What do you See?
(3rd Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11)
The notion of sight dominates today’s Scriptures. Isaiah: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened;” the Psalm: “The Lord gives sight to the blind;” James: “See how the farmer waits...;” Matthew: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight...,” and: “What did you go out to the desert to see?”
The meaning of the verb “to see” ranges from simple visual perception, to attentive observation, to intellectual understanding. That is how science works, isn’t it, as it seeks to reveal the mysteries of the universe?
There are, however, mysteries that science cannot reach. It is not equipped to explore the world of love, faith, the meaning of life. Here we need a different kind of revelation, the Word of God.
That is why we find so many quotations and paraphrases of the Old Testament in the New Testament. Jesus’ response to John’s disciples, for example, evokes various texts from Isaiah. James refers more broadly to the prophets. We are often reminded that Jesus came not to abolish the Law or the prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).
There is also what is known as private revelation. The apparition of Our Lady of La Salette, formally approved in 1851 by the Bishop of Grenoble, falls into that category. No one is obliged to believe in it; but for us who do, it sheds light on our relationship with the Lord, opens our hearts to contemplate his love, and helps us understand both the meaning and the concrete implications of the Christian life.
These weekly reflections might perhaps serve as an example. Through them we approach the Sunday readings from the perspective of the message and the event and, above all, of Mary herself.
Any one of us can do this. First, place yourself in her company, renewing your affection for her and remembering her affection for you. Recall to mind those elements of the apparition that have the most meaning for you.
Then, look at the readings. Observe the resonance between them and La Salette. Ultimately the question is: when you look through the eyes of the Beautiful Lady, what do you see?
The Full Picture
(2nd Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12)
The peaceful language of the first two readings and the Psalm stand in marked contrast to the words of John the Baptist in the Gospel.
But none of these exists in isolation from the rest of Scripture. Isaiah and Paul also have harsh words in other places; other verses of today’s Psalm contain relatively violent images; and the Gospel is, as we well know, more hope-filled than Matthew’s account of John’s preaching might lead us to expect.
We gravitate naturally towards those Scriptures that comfort us. This is not a bad thing.
The same is true of La Salette. I am sometimes amazed to find persons devoted to the Beautiful Lady who can quote only the beginning of the message, “Come closer, my children, don’t be afraid,” and the ending, “You will make this known to all my people.” Submission, famine, the death of children—yes, we know they are there, but we are not inclined to dwell on them.
Ideally, encouragement should be enough to keep us on the right path. But, as every parent and teacher knows, guidance inevitably includes correcting faults and warning of dangers. Thus, John the Baptist was honest, and he was imprisoned and put to death because he preached unwelcome truths.
We recognize that from time to time it is good for us to be tested. We might even set difficult goals for ourselves in order to improve our skills or our health, and we monitor our progress. It can be quite a different matter when the challenge comes from others.
The Pharisees and Sadducees had the Law as their standard, and did their utmost to be faithful to it. They may have come for John’s baptism as a sign of repentance for any failings in their observance. It is easy to imagine their shock and displeasure on hearing: “You brood of vipers! Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”
John did not hate them. He spoke as he did to make sure they got the message.
Our Lady’s message is all love but, to reach all her people, it was necessary for her to paint a complete picture, calling to repentance and hope both.
The Tipping Point
(1st Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 23:37-44)
“I snatched up the book, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: ‘not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.’”
Augustine had heard what sounded like a child’s voice chanting, “Pick it up, read it.” This was no children’s game, and he understood the words to be addressed to him. He picked up the book that lay on a nearby table, which contained Paul’s letters.
At this moment in his life, Augustine was at the tipping point in his conversion. Opening the book at random, he read the words quoted above from Paul’s Letter to the Romans—today’s second reading—and his transformation was complete!
Those words are part of an exhortation which begins: “Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
Jesus’ call to stay awake is likewise a reminder not to dwell in darkness. The Christian is to remain vigilant, ever ready and eager to “walk in the light of the Lord,” as Isaiah says.
The Advent season begins today. It prepares us to celebrate the coming of Christ, the Light of World.
But even in faithful Christian hearts there can remain shadows, places of darkness that hold us back from entering fully into the light. Our Lady of La Salette appeared in dazzling brightness. Mélanie and Maximin were terrified, but she called them, and enfolded them in her radiance. Her words, too, were an invitation to her people to throw off the darkness that enshrouded them.
Like Augustine, perhaps we know what we have to do to follow Christ more perfectly, but remain hesitant, at the tipping point. It might be helpful, in that case, to close our eyes and imagine ourselves standing with the two children, so close to the Beautiful Lady that, as Maximin said, “no one could have passed between her and us.”
As always, she will draw us closer to her Son. In her company, we will be able to make ours today’s psalm refrain: Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
(Christ the King: 2 Samuel 5:1-3; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43)
Crucifixion was designed to inflict capital punishment with maximum pain and humiliation. Jesus, falsely condemned as a criminal, had been brutally scourged, and was now displayed naked and powerless for all to see as they passed by. The insults of his enemies completed the scene.
Two real criminals, crucified with him, were in the same situation. One of them joined in the mockery. But the other’s compassion for Jesus moved him to faith, to which the Lord responded: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
In 1957 a condemned criminal named Jacques Fesch, 27 years old, wrote: “In five hours I will see Jesus. Our Lord is so good!” He knew the exact time, because he had been sentenced to die by the guillotine for a murder committed during a robbery in 1954.
Devotion to the Blessed Virgin was an essential part of his return to the faith he had abandoned in his teens. It was his lawyer, a committed Christian, who helped him to find his way back to God, so that, at the time of his death he had truly become a “good thief.” In 1993 he was officially recognized as a Servant of God. (This is the first step on the way to beatification and canonization.)
There are probably many other criminals whose conversion stories could inspire us to believe in the power of grace to save.
The clearest connection between today’s readings and La Salette is near the end of the text from Colossians, where Paul writes of reconciliation and peace. When Mary said to the children, “I am here to tell you great news,” this is surely what she had in mind.
The unusually large crucifix she wore, seven or eight inches long, was no adornment, but a reminder of her Son, to save us.
Earlier in Colossians we read: “He [God] delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” What better example of deliverance, redemption and forgiveness can we find than in the stories of two “good thieves” who died fixing their gaze and their hopes on Jesus?