(Easter: Acts 10:34-43; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9. Other options possible.)
In the first reading, Peter states that he and his companions were witnesses to three distinct realities: 1) Jesus’ public ministry; 2) the risen Christ; and 3) that Jesus has been appointed judge of the living and the dead.
Paul, in the second reading, bears witness to the resurrection of Jesus and, in a particular way, to its meaning for our Christian life.
Mary Magdalen, Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved also were witnesses, in the account we read today from John’s gospel. Witness to what, exactly? To nothing, to absence, to emptiness—or, more accurately, to mystery.
The mystery of Jesus’ resurrection is so fundamental that it is not easy to express in words what it means to us. In 1972, Easter fell on April 2. That day, the truth of Easter struck me in a way I cannot adequately describe. I can say, however, that it was the most life-changing spiritual experience of my life.
The beloved disciple, John, entered the tomb, saw, and believed. In that emptiness he experienced the deepest possible faith. His goal from then on was to help others to experience the same. Near the end of his Gospel, he writes: “These [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”
“Life in his name”—Mary at La Salette does not use those words, but that is the meaning of her message. Like Moses in Deuteronomy, she places before us life and death, and begs us to choose life. Those who do so become witnesses to the transforming mystery of what St. Paul calls a life “hidden with Christ in God.”
Not knowing, not understanding, is not necessarily a bad thing. Mélanie and Maximin did not know who was speaking to them, nor did they understand everything they heard; but at the Beautiful Lady’s invitation, they entered into that mystery, into what a 14th century spiritual classic calls the Cloud of Unknowing.
In telling others, like Peter, what they had seen and heard, the children were actually witnessing to what they did not know. They drew others into the mystery of Mary’s love, revealing the fathomless depths of God’s mercy, of which we too can be witnesses.
(Second Sunday of Easter: Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31)
The end of Chapter 4 of the Acts of the Apostles paints a picture of the first Christians as a perfect society. Chapter 5, however begins with the story of a couple who tried to perpetrate a fraud on the community, and Chapter 6 describes quarrels over the distribution of the donations brought to the apostles.
And in the Gospel, we find Thomas refusing to trust the other apostles.
This is not so surprising. Even today there are strong differences of opinions, and sometimes conflicts, among Christians. These have led to tragic divisions.
We are divided among ourselves because we are divided within ourselves. In other words, all of us are—and each of us is—always in need of conversion and reconciliation. None of us will ever be able to say, Now I’m perfect. But help is always available.
The Christian community in Acts received the grace it needed to overcome situations dangerous to their unity. Thomas received from Jesus himself the help he needed in his moment of crisis.
The first major divisions in the Church had begun in the fourth century, over matters of doctrine. Was Jesus really God? What does the Church believe about the Holy Spirit? The Nicene Creed goes back to those times.
Fast-forward to 1846. The grace of La Salette was given to the Church in response to a new danger, worse even than doctrinal differences. People had stopped caring about such things. They had become indifferent to doctrine, to the commandments, and to the practice of their faith. Either they had rejected these things outright, or they had simply drifted away from them.
Mary was rightly concerned about the impact of all this on her people. They could not afford to sever their relationship with her Son, their Savior.
At Mass, before the sign of peace, we pray, “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church.” Our sins and the faith of your Church refer to the same group of people. We are sinners, we are Church. These are not mutually exclusive.
Imperfect and weak our faith may be, but it is real and can grow if we will let it. That is the Beautiful Lady’s hope—and ours—as she calls us to reconciliation.
(Palm Sunday: Mark 11:1-10; Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1—15:47)
The readings for Palm Sunday create unexpected pairings. In the first Gospel passage, Jesus is recognized by the crowd as the one who comes in the name of the Lord, before whom they shout ‘Hosanna.’ Later the crowd clamors for his crucifixion. On Calvary, the Roman centurion supervising the crucifixion of Jesus comes to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
The Psalm, which begins with a famous cry of despair, ends on a note of exultation. God’s servant described by Isaiah is treated shamefully, yet firmly believes he will not be put to shame. And St. Paul portrays Jesus as emptying and humbling himself, obedient to the point of death, but also as exalted, given a name above all other names—Lord.
It ought not to surprise us to find similar pairings at La Salette. Mary appears in heavenly light, but she weeps. She speaks of the dire consequences of lost faith, and yet does so with infinite gentleness. She gives an important mission to two children who can scarcely make sense of what she has said to them.
When we look at the Church, we find much the same. The brilliant English author G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) pointed out many paradoxes which one finds in the Church: variously criticized as “the enemy of women, and their foolish refuge;” a “solemn pessimist and a silly optimist,” who produced “fierce crusaders and meek saints;” the list goes on at some length. He sums up his thoughts with the central paradox of Christian theology: “Christ was not a being apart from God and man, like an elf, nor yet a being half human and half not, like a centaur, but both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God.”
This pairing of “true man and true God” is indeed at the very center of our faith. Hard as it is to understand, we proclaim it in our creed.
These are not simply theological musings. They say a lot about us as well. As Christians we are a paradox; we are aware of the contradictions within ourselves, sinners and saints that we are, individually and as Church. The La Salette call to conversion must be taken seriously, but we will never be able to say: Now I am holy. And yet we do not despair of reaching that goal under the watchful eye of the Beautiful Lady.
God Speaks to the Sinner
(Fifth Sunday of Lent: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33)
My child, you have no idea how important it is to me that you allow me to forgive you. Please don’t put it off. Now is the acceptable time.
Is there something from the distant past that you have never been able to confess? Now is the acceptable time.
Come now, let us set things right. Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow. They will be totally washed away in the blood of my only Son, who willingly offered himself up for you. Through his suffering, through his obedience, he has paid the full price of your redemption.
He is like the grain of wheat. When he died, he brought forth abundant fruit, to be shared by all. The free banquet of grace awaits you.
I would like nothing better than to place my Law within you and write it on your heart. Just think! It would then be the most natural thing in the world for you to live in my love and to please me.
With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. With your permission and humble cooperation, I will remove your sins from you as far as the East is from the West. Or, if you prefer, I will cast them into the depths of the sea. Surely you must understand the delight it gives me to do so.
Remember what my Son said: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” That individual glorious source of joy—that could be you!
Lifted up on the cross, my Son became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. He can sympathize with your weakness, because he has been tested in every way, yet without sin. Let him draw you to himself.
Standing near his cross you will find his Mother, Mary. She is your Mother, too. You might know her as the Beautiful Lady. She will help you see what you must do.
Please, please, my child, hand your sins over to me. Then they will be no longer yours, but mine, and I will throw them away. I will cast them behind my back, and I will never look back at them again. Never.
We invite you to familiarize yourself with the St. Mary’s Way project realized thanks to the support provided by the European Regional Development Fund. The online visualization allows you to see a series of Marian sanctuaries in Poland and Slovakia, to which our sanctuary in Dębowiec also belongs.
The aim of this undertaking is to create and promote a pilgrimage route leading to Polish and Slovak sacred buildings - places of Marian devotion.
Saved by Grace
(Fourth Sunday of Lent: 2 Chronicles 36: 14-23; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21)
Growing up in Nazareth, the Blessed Virgin must have learned the history of her people, the people of God. Remembering what had happened to them because of their infidelity, she came to La Salette to warn her other people, given to her at the foot of the cross, of what was about to happen to them, and for the same reason.
God had compassion on his people, but they ignored his kindness and suffered the consequences. Even then, he did not abandon them altogether. After 70 years of exile, he brought them back to their homeland.
From this point on, they took God’s law very seriously. Although eventually this led to the legalism that we associate with the Scribes and Pharisees, it was nevertheless better than the situation that is described in the first part of today’s reading from 2 Chronicles.
John’s Gospel says that God showed his love for the world by sending Jesus, so that we might have eternal life. This dovetails perfectly with Paul’s words about the richness of God’s mercy and the free gift of salvation.
It also dovetails with the La Salette event. Mary’s words and gentle demeanor, the light that surrounds her, her proximity to the children—everything reflects what John says: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that world might be saved through him.”
Even her language about the strong, heavy arm of her Son does not contradict this merciful attitude. Why would she speak in this way, if not to set us on the right path and spare us the punishment we deserve, to shield us from the justice of God? As St. Paul says, even when we were dead in our transgressions, God still had great love for us.
He asks only that we love him back and live accordingly. This is a form of submission—to authority, certainly but, at a deeper level, to grace. Think of the scene of the Annunciation, where Mary, full of grace, says: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” The desire to do God’s will makes it easy to submit to it.
This is perhaps what St. Paul means by saying we are created for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.