a La Salette expression, were you praying well? Were you actually paying homage to the Most Holy Trinity?

Perhaps it is because of our tendency to distraction that the Church offers us each year a solemnity in which we may consciously worship God in all his trinitarian magnificence and glory.

The revelation of God’s inner mystery took centuries. First came creation. “He spoke, and it was made; he commanded, and it stood forth” as we read in the Responsorial. After choosing a people, he freed them from slavery, as Moses in the first reading reminds them. Finally he sent his Son, who sent us the Spirit.

Without using trinitarian language, the message of Our Lady of La Salette evokes the Father who rescued his people but whose commandments were now being ignored. Her crucifix shows the Son who redeemed and reconciled his people; they now refused him the respect and worship he deserved. Mary’s tears are her way of saying, “How could you forget?”

Might the Spirit be the source of the light of which she was made, or the inspiration behind her words? Be that as it may, Father, Son and Spirit are all reflected in her tenderness and beauty.

One might be tempted to see another trinitarian dimension in the apparition. La Salette is one and three. It a single event; but its three phases give rise to the distinct images of the Weeping Mother, the Conversation, and the Assumption.

In the second reading, St. Paul tells us we have received a “Spirit of adoption,” and we are “heirs with Christ.” Let us therefore notice what we are saying when we pray, “Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to God who is, who was, and who is to come” (Gospel Acclamation).

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

Rekindling the Fire

(Pentecost: Acts 2:1-11; Galatians 5:16-25; John 15:26-27 and 16:12-15)

The disciples had been gathering in the upper room for some time. There they prayed, they elected Matthias to replace Judas and, as Jesus had told them at his Ascension, they were waiting for “the promise of the Father.”

Then, in wind and fire, came the Spirit driving them, as it were, out of the upper room into the world to preach, “as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

In today’s Gospel Acclamation we pray: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love;” and in the Sequence: “Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.”

In the second reading, St. Paul is trying to help the Galatians understand that their sectarian quarrels (among other things) have nothing to do with the fruits of the Spirit. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit,” he writes. In other words, leave behind everything that is not of the Spirit.

When we read these words, we may be inclined to feel guilty as charged. If so, what is holding us back?

At La Salette, Mary came to rekindle the fire of God’s love in her people. With a message that was deliberately unsettling, she wanted to drive them out of their complacency, so that they might respond to their Christian vocation, as the Spirit enabled them.

The challenge of Pentecost is always the rekindling of our hearts, but not for ourselves alone. The fire is meant to spread. It is restless; if it stays in one place, it will burn out.

So also with La Salette. Visitors to the Holy Mountain often shed tears when it is time to leave. But La Salette is like the upper room of Pentecost. What is experienced there must not be confined to that place.

The Beautiful Lady appeared in light, to draw our attention back to her Son. She spoke so as to be understood. As La Salettes, it is not enough for us to repeat her words. We want to truly listen to others, to speak their language; we still need the Holy Spirit to drive us out into the world to preach, work, live and show our love for God, and thus to help us translate La Salette with our words and actions.

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

Commissioned by Christ

(Ascension, celebrated on Sunday in many dioceses: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-13; Mark 16:15-20.)

The conclusion of Mark’s Gospel, which we read today, seems to combine Luke’s story of the Ascension with Matthew’s account of Jesus’ command to proclaim the Gospel to all the world.

The commission has been given. What an awesome charge, what a grave responsibility! Have no fear, though, because Christ did not set us up for failure but ultimately for success.

In the first reading, just before the Ascension, Jesus made a promise: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem... and to the ends of the earth.”

In Mark, Jesus told his apostles of signs that would accompany their ministry, after which he was taken from their sight.

At La Salette, the Beautiful Lady promised signs that would follow, “if they are converted.” She also gave a commission, beginning with Mélanie and Maximin: “You will make this known to all my people.”

She then turned away, repeated her final command, and ascended back to heaven. She came to remind us gently of the work her Son had left for us to do, and now she was gone.

This feast is more than recognizing that Christ ascended to his rightful place at the right hand of God. It is also about us, the body of Christ here on earth, desiring to ascend also, to be with Christ the head of our Church. We need to get to work.

We have the tools, especially the sacraments. We have the instruction manual, i.e., the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. We each have our particular skill, charism and specialty to contribute; as we find in the second reading: “He gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith.”

We pray: “Lord, kindle in our hearts a longing for the heavenly homeland and cause us to press forward, following in the Savior’s footsteps, to the place where for our sake he entered before us” (Vigil Mass). As La Salettes, we long to see Mary there as well.

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

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