Fear of the Lord
(Trinity Sunday: Deuteronomy 4:32-40; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20)
“The eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.”
If we could imagine the Blessed Virgin in heaven meditating on the Scriptures, we might think that these verses from today’s Responsorial Psalm made her decide to come to La Salette. She wanted her people to be preserved from the impending famine and delivered from the death of small children.
But there was a problem: her people were not among those who feared God. “Fear of the Lord,” is a recurring theme (about 750 times) in the Bible. It does not mean being afraid of God but being in absolute awe of him. (If you were being introduced to a famous person whom you greatly respected, wouldn’t want to avoid anything that might give offense?)
Mary told the children, “Don’t be afraid.” That did not keep her from trying to restore proper fear of the Lord among her people.
Clearly, like the generations after Moses, they had forgotten all the wonders God worked for them. They were baptized, as Jesus commanded, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, but their adoption as children of God had lost its meaning. It did not make them disciples.
They did not put their trust in God or hope for his kindness. They showed little respect for their Savior, using his name to vent their anger. They rejected the gift of the Sabbath rest. They refused God the worship that was his due. They did not fear him.
Still, they were living in fear, not of God but of a bleak future. The Beautiful Lady even accentuated this by prophesying the failure of the wheat crop, the potatoes, the grapes, even the walnuts.
But she didn’t stop there. A brighter future was possible, if only they could understand that the relationship between God and us is essential, not optional.
Her message is like that of Moses: “You must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other. You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today, that you and your children after you may prosper, and that you may have long life...."
All Things to All
(Pentecost: Acts 2:1-11; Galatians 5:16-25; John 15:26-27, 16:12-15)
Our title today is taken from 1 Corinthians 9:22, where St. Paul writes, “I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” But, compared to the Holy Spirit, St. Paul’s claim is empty.
After the second reading there is a ‘sequence,’ the poem Veni Sancte Spiritus. Here the Spirit is described as “source of all our store,” meaning that all spiritual gifts come from him. In one verse, he is “grateful coolness in the heat;” later, we pray that he will “melt the frozen, warm the chill.” In other words, the Spirit comes always with the gift that is needed.
In our readings we see this in the multiplicity of languages in Acts, in St. Paul’s famous fruits of the Spirit, and in Jesus’ promise that the Spirit of truth will guide us to all truth. Truth is unchanging, but its expression needs to correspond to the context in which it is spoken: language, culture, etc. We need the Spirit to accomplish that.
Mary came to La Salette to speak truth. Today I am inclined to think of the brilliant light in which she first appeared—which Maximin and Mélanie compared to the sun—as the fire of the Spirit, preparing her for what she was about to do and say.
Without using St. Paul’s words, she spoke, in two languages, of the works of the flesh (many forms of selfishness, distance from God) and demonstrated the fruits of the spirit in her demeanor and speech.
She used the gifts at her disposal: tears, beauty, costume, compassion, pleading (not afraid to describe herself as our advocate), honesty (not hesitating even to inspire feelings of guilt).
All this and more, to all her people, to speak the truth that they need to hear: that they are still loved by the God and Savior whom they have forgotten. Another quotation from St. Paul is appropriate here: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is why Our Lady of La Salette wears the Crucifix prominently on her breast.
Can we be all to all? Like Mary, can we speak the truth to our world? In what language (words and action)? The Spirit places gifts at our disposal. Let’s use them!
(Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:15-26; 1 John 4:11-16; John 17:11-19)
Why does God choose a particular person for a particular purpose? The Bible doesn’t say that Ruth, or Moses, or David, or even Mary was better than anyone else. They were God’s chosen instruments, prepared by him for a special role.
In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the same reality of choice, as “the lot fell upon Matthias” to make him a “witness to the resurrection.” The time had come to replace Judas. The disciples reduced the number of candidates to two, and then God chose between them.
Maximin and Mélanie were the chosen witnesses of Our Lady of La Salette. Why them? We can (and do) speculate, but the most honest answer is the simplest: we don’t really know. The La Salette Missionaries and the La Salette Sisters, as well as the many lay people devoted to our Weeping Mother are her chosen witnesses today. Why us? Again, we just don’t know.
Often the words, “Why me?” are used when something bad happens to us. But we might well ask the same question when something great and wonderful happens, and in particular when we recognize that God is calling us for a special purpose.
Many people can explain what first attracted them to another person, or to a religious order, or to a certain career or ministry. It is a different matter when we look at it from the point of view of being chosen. Why did that person, that vocation, that career or ministry choose me? In other words, what was/is God’s purpose for my life?
We do know this much, however. It isn’t because we are better than anyone else. Mary’s choice, like God’s choice, is a mystery—not to be solved, but to be lived.
Jesus had chosen his Apostles, and three years later, at the Last Supper he prayed to his Father to protect them, to “consecrate them in the truth.” After all, they were to be his faithful witnesses.
Therein lies the challenge, to live what we are called to be, focused on the what and the how and the where, much more than on the why.
Who Started it?
(Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 10:25-48; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17)
People in conflict, whether individuals or nations, children or adults, tend to blame each other for starting the quarrel. Even at La Salette, Mary literally tells her people, “If the harvest is ruined, it is only on account of yourselves.”
The same may occur in a positive context. It is gracious to give credit to others for their part in our success. In Acts, the Apostles never take the credit for their accomplishments. As in today’s reading, they acknowledge that the Holy Spirit takes the initiative, in spectacular ways and with extraordinary gifts, such as the gift of tongues.
Notice, however, that the new disciples are doing two things: speaking in tongues, and glorifying God. Which of these is more important?
In writing to the Corinthians St. Paul addresses a controversy surrounding the gifts, and famously concludes: “If there are tongues, they will cease... So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Which brings us to the Gospel and the second reading, both from John, where love is mentioned a total of eighteen times. We are “beloved,” and God is love. John’s “Let us love one another,” finds even stronger expression in the Gospel: “This I command you: love one another.”
The last words of last week’s Gospel were, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” The very next verse is the first statement of Jesus today: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” There is a connection, then, between glorifying God and abiding in the Lord’s love.
Mary appeared at a time of crisis in the life of her people. She chided them—lovingly—and then—lovingly—pointed them to the way of hope and peace. She is in turn much loved, but directs our love to her Son. Her message is echoed in the new translation of the Missal, in one of the forms of dismissal at the end of Mass: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
That includes love. John writes, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.” He sustains our love. He will see it through. Because he started it!