The Father-like face of God…
The question that introduces this new section is, from the biblical point of view, paradoxical. Paradoxical because, on the one hand, the question expresses the intrinsic human yearning for the transcendent, a relationship with the divinity, the search for God (see for example Am 5:4 and Ps 27:9; 42:3; 44:25; 67:2; 105:4). It is not by chance that the intercession or prayer of longing to see the face of Adonai is one of the recurring themes that occur throughout the pages of the Bible.
On the other hand, however, the Bible reminds us not only that he who “[...] sees God dies” (Ex 33:20), but that “no-one has ever seen God” (Jn 1:18; 1Jn 4:12). Even Moses, of whom Scripture reports that Adonai “[...] has spoken with Him ... face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Ex 33:11), does not benefit from the gift of seeing the face of God. As the matter of fact, his request (Ex 33:18) is not granted: on Sinai, Moses sees only Adonai’s shoulders, but not his face (Ex 33:23). It is clear therefore that, in the economy of the History of Salvation deposited in the scriptures of the biblical Israel, God has his own face, but hides it from human eyes. In short, the biblical texts constantly remind us of two leading features of Adonai: his face does not show itself, but speaks to man. Adonai’s face is the source of the word that is addressing man with the intention of revealing himself and into relationship with him and making himself known (see the experience of biblical Israel briefly described by the words of Moses in Dt 4:12). Secondly, Adonai’s face is experienced, but not seen. In this regard, although the testimony of biblical Israel is extremely rich and multi-layered, it converges around two dimensions. It is, in fact, a face that suffers with (compassion) and stands alongside those whose hearts are in misery (mercy) – see for example Ex 3:7; 34:7; 1K 22:17; Ps 144:8; Mt 14:14; 15:32; Lk 7:13.
In the New Testament times the human experience is now marked by something new: Jesus of Nazareth is understood as the one who satisfies the human longing to see the face of God. In the personal perception of the first Christians, the invisible God becomes visible – his face included – in Jesus of Nazareth. The invisible face of God is human-like in the son of Mary of Nazareth. And the Evangelist John reminds us of this unheard before newness at the very beginning of his Gospel, when he writes: “No-one has ever seen God: the only Son who is God and is in the bosom of the Father who has made him known” (Jn 1:18).
Following this implicit logic of the evangelist John, it can be said that to see the face of Jesus of Nazareth is to see the face of Adonai, the face of the Father. And although sparingly mentioned (Transfiguration, entering Jerusalem and Passion (Mt 17:2; 26:39.67; Mk 14:65; Lk 9:29.51.53), when the four Evangelists refer to the face of Jesus, they always put him in relation to his identity, ministry and mission. It is intended there that his face declares, with firmness, compassion and mercy.
In the small French village of La Salette the spectacle and the presentations of the faces continues. The Beautiful Lady talks face to face with Maximin and Melanie. Just as the visible face of the Son refers to the invisible face of the Father, so at La Salette the mother’s face refers to the face of the Son. Like the Son, the mother's face, bathed in delicate tears, announces, with resolve, compassion, and mercy: «Come near my children, do not be afraid».
The Son-like face of God…
“If my people do not want to submit,
I am obliged to leave my Son's arm free”
The starting point of everything is that first yes that Mary gives to the bearer of the divine message, the Angel Gabriel. Since then, Mary has made herself available to God as clay in the potter’s hand. But rather than clay Mary consciously participates in this mission in her condition of the one “full of grace”. For Mary, God, the very self-one, sets out on the path of encounter with man, contrary to the figure of the repentant younger son of the gospel who returns embarrassed to his father’s house. To go to this encounter of man, that means to come to the meeting with us, is precisely the identifying character of the act of God, through the help of his mediators. The prophets zealously have been fulfilling the mission of making God present within the human community. At this point, Our Lady, in her apparitions, does nothing else but shares the greatness of the divine heart which, at all costs, calls man to discover that feeling of God who is happy to have men with him.
La Salette reflects, in splendour, the face of God. Not so much as in regard to the mountain, although many of the great events of salvation, carried by our Lord Jesus Christ, have much to do with the mountains. The message of La Salette raises in us the decision to return to this friendship with God often broken because of the mentality of the today’s man who is boasting himself the Christian and in fact being deprived of Christ and his gospel.
At La Salette Mary is the spokesperson for a wonderful Gospel-focused message. That is, the Beautiful Lady does not proclaim herself, before taking as her own the words that her lips transmit. Just look at this part of the message: «If my people will not submit, I shall be forced to let fall the arm of my Son. It is so strong and so heavy that I can no longer withhold it. For how long a time do I suffer for you! If I would not have my Son abandon you, I am compelled to pray to him without ceasing; and as to you, you take not heed of it. However much you pray, however much you do, you will never recompense the pains I have taken for you».
Nevertheless, the entire message is full of divine tenderness; it is a message transmitted by a person who can communicate with another human being, as it similarly happened with those present at the wedding in Cana, “do everything that he will tell you” (cf. Jn 2:5). It is good to know that in the message of the Lady in tears is well clarified to us the face of God who lovingly “follows” his creatures created in “his image and likeness” (Gn 1:26).
Rather than helping us to contemplate the face of God, the message gives us the opportunity to look at the mother of Jesus, always present in the life of the Church as the maternal face of God, because «it makes us feel better and better the tenderness of the Lord». In fact, in agreement with Is 49,15, God proclaims that his love for his people is maternal and greater than that of any mother for her child; on the other hand, this category adapts to the needs of the present times when Mary responds by revealing the maternal face of God. It is God’s absolute will to send Mary into our human history as a messenger of prayer, conversion and spirituality: «The mariofanies know certain escalation in this regard, because in them the Virgin passes from words to tears and probably to bleeding. It is a cry from the Mother who takes on the shape of the prophecy and the apocalypse to stop the unreasonable steps of so vast part of the world and to show in her the merciful face of God who is Love»(S. De Fiores, «Apparizioni», in Maria. Nuovissimo Dizionario, EDB, Bologna 2008, I, 59).
The Mother-like face of God…
During the first stage Maria covers her face with her hands, in a gesture that hides the tears. During the apparition the face of the Beautiful Lady is barely visible to Melanie and totally imperceptible to Maximin because of the strong light that emanated from Mary’s face. Talking to the children, she continued shedding her tears and was very sad. This impression takes hold of both witnesses who listened to her message.
The Mother of the Lord who appears at La Salette, represents Heaven, our final destination. She is afflicted by the fact that we abandon God and do not accept what His Son, Jesus, has done for us. She also grieves that we do not accept, as she did, the grace of God that can make each one of us also such a person for whom «the Almighty has done great things».
At La Salette Mary reminds us of the fact that her being with soul and body in Heaven is also the result of God’s great mercy towards a man. She, Immaculate in her Conception, had experienced mercy in advance, because by virtue of the fullness of grace she was preserved from the original sin, keeping within her that divine reflection of holiness, of which she has not been deprived since her conception.
We, on the other hand, can again receive this divine reflection in us also by virtue of the grace we have received. As a reminder, it happened because Adam and Eve have deprived us of this divine reflection for their disobedience. At this point it is worth mentioning that each one of us always receives the fullness of grace necessary to be able, in obedience to God, to benefit from the freedom of not sinning and keeping our souls immaculate until God’s judgment.
Mary is for every one of us the example of a full correspondence to the grace of God, to such an extent that she can call herself the very Immaculate Conception. This means that she is a constant reminder for us of our destination, to which each of us has been called. And if each of us were obedient to God and did not waste any grace that God generously and abundantly gives us, we would have been like her, like Mary, without sin, because we are inhabited by grace.
Mary’s sadness is, then, the sadness of God whose appeals, that man may choose God and His will in a free and sincere way, are ignored, and in fact man’s condition is getting worse. This is because we do not go to the source of grace, that is, to Jesus in the Eucharist, but we always prefer water from the cracked tanks of our own efforts and desires.
The Face of Our Lady is that of a representative of the Family of God, to whom each of us is invited as brother and sister in Jesus. Despite this great honour, which we all received by a personal decision of God, we do not act like members of the Divine Family, but like black sheep we reject heavenly nobility and dignity by living far away from God.
Flavio Gilio, MS
Eusébio Kangupe, MS
Karol Porczak, MS
Father Leonir Nunes dos Santos (center) was elected as the new Provincial Superior of the Immaculate Conception Province, Brazil, by the Provincial Chapter in Curitiba on Wednesday October 28, 2020.
He will be assisted by two assistants who were also elected the same day: Fr. Marcos Antonio Pereira de Queiroz (left) provincial vicar and Fr. Marcos Antonio Dias de Almeida (right), second assistant.
Let us pray for the intercession of Our Lady of La Salette for the ministry of the new Provincial Council and for the members of the Province of Brazil.
Worthy Wife, Worthy Faith
(33rd Ordinary Sunday: Prov. 31:10-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30)
The poem in praise of a worthy wife, eight verses in the Lectionary, is actually twenty-two verses long. Most of them describe her accomplishments.
But one verse stands out as different from the rest. Instead of saying what she does, it portrays who she is: “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Here as in many other places in the Book of Proverbs, we find the foundation of a worthy life, on which everything else is built.
The foundation of our Christian identity is the gift of faith. When it is weak, it cannot support the other spiritual gifts God wants to grant us.
St. Paul tells us, “We are not of the night or of darkness.” But there are times, perhaps, when we are. Our Lady of Salette, appearing in light, comes to help us walk in the way of the Lord. She is a beacon of unfailing hope; she bears the image of Perfect Love on her breast.
In her discourse she addressed issues of faith, particularly our relationship with God; but she certainly did not exclude concern for the well-being of others, as she demonstrates by her tears.
One day the Apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith (Luke 17:5). We would do well to make the same prayer from time to time, for ourselves, our families and friends. Then we may grow in hope and especially in love—the greatest of the everlasting gifts—becoming more charitable and loving, harvesting what God has sown in us.
Or, to use the image of today’s parable, we will be empowered to be good and faithful servants even in small matters. Each according to our ability, and cooperating with divine grace, we will be able to capitalize on the talents confided to us and make a worthy return to the Master when he comes.
Questions are thus raised: Who am I as a believer, and how may I best place myself at the service of the Lord? Answers vary, but they have a common foundation: faith and hope and love, and abiding joy.
Today’s collect expresses this thought as follows: “It is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the author of all that is good.”
Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.
(32nd Ordinary Sunday: Wisdom 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matt. 25:1-13)
The parable of the foolish and wise virgins is a cautionary tale. Having failed to welcome the bridegroom on his arrival, the foolish ones are themselves no longer welcome at the feast. Their lack of wisdom has cost them dearly.
Jesus warns his disciples to be like the wise virgins, not only anticipating his return but also doing what is required to prepare for it.
In the Bible, wisdom encompasses many ideas, such as practical skills, shrewdness, deep thoughts and, as in the parable, prudence. It also includes the study of the Scriptures, so as to learn how to use the knowledge obtained, in view of distinguishing right from wrong, in accordance with God’s will.
Thus we read today in Psalm 63, “I will remember you upon my couch, and through the night-watches I will meditate on you.” In another Psalm (119) we find the famous verse, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.”
But unless this wisdom is desired, it will not be found. That is why, in 1846, a Beautiful Lady appeared to two ignorant children in the French Alps, in a globe of light. She meant her words to be a lamp for the feet and a light for the path of her people.
By her beauty and her gentleness, she draws us, like Mélanie and Maximin, into her light or, more precisely, into the light of her crucified Son. Wise Virgin that she is, there are things of which she, like St. Paul, does not want us to be unaware. So she lights the way between Jesus and her people, and shows the distance sin creates between him and us.
Finally, by her compassion, she leads us to hope for the wisdom that comes with repentance, as well as the benefits promised to those who return to the Lord.
Mary speaks of prayer, the Lord’s Day, the Mass, and Lent. These, along with our personal commitment and devotion, are like the oil in the parable, symbolic of the ongoing renewal of our life in Christ.
May our lamp be ever lit as we pray with the Psalmist, “Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory... in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.”
Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.
See What Love!
(All Saints: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1‑3; Matthew 5:1-12)
There are two recurring themes in today’s readings: counting, and purity.
In Revelation we see two groups among the saved: one hundred forty-four thousand from the tribes of Israel, and then a multitude which no one could count. In 1 John, we are counted among (called) the children of God. And there is a list in the Gospel enumerating several beatitudes—a sort of manual of discipleship.
One of these reads, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” John writes, “Everyone who has this hope... makes himself pure.” And in the first reading, the uncounted multitudes “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
The Psalm unites the two themes in these words: “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? or who may stand in his holy place? One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.”
We desire to be counted among the “servants of God,” the term used in Revelation. If we are to be truly faithful in his service, we need to be clean of heart.
This notion is similar to that of pure gold; all impurities have been removed. In moral terms, it refers to the integrity of Christian life, the fullness of Christian love.
In our La Salette context, we can paraphrase St. John: See what love the Beautiful Lady has bestowed on us that she calls us her children, her people. In wearing the glowing image of her Son on her breast, she shows us God’s boundless mercy. Like all of today’s readings, she offers us a bright hope, which, however, is based upon one primary expectation: submission, which she also calls conversion.
This need not discourage us or, worse, lead to scrupulosity. Still, it calls for serious commitment to the person of Jesus Christ and the practice of our faith, humble acceptance of Church teaching, and honest examination of conscience.
St. John tells us that we shall see God as he really is. Let it be our prayer that, with a meek and humble heart, we may have the sure hope of being counted among those who seek God’s loving face.
Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.
An Educational and Spiritual Journey toward Proximity, Closeness, and Empathy
The Evangelist Luke writes around the year 85 C.E. for a Greek community in Asia Minor. The community, at that time, was struggling with difficult circumstances, due to internal and external reasons. Internally, there were deep tensions and divisions: former Pharisees who wanted to follow the Law of Moses (cf. Acts 15:1); others who wanted to follow John the Baptist (cf. Acts 19:1-6), and still others who considered themselves to be disciples of Peter, Paul, Apollo, and Christ (cf. 1Cor 1:12). Externally, the persecution of the Roman Empire was increasing, and its ideology continued to exert an increasingly strong and penetrating influence.
In this context, Luke writes with a twofold purpose. On the one hand, he wants to guide and strengthen the faith of his recipients; on the other hand, he writes to encourage them to be in this world as disciples and ambassadors of Christ’s work of reconciliation (cf. 2Cor 5:20). In a similar way, The Beautiful Lady of La Salette, through the words addressed to Maximin and Melanie, aims to guide, encourage and form missionaries and ambassadors of her Son.
The Emmaus narrative is a story meant to inspire, guide and strengthen our faith; it is an account that functions as a metaphor for our faith and life journey. For this reason, Emmaus speaks to and of each of us.
The narrative of the disciples on their way to Emmaus enlightens La Salette, since the Risen Son hints to His mother. Indeed, like Mary at La Salette, the Risen Jesus appears to the two disciples as interpreter, educator and teacher. By turning to the sacred Scriptures, Jesus helps the disciples to interpret and understand the true meaning of the latest events that occurred in Jerusalem. Similarly, Our Lady of La Salette’s message invites us to read and interpret our human affairs as a receptacle for the divine.
Both the Risen Jesus on the way to Emmaus and His mother at La Salette promote a “culture of encounter”, because they are able to reach their addressees where they are. At La Salette Mary’s opening words overcome the fear of the two children. Moreover, Our Lady does not hesitate to shift from French to the local dialect when she realizes that the two children are not able to understand her words: a small detail that reveals her gentle empathy. Like the Mother, the Risen Son encounters the two disciples of Emmaus where they are: in their disappointment, discouragement, and resignation (cf. Lk 24:17), and He lets them experience a transforming encounter.
Like Mary at La Salette, Jesus modulates the rhythm of His journey to that of the two disciples. The Risen One is patient, like The Beautiful Lady of La Salette with Maximin and Melanie. Not by coincidence, Luke points out that “[...] beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (cf. Lk 24:27). In other words, the Risen One accompanies the two disciples in order to let them internalize a story that involves them directly, a story that will transform their hearts.
On the way to Emmaus, Jesus walks along with the two disciples, giving them the time and the opportunity to recognize Him. The geographical journey (Jerusalem-Emmaus) hints to a spiritual and life changing one. Indeed, Luke starts his narrative by stating that “Now, that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him” (cf. Lk 24:13-16). Then, just before the ending of the story, Luke makes us aware of the transforming moment experienced by the two disciples by writing: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (cf. Lk 24:30-31). Interesting enough, Luke points out that once the two disciples learn how to recognize the Risen Jesus, He disappears from their sight, and they start to be apostles, or missionaries: “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There, they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon”. Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread” (cf. Luke 24:33-35).
The journey Jerusalem-Emmaus-Jerusalem is a journey toward both freedom and healing. The presence of the Risen Jesus heals because it sets us free. We just need to know how to recognize His presence, His “footprints” within our faith and life journey.
Luke 24:13-35 is an inspiring narrative for all of us called to be missionary-disciples of the Risen One: by looking at the pedagogy enacted by Jesus on the way to Emmaus, we can learn a lot about the “New Evangelization”. The same can be said in relation to Our Lady of La Salette: her words and actions, like those of her Son, inspire, guide and help us to live this earthly pilgrimage as new evangelizers and as ambassadors of the reconciliation offered to us by Jesus the Christ.
A Pedagogy of the Word: From Tears to Joy…
“Were not our hearts burning within us
while he talked with us on the road
and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32)
The focus of this reflection is the journey of the two disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-33) as well as the apparition of Our Lady to Maximin and Melanie on the mountain of La Salette. An unexpected message of joy comes from the French Alps, despite its warning and challenging truths. As the two disciples of Emmaus, the two children experience a profound joy after the encounter with The Beautiful Lady of La Salette. Indeed, in one of the children’s reports they state: “After (she passed away) we were very happy and we went back to took care of our cows”.
The joy of the two disciples of Emmaus is the result of their attentive listening to the words spoken by the Risen Jesus. This joy deeply transforms their lives. By the end of the story Luke portrays the two disciples as apostles proclaiming Jesus’ Resurrection.
Their joy echoes that of Mary when, at the moment of the Annunciation in Nazareth, she says, “Yes” to Gabriel’s words. The evangelist Luke clearly highlights this joy in the Magnificat, a text that reveals what it means to submit our heart to the Word of God. In continuity with the Annunciation story and with the Emmaus narrative, Our Lady of La Salette stresses the importance of an attentive listening: “If my people do not want to submit ... if they convert”.
Both the Emmaus story and the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette remind us that, if we desire to be fruitful followers of Jesus Christ, we need to listen with attention and openness of heart to His words and to apply them to our lives. It is not an easy task, but we are helped by Mary’s presence who reminds us to do whatever he tells us (see John 2:5).
Both Emmaus and La Salette exemplify a spirituality that is deeply centered around the Word of God. Moreover, both Emmaus and La Salette teach us how to walk along with our brothers and sisters like the Risen Jesus and Our Lady of La Salette; both of them remind us of the importance of being able to reread or interpret our own faith and life journey in the light of the Word of God in order to be, more and more, Christ-centered missionary-disciples.
A Pedagogy Leading to Heaven…
Mary’s Apparition at La Salette happened in three phases: the first, in a sitting position with her face hidden in her hands; the second, standing and talking to the children; and, the third, moving toward the top of the hill while communicating her last words to Maximin and Melanie.
It is interesting to notice that, before disappearing, Our Lady of La Salette does not advise the two children how to behave after this transforming encounter; Mary doesn’t even tell them to go back to the small village of La Salette, or to go to the pastor of the Parish or to the Bishop of the Diocese of Grenoble to report their encounter with her. No; Mary has only one request, and she repeats it twice: “Let all my people know.” Mary’s last words bear a twofold meaning. On the one hand, they call us to be her ambassadors by sharing her message among our brothers and sisters, and, on the other hand, they invite us to follow her example, i.e. to see and to travel the ‘uphill’ path as she did, being aware that our identity and dignity in Christ make us heirs and inhabitants of Heaven. At La Salette, Mary reminds us that this is the ultimate goal of our earthly pilgrimage. True, the road ‘to Heaven’ may be ‘uphill’ and ‘winding’ because of sin, but we are not left alone: there is the Son who reveals to us the ‘road to Heaven’ through His life, words, and, especially, through His Death and Resurrection.
Let us follow, therefore, with confidence and trust, the one who, at La Salette, walked the ‘uphill’ and ‘winding’ path bearing the cross of the Son on her chest, and we will receive the graces we need to go through such a journey. Let us keep in our hearts and minds the words we proclaim during every Eucharist celebrated here on earth, “[…] awaiting Your [second] coming” so that, at His Parousia, we will be justified by and in Him for Life Eternal. Yes, because Jesus’ followers never stop on the road of their earthly pilgrimage; they always follow the ‘uphill’ and ‘winding’ path leading to Heaven.
(30th Ordinary Sunday: Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40)
No one could ever accuse St. Paul of flattery. So, when he writes to the Thessalonians, “You became a model for all the believers,” he must mean what he says.
How different from the words of the Beautiful Lady! Her people, far from being held up as a model, have earned a completely opposite reputation, which might be called spiritual laziness. After her Apparition, however, a certain number of people, Maximin’s father among them, resolved to restore her good opinion, so to speak.
Reputation is important. None of us likes to be ridiculed, insulted or made to look less than what we think we ought to be. We all would prefer to be known for the good we do than for our faults.
Paul tells the Thessalonians that other Christian communities have heard “how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Thus they observed the Greatest Commandment.
But they observed the Command to love their neighbor as well. They were known for their missionary zeal: “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth.”
La Salette Missionaries, Sisters and Laity have a reputation, among other things, for a welcoming spirit and a desire to promote reconciliation. As individuals we sometimes fall short, but we can hope that it might be said of us that our love for God spills out into love of our neighbor.
We must maintain a certain balance, especially when our faith might be unwelcome in the foreign land that is our modern secular society. It is then that the witness of our Christian way of life most matters.
This includes Paul’s famous list of fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” We might also add the witness of Mary at La Salette: her tears and unceasing prayer, in response to sin and suffering.
In this way we hope to live in peace with all. May our reputation at least arouse curiosity in others, and draw them to the One who draws us.
Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.
Do not be afraid…
Nothing about the human existing is excluded from the Bible. Including the issues of fear and trust. Fear and trust: key words that determine the difference between simple “exist” and “living fully”. The Bible, which records more than 365 passages referring to the invitation to not to fear, seems to be aware of this.
The Holy Scriptures recognize two kinds of fear. One fortifies, and is what the Bible calls the “fear of Adonai”, the principle of wisdom (cf. Prov 1:7). The second is a spirit of fear, which consumes, grips, paralyzes and disables. We’ve all experienced it, at least once. We can make bad choices because they have matured in fear; or we prefer, intentionally, not to choose because they are blocked by fear of the unknown, uncertainty, failure, what others may think of us, etc. And most of us want “not to fear” in order to truly live and not just exist, to be free to love and to be loved (see 1Jn 4:18).
In the life of the believer, fear and trust coexist. What is relevant is the question: what do we listen most to? What inspires and directs our lives? Fear or trust? It is interesting to note, in this regard, that even our Fathers and Mothers in faith have experienced both fear and distrust, despite being chosen by God and willing to follow the voice of the Lord. See, for example, the figures of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the great legislator Moses, the biblical king par excellence, David (Ps 56:10-11), Sara, Ruth, Rachel, Miriam the sister of Moses, Peter, or the Twelve Apostles...
Even Joseph (Mt 1:20) and Mary of Nazareth experience the feeling of fear. Immediately after the words of the angel Gabriel, the evangelist Luke reports that Mary “was very upset and wondered what it was like for a greeting like this” (Lk 1:29). Yes: on the one hand, the main protagonists of the History of Salvation are assailed by fear, but on the other hand, they know how to trust the Words of the Eternal One.
Something similar can be said of Maximin and Melanie in La Salette. When Melanie suddenly sees a globe of light right there where they had previously deposited their lunch bags, she calls to Maximin agitated and intrigued. Both are caught by fear: Melanie drops her stick and Maximin tries to take it back, in case it is necessary to defend herself from that mysterious source of light. Their fear leaves room for confidence when, after seeing within the globe of light the figure of a “Beautiful Lady”, sitting with her elbows resting on her knees and her face hidden between, they are listening to her who was saying following words: “Come near, my children, do not be afraid, I’m here to announce to you a great message”.
The primary dynamic of this meeting follows the dynamic of the numerous encounters with the Lord recorded by the Bible. Often these are the encounters that, initially, generate fear in the one who experiences them. But with the initial fear there is always a divine word, capable of instilling confidence and opening up to unexpected horizons. Jesus of Nazareth, for example, heals Peter’s fear by not only encouraging him to “not to fear”, but also giving him a mission: “From now on you will be a fisherman of men” (Lk 5:10). Similarly, at La Salette, the “Beautiful Lady” not only invites the two children to “not to fear” and to approach her to carry on their mutual meeting, but, once freed from the initial fear and having gained their trust, she entrusts to them a mission.
Both the Son and the Mother, just like the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus of Nazareth, do not demand a faith without fear from us. The God of our Fathers in Faith, the Son and the “Beautiful Lady of La Salette” have faith in us before we believe in them. They believe in us, together with our fears and our abilities. They give us confidence. They want to forge an alliance with us. And when we become aware of this, we are healed of our fears, because we begin to trust the Spirit that is in us (cf. Mt 10:19-20). We’re transformed. And this trust in the Spirit and our transformation open up for us surprising horizons, because they allow us to open ourselves to the voice of the Lord that entrusts to us a mission.
The trust – an expression of love and faith…
“Come near, my children, do not be afraid,
I’m here to announce you a great message”
The event of La Salette opens with this vehement appeal to two Shepherds. The Holy Scripture is filled with the two words (fear and confidence) in the density of its content. We could say that the Bible is a book that invites us to see in God as a friend who finds the pleasure in walking with man in the most varied situations of his life.
Mary in La Salette makes her own the words with which God addressed the people or particularly to the prophets: «Do not be frightened. Don’t be afraid». “Don’t be afraid, because I’m with you; do not cast desperate looks because I am your God” (Is 41:10); Jesus said in the New Testament, “Don’t be afraid, then; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Mt 10:31).
Hence the secret of overcoming any fear rests in a total and complete trust in God. The two shepherds moved inwards to take a step forward and make themselves available to the Lady who brought them a beautiful message.
When fear overwhelms us, we lose all the trust and confidence we could have had. Fear makes us desperate, and where there is despair, God is not present there! Because despair drives away the presence of God, despair is a lack of trust in the Lord, despair is a lack of faith.
The fear that engulfs us takes away our faith and our trust in the one true God; fear makes us weak and sick. Just as one day on the lake with His disciples, Jesus looks at us today and takes his eternal words through his Mother: “Courage, it is me! Do not be afraid!” Behind Our Lady’s voice is hiding the eternal Word of God, because Mary reminds us of our duty to do what her Son recommends to us.
The constant “fear not” draws our attention to our commitment to place our trust and faith in the Lord, as the psalmist writes: “In God I place my trust and I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?” (Ps 56:12). Thus, the secret to overcoming fear is total trust in God. The two shepherds were moved interiorly to step forward and make themselves available to the Lady who carried the most beautiful message.
The fear triggered by the “powerful” Covid-19 has become the word of reference in today’s world. It is at this moment that Mary’s words at La Salette invite us to trust, to “not to be afraid” because the Lord continues to lead the destinies of this world. The Mother of God, acting as the ambassador for God’s saving project, shares with us the experience of trust in God that was passed on to her by the angel at the event of the Annunciation.
Mary - model of trust…
Mary knows the feeling of fear well. When the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her, She was terrified. The Divine Messenger calmed her down with the invocation: “Do not be afraid!” Only later does the dialogue of the Representative of Heaven with the most worthy representative of the whole humanity follows in the most important event in the world, that is in the Incarnation of the Son of God.
At La Salette the roles are reversed: now it is Mary acting like the divine messenger who speaks with the simplest representatives of the mankind – with the children who feel frightened for having experienced something extraordinary. The Beautiful Lady perfectly understands the fear of Maximin and Melanie even if they, seeing a weeping woman in her outward appearance similar to other women in that region, feel so acquiesced to such an extent that they do not flee terrified.
The true respect for human sensitivity to any supernatural things, that require special help to get used to them, is revealed in Mary’s conduct. At the beginning of time, before we fell into the condition of sin and death, it was our natural characteristic. Adam and Eve, and only them among all mankind, lived in a natural and friendly confidence with God, until they ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Firstly they, and then all of us, have lost that wonderful state of friendship with God free from all kind of fear, until the first coming of the Saviour to this world. Only in Jesus Christ are we able to stand face to face before God - even if His face is hidden behind the likeness of the Son of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth and after His Ascension to Heaven is hidden under the species of Bread and Wine - and we do not die of fear. But it only happens because we are sustained by the grace of the Saviour, merited on the Cross and sealed by the Resurrection. There is no fear of death in Him, there is no terror in front of the Divine Majesty, but there is great awe, based on the belief that God loves us, regardless of who we are and how much we possess.
Mary was the first, together with St. Joseph, to see the Incarnate God and she has got used to His earthly ordinariness and has contemplated His Divine Majesty hidden behind the appearance of the human nature of her Son, Jesus. And in this spirit she said to the children at La Salette: “Come closer, do not be afraid!” It said so, because in faith in the communion of the saints we are all united: some of us on this Earth, still on the pilgrimage to Heaven, some others now beyond, in Heaven, waiting for the resurrection of their bodies.
Let us trust God, through Mary’s intercession at La Salette, that He will grant us the grace to receive God’s love in true awe, based not on fear, but on the praise of God for His great mercy towards us.
Flavio Gilio, MS
Eusébio Kangupe, MS
Karol Porczak, MS