The Choice

(Christ the King: 2 Samuel 5:1-3; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43)

Most Catholic Churches do not have a statue or other image of Jesus seated on a throne as King of the Universe. All, however, have a crucifix prominently displayed, showing Christ at the supreme moment of his love for us.

The crucifix worn by Mary at La Salette is, as we have often stated, central to her apparition. It is also unique. People who see it for the first time invariably ask what the hammer and pincers mean. (It’s interesting to ask them first what they think it means.)

The simplest answer is that the children described these as part of the Beautiful Lady’s dress, not attached to the cross but under its arms. Apart from that, there is no official interpretation. The most common explanation, however, is that the hammer represents sin, driving the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet, and the pincers symbolize repentance, removing the nails. In other words, they indicate a choice.

Today’s gospel, too, shows us Christ crucified. Put yourself at the scene. Hear the cries, “Save yourself!” Note that he is one of three criminals being crucified that day. The other two are on his right and left.

One of those joins in the hostility of the crowd. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” He shows no compassion for a fellow sufferer. The other rebukes him, and then expresses amazing faith and hope as he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” These are the only kind words addressed to Jesus on the cross.

There is, if you will, a parallel between the La Salette crucifix and the two criminals. One, like the hammer, causes pain; the other, like the pincers, undoes it. Again we see the choice for or against Christ, presented in an especially poignant manner.

Jesus responds with a promise: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (At La Salette, the equivalent is the prophetic vision of abundance, accompanied by living hope.)

If the people there mocking him only knew what we know, as St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:8, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” They might have understood that he chose not to save himself because he was saving us.

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

Fearless Fear

(33rd Ordinary Sunday: Malachi 3:19-20; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19)

The Prophet Malachi and Jesus both prophesy a time of trouble. In the first reading, “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven.” In the gospel, “Days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone.” An ominous doomsday-like prospect!

Both also offer encouragement to the faithful. “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays” (Malachi). “You are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking” (Jesus).

Here we find two terms that are found together three times in the Old Testament, in the familiar text: “The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord.” Among the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom is listed first, and fear of the Lord, last.

It is well known that fear of the Lord does not mean being afraid of God, but rather respecting him so much that we would never wish to offend him. In this sense, the Beautiful Lady of La Salette says, “Don’t be afraid,” but then goes on to describe ways in which her people have no fear of the Lord.

Those who fear God in the proper sense, are ready to submit to his will, however it is manifested in their life. It may include persecution or a call to generous service, but at the very least it means living in such a way that we might serve as a model to others.

In the second reading, St. Paul states: “We wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us.” Specifically, he wants Christians to earn their keep rather than expect others to provide for them. But in 1 Corinthians 11:1 he makes a broader claim: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Jesus is, indeed, the ultimate model of fear of the Lord. He was “obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). At La Salette, Mary invited us to reclaim this gift of the Holy Spirit.

It would be imprudent, if not arrogant, to tell others to imitate us. And yet, in a certain sense, our Christian faith is inevitably on display. As Jesus says in John 13:35: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This, too, is fear of the Lord.

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

Waiting in Sure Hope

(32nd Ordinary Sunday: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38)

The readings for this weekend follow closely on the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day). Therefore, it seems the proper time to talk about resurrection and the theological virtue of Hope.

In the first reading we hear part of the story of a mother who witnessed the torture and death of her seven sons, before being put to death herself, for refusing to eat pork. The fourth son expressed their motivation: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.”

Mary’s complaint at La Salette about people going to the butcher shops in Lent stands in sharp contrast to the faith for which those brave persons gave their lives. They inspire our admiration. How willing would we be, however, in comparable circumstances, to imitate them? The very thought makes us pray that our faith might never be put to such a test.

Paul reminds the Thessalonians that God “has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace,” and “will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.”

In the gospel, Jesus insists on the resurrection. This is reflected in the conclusion of the Nicene Creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

It is easy to imagine that, at La Salette, the Beautiful Lady’s tears flowed most abundantly when she spoke of the children under the age of seven who would die in the arms of those who held them. She knew from painful experience what their mothers would suffer. But if her people refused to turn back to God, where would they find the hope required to see them though their time of grief?

The crucifix Mary wore was blindingly bright. But let us not forget that the cross, an instrument of death, was first and foremost a cruel means of prolonging and aggravating death through torture and humiliation. And yet it has become our chief source of hope.

Jesus will come, as we say in the Creed, to judge the living and the dead. May we be found waiting in the sure hope of the resurrection.

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


(31st Ordinary Sunday: Wis. 11:22-12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10)

As we read and reflected on this weekend’s scripture readings, the word encounter kept surfacing.

This is obvious in the gospel story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. In the second reading, Paul and his companions Silvanus and Timothy wrote, “We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling.” In both instances, the Lord took the initiative.

The first reading doesn’t mention individuals, but the dynamic is the same. “You have mercy on all,… you love all things that are,… you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O Lord!”

Who are we compared to God? Yet God still desires to have an encounter with us.

In the gospel, Zacchaeus hoped to see the famous Jesus pass by. So, he did what he had to do. Put yourself in his sandals. Would you have been curious enough? Would you have been willing to deal with the crowds, especially being so well known in the town?

Jesus also wanted to see Zacchaeus, but for a very different reason. Zacchaeus could never have imagined that Jesus would actually invite himself to stay in his house, the house—as the murmuring crowd pointed out—of a sinner! But Jesus sought him out because he wanted an encounter. This was no chance event. Jesus’ purpose was achieved: “Today salvation has come to this house.”

Maximin and Mélanie did not expect to see a Beautiful Lady on that Saturday afternoon in September 1846. She sought them out to sound a warning to her people, to remind them of sin and the necessity of abandoning wickedness, and the need for conversion.

As members of the greater La Salette community, our encounter with the weeping Mother has transformed us, but from time to time we may need to ask: do we still hear the rebuke? Do we still need the warning?

There’s no reason to fear these questions. After all, the whole of Mary’s message was prefaced by, “Come closer, my children, don’t be afraid.” No harm, but only good will come of this encounter.

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

Blessed Lowliness

(30th Ordinary Sunday: Exodus 17:8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8)

In chapter 6 of his gospel, Luke gives his version of the beatitudes, where Jesus singles out as blessed those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and persecuted.

Today’s first reading assures us, “The Lord is a God of justice, who knows no favorites.” The author then appears to contradict himself, emphasizing that God always hears the cry of the oppressed, of orphans and widows, and of the lowly. Among them, however, he includes “the one who serves God willingly.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary, who called herself God’s lowly servant, is the shining example of willingness in his service. At La Salette she encourages us to follow her example. The word she uses is: submit.

We confidently pray to her and to other saints. Their virtuous lives in the Lord’s service allow their voices to be heard on our behalf, standing by our side when, like the tax collector in the gospel, we hesitate to raise our eyes to heaven, and say, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

What we ask of the Lord for ourselves, we should be ready to give to others. A few weeks ago, a reading at daily Mass, from Proverbs, ended with the words, “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard.”

In the second reading St. Paul writes from prison, “At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me.” Jesus had that experience before him, and many others since. In our increasingly secular world, we may well find ourselves standing alone. We will need to fight the good fight, finish the race and, above all, keep the faith.

When we see someone going through the trials of life alone, we should be brave and appear on their behalf. May our words and actions always reflect the words of today’s Psalm: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear me and be glad.” Let us never desert each other.

Let us approach the Lord with that attitude of mind and heart which will make him most disposed to hear us, not exalting ourselves like the Pharisee, but humbling ourselves before him.

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

Finding our Place

(29th Ordinary Sunday: Exodus 17:8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8)

In 1876, the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, not yet 25 years old, were faced with a decision. A proposal was made, to develop the Congregation in two branches: one contemplative and penitential, the other active in the apostolate. The former was to provide spiritual support to the latter.

The idea is similar to what we see in today’s reading from Exodus. As Joshua engaged Amalek in battle, Moses prayed from his vantage point on a hill. Thus, any time the soldiers looked up, they drew courage from seeing Moses in prayer.

We look to the Beautiful Lady often and say, “Our Lady of La Salette, Reconciler of Sinners, pray without ceasing for us who have recourse to you.” We know that she prays constantly for us. She told us so herself.

But we are not passive recipients. La Salette Laity, in particular, can assume various roles. The image of Aaron and Hur in the first reading is especially striking in this context. They are not with Joshua on the battlefield. They are not praying as Moses is. Instead, when Moses’ arms grow tired, they find a creative way to enable Moses to continue his ministry. They are supporting both him and Joshua.

This story from Exodus is sometimes used to interpret Mary’s words about the arm of her Son. She is seen then as acting like Aaron and Hur, holding up the arm of Jesus as he intercedes for us.

In the celebration of the Eucharist, the priest at the altar may be likened to Moses on the hill. As he looks out upon the congregation and prays for them, he is not alone, but is supported by the people through their faithful and active participation in a variety of liturgical and other ministries in the Church.

Are you a Moses? The world needs your prayer, your example. The world needs to see you on the hill with your hands held high in prayer, in order to draw strength from your example and be converted, that we may all be the people God desires us to be.

Or maybe you are a Joshua, or an Aaron or Hur, or some other scriptural figure? We can all find our place in the Church and in the La Salette world.

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

Gratitude for Healing

(28th Ordinary Sunday: 2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19)

Since we are going to reflect on gratitude, we begin by thanking all of you, our faithful readers, and those among you who occasionally send helpful and encouraging comments.

We will also be discussing healing. In today’s first reading, one leper, Naaman, is healed, while in the gospel ten lepers are healed. Expressions of faith and gratitude follow these healings.

Our Lady of La Salette wept over the death of children and the famine that had already begun to ravage Europe. The cause was a sort of leprosy, not of persons but of the staple foods. Mary spoke of spoiled wheat and potatoes, rotting grapes and worm-eaten walnuts. The despair provoked by all this was not unlike that experienced by lepers, even in modern times.

In a prophetic vision of abundance, the Beautiful Lady promised healing for the earth, so to speak, and relief from famine for her people.

Naaman returned to Elisha, saying, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant." Note why, when, and how his gratitude is expressed. The why is self-evident. The when: as soon as possible. The how: by offering gifts to Elisha, yes, but at a deeper level by his conversion to the faith of Israel.

Naaman plunged into the Jordan seven times. The action makes us think of baptism; the number reminds us of the sacraments, perpetual memorials of our conversion to God’s love.

Pilgrims to La Salette often return home with water from the spring where Mary appeared. Naaman took two mule-loads of earth, to use as a sort of prayer mat, as a permanent reminder of God’s mercy.

In the gospel, ten lepers were cleansed. One “realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” Jesus then told him: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Cleansed, healed, saved. Such are the signs, fruits, and even sometimes the cause of conversion. The exact order is of little importance. What matters most is that, once we have first-hand knowledge of God’s mercy, we live grateful and faithful lives.

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

Increase our Faith

(27th Ordinary Sunday: Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 1: 6-14; Luke 17:5-10)

When the apostles asked Jesus, “Increase our faith,” they were implying two things: first, that they already had it; and second, that it was his responsibility to improve it.

Why would they expect him to do that? Surely they themselves were accountable. Jesus’ reply seems almost to say that their faith, if genuine, was perfectly adequate.

Still, there are some basic practices that can increase. or even restore, faith. At La Salette, Mary reminds us of simple morning and night prayers, keeping holy the Lord’s day, observing the discipline of Lent.

She says, “If they are converted,”—which might include, for example, receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation on a monthly basis. Our Weeping Mother suggests, as Jesus did with the mustard seed, that if our faith is genuine, we would see wonders: rocks turned into heaps of wheat, and potatoes self-sown in the fields. Conversion can always be deeper. Faith can always be stronger. Though the Lord looks kindly on our efforts, they are never good enough without his help.

In the second reading, St. Paul says much the same to Timothy when he writes, “Guard this rich trust [God’s gift] with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in its very first paragraph, describes this gift: “God..., in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.”

In the first reading, when Habakkuk seems to be on the verge of despair, the Lord promises him, “The just one, because of his faith, shall live.” Constancy, therefore, is essential to growth in our life of faith.

So, too, is humility. We see this in the second part of the gospel, a parable about servants.

In this passage, Jesus is telling us that we are called to do more; it is not enough for us to just be. “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'"

Jesus is not criticizing our efforts, but inviting us to be always willing to serve. When God asks for more, let us give more. Like Mary, let us give our all!

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

A Merciful Heart

(26th Ordinary Sunday: Amos 6:1-7; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31)

We enter into our reflection with today’s Entrance Antiphon: “All that you have done to us, O Lord, you have done with true judgment, for we have sinned against you and not obeyed your commandments. But give glory to your name and deal with us according to the bounty of your mercy.”

Without getting too technical about word origins, we can state that mercy means compassion or, in more poetic terms, a heart for the poor, the afflicted and the sinner. It is at the core of today’s readings, and of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette.

The first reading and the gospel are focused on a great evil: the failure to show mercy. Both describe persons who live complacently in their own world of pleasure, with no concern for the suffering of others. Their doom is therefore sealed.

In the second reading, Paul, acting as Timothy’s coach and spiritual director, calls him a man of God, and writes, “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” These must include mercy.

The Merciful Mother of La Salette had a heart for the afflicted sinner. Her people were suffering on account of their sins. She came to show that they could obtain mercy by returning to the Lord and his Church.

There is an image in the gospel that caught our attention in a particular way. The rich man, from his place of punishment, cries out, “Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.”

It was too late for him, but it is not too late for us to offer a drop of La Salette water, figuratively speaking, through our ministry and prayer, to those who thirst for human and divine kindness.

This thought takes on a much deeper meaning when we apply it to God. A single drop of mercy from the finger of God brings coolness and a release from the suffering. A drop of Jesus’ blood, given to us in the Eucharist, can restore us to God’s favor. Let us never be complacent about our participation in the Mass.

And let us desire to have a heart for afflicted sinners, to be agents of God’s mercy where and as we can.

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

Called to Account

(25th Ordinary Sunday: Amos 8:4-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13)

A steward is in charge of another person’s property. It is a position of trust. The main character of today’s gospel is a dishonest steward, whose master told him: “Prepare a full account of your stewardship.”

In the Church, the concept of stewardship is often applied to time, talent and treasure and, more and more, to the planet. After reading the text from Amos as well as the gospel, we may feel that we have just been served a summons from God and must now prepare an accounting of our stewardship.

From a La Salette perspective, we might say that the Beautiful Lady dwelt on the stewardship of time. “Do you say your prayers well?” Praying well does not mean we should just be careful to avoid distractions, for example. Rather, it is a question of giving appropriate time to prayer, and making sure that we are praying from the heart, not only with our lips.

Mary also mentioned the Lord’s Day twice. First, speaking like the prophets in God’s name, she says, “I gave you six days to work; I kept the seventh for myself, and no one will give it to me.” Later she states that only a few elderly women go to Mass in the summer, and that when others do go to church, they make a mockery of religion.

Finally, “In Lent they go to the butcher shops like dogs.”

Even outside of the religious context, we need to examine our use of time. Allowing, of course, for appropriate leisure, we need to avoid wasting hours on activities—or inactivity—that we are unable or ashamed to account for. In our professional life, do we put in an honest day’s work?

As for talent and treasure, do we put them to good use for the Christian community and those in need around us? Or do we squander them for our own pleasure and greed, storing up treasure which will not go with us to the grave.

What would it be like if God would demand a full account of our stewardship? Actually, the question is not hypothetical. What will it be like, when…?

We should also be ready to give an account of one of our greatest gifts—our La Salette vocation.

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

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