Rain for These Roots
(Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23)
A parable is a comparison. It can be a short saying, or it can be, as in today’s Gospel, fairly long and detailed.
Jesus compares those who hear his word to seeds planted in a variety of soils. Isaiah compares God’s word to water. The two images dovetail perfectly, and remind me of 1 Corinthians 3:6, where St. Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.”
We can discern also a sort of parable in our text from St. Paul. He contrasts suffering with the glory that is to come. We might see suffering as preparing the soil for planting, a tedious, painful process, recalling God’s word to Adam: “By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat.”
The Beautiful Lady of La Salette was addressing people who were no strangers to the “sweat of their face.” Theirs was a hard life; in 1846 they had little to show for it. They were staring famine in the face.
For the most part they would fit into the third group identified by Jesus, the seed sown among the thorns of worldly anxiety. Rain had a lot to do with the famine—too much when less was needed, too little when it was needed most, resulting in the loss of both staple crops, wheat and potatoes.
Mary wept genuinely over her people’s suffering, but did not hesitate to make the connection to their lack of faith. Could the failure of the earth to produce its fruits make them realize their own failure to produce the fruits of a Christian life?
Still, all of today’s readings are a source of hope. Jesus knows that there will be rich soil; Isaiah knows that God’s words will accomplish its purpose; Paul knows that glory awaits the faithful.
Fr. Michael Cox, M.S. wrote a book in 1956, with the title Rain for These Roots, about the significance of Mary’s apparitions at La Salette, Lourdes and Fatima. He drew the title from the last words of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins: “Lord of life, send my roots rain!”
We can easily make the comparison between rain and Our Lady’s tears. They are a parable without words.
(Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 Kings 4:8-16; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 10: 37-42)
Did you notice how many times St. Paul refers to death in our second reading? I count about ten. He also mentions sin, twice. His point, however, is to talk about life, which he also mentions explicitly several times.
All these elements come together in the last sentence: “You too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.“
The context is baptism, in which we died with Christ so as to live with him. Death no longer has dominion over him or us, and neither does sin.
That presumes that we are faithful to our baptismal commitments. Christians baptized as infants will be expected at some point to ratify for themselves the profession of faith made on their behalf.
But experience teaches that this fidelity cannot be presumed, that this ratification is by no means guaranteed. Thus the dominion of death and of sin comes to be reestablished.
Such was the situation that caused Mary to come to La Salette. She spoke some challenging words, but not so challenging as those we find in today’s Gospel. Jesus demands our absolute and total loyalty. We have to take up our cross. That is the cost of discipleship.
It ought not to surprise us that many people are unwilling to accept these demands—today, as in 1846 and in the ancient Greek and Roman and Asian world where the Gospel was first preached.
At La Salette, Our Lady shows regret at the situation into which her people have fallen, materially and spiritually; she cannot bear to see the dominion of sin and death in their lives. She weeps because they have lost respect for her Son and the things of God. Their baptism no longer means anything to them.
But she shows determination as well. She will not simply stand by and let them reap the consequences of their sins.
On her breast she shows us Christ crucified, to remind us that he who died for our sins did so in order that we might truly live. The cost of discipleship cannot compare to the price Jesus paid to save us.
Whose dominion will we choose: Christ’s or death’s?
(Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10: 26-33)
When I ask people what their favorite part of the La Salette message is, most quote the opening words, “Come closer, children, don’t be afraid.”
We see Jeremiah surrounded by enemies, and yet his confidence in the Lord is unshaken. The source of that confidence goes back to the first verses of Chapter 1, the moment when God called him to be a prophet. Jeremiah wasn’t so sure. “I am too young,” he said. God answered, “To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”
Just before today’s Gospel passage, Jesus has been telling tells his Apostles to expect persecution and betrayal even from their own families. And then he tells them, more than once, “Do not be afraid.”
Few of us have the power to dispel the fears of another. We can say “Don’t worry,” but the worrier is rarely convinced. The reason is simple: we are incapable of inspiring the same confidence as Jesus or the Beautiful Lady.
St. Paul makes it clear where our Christian confidence comes from. In reflecting on human sinfulness, he points out that God’s grace has “overflowed.” Grace is far more powerful than the transgression.
The Church is sometimes accused to being obsessed with sin. We begin the Mass with a penitential rite. We spend forty days of Lent each year focusing on our sinfulness. We encourage people to confess their sins regularly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our Lady of La Salette, like the prophets, seems to dwell on the sins of her people.
That is true; but by showing sinners how far they have strayed, Mary, the prophets, and the Church are inviting them to turn back. By being reminded of our sins, we are invited to remember God’s grace.
If ever you find yourself keeping your distance from God because of your sins, remember this: no one (not even you) is beyond the Lord’s power to save, no one is beyond God’s willingness to forgive.
Don’t stay away. Come closer, don’t be afraid.
(Trinity Sunday: Exodus 34:4-6 & 8-9; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18)
The theme of today’s readings is unmistakable: God’s mercy and compassion, his immense love for the world. The same God who reveals himself as Father, Son and Spirit, reveals himself as “slow to anger and rich in kindness,” a phrase that recurs several times in the Scriptures.
God is “slow to anger.” This does not mean that he is indifferent to sin. In fact, the verse omitted from the first reading describes God also as “not declaring the guilty guiltless.” Moses acknowledges that his is a “stiff-necked people.” Paul reminds the Corinthians to mend their ways. Even John’s Gospel acknowledges the possibility of condemnation, just two verses after proclaiming that “God so loved the world.”
If God didn’t care about sin, Our Lady would have had no reason to appear at La Salette. She came because our sins matter.
There is a difference between sins and crimes. While most crimes would probably also be sins, not every sin is a crime. Failure to respect the name of Jesus, or observe Lenten abstinence, or keep the Sabbath rest, or attend Sunday Mass—none of these is a criminal act, and yet Mary complained about them in tears.
Crimes are defined by society and punished by society, because they matter to the well-being and good order of society.
In Psalm 51 David prays, “Against you, you alone have I sinned.” What about Uriah, whom he caused to be killed? What about Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, whom he seduced? Did he not sin against them? There is no doubt that he committed crimes against them, because these things mattered to the society in which he lived.
Yes, these crimes were also sins, because they mattered to God, even more than to society.
Sin is not only a question of breaking a commandment. It is a violation of the relationship we are called to have with God, a relationship that matters deeply.
In many ways, the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette demonstrates that what matters to us (famine, death of children) matters to God.
That should prompt us to wonder whether what matters to God really matters to us as well.
(Pentecost: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-13; John 20:19-23)
Jesus had told his disciples to “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) This is why they were “all in one place together,” but they cannot have known what to expect. Then, suddenly, many things happened all at once—wind! fire! the ability to speak in new tongues!
We speak of the “gift” of tongues. It is not so much a gift to the person who receives it, but it is “for some benefit” to the Church. In theology, this kind of gift is called a charism.
Apparitions and miracles are referred to as “charismatic events,” because they are a gift to believers. They serve to reinforce our faith, or increase our devotion and commitment, and thus they benefit the whole Church.
The charism of La Salette was carefully studied in the 1970’s, and came to be identified with Reconciliation. This gift is not unique to La Salette, but is given through La Salette in a unique way.
Today’s Gospel provides an excellent illustration. Jesus breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
At La Salette Shrines and in La Salette ministry generally, people are reminded of the importance and the value of the gift that is the Sacrament of Penance, as well as the gift of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation with our neighbor. Reconciliation is thus a focal point.
But Reconciliation is not unique to La Salette. The Missionaries of the Precious Blood, for example, see it as their charism also, but it doesn’t “belong” to them either. It belongs to the Church, which received it when Jesus reconciled the world to the Father, “making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:20).
The uniqueness comes from the different perspective, the prism through which the charism is received and reflected. This, too, is a gift of the Spirit.
In our case the gift and charism of Reconciliation is filtered through the event, the message and the Beautiful Lady of La Salette.