Ready, Willing, Able

(7th Sunday of Easter: Acts 7:55-60; Revelation 22:12-20; John 17:20-26)

The death of Steven is recorded in the first reading. The account includes this sentence: “The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.” This is the same Saul who would be later known as Paul.

Steven is venerated as the first Christian martyr. So, it might surprise you to learn that the original Greek word for the witnesses in this passage is martyres. How can this be?

During the Easter season, we have often encountered the same word. The Apostles present themselves as witnesses of the Risen Christ, always martyres in the Greek. That’s what the word means. A martyr, in our modern sense, is first a witness to Jesus, but one who shed his blood for the sake of the Gospel.

Stephen witnessed by word and by imitation. His dying prayer was, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit... Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Jesus crucified prayed, “Father, forgive them” and, later, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:34, 46).

During his trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus said, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt 26:64). That is exactly the vision described by Stephen, which so enraged his audience.

Saul, too, would become a faithful and persecuted witness. Over the centuries, how many? How many more to come?

The La Salette Missionaries chose to remain in their mission, witnessing Christ to their people, during Angola’s civil war. Three of them died in the crossfire. Another accompanied the refugees to a camp in Zambia, where he nearly died of starvation. As we write, our Missionaries from Poland are continuing their mission in Ukraine in spite of the war with Russia.

Most of us, “ordinary” witnesses, have not had to make such sacrifices. But it is not enough just to admire their courage as we bring the Beautiful Lady’s great news to the world, by word and example.

Like them, we have to be ready, willing and able to accomplish the mission entrusted to us. If we have the necessary preparation and desire, we can count on Our Lord and Our Lady to give us the courage.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

The Holy Spirit and Us

(6th Sunday of Easter: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Rev. 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29)

The letter sent to the Gentile Christians, in today’s first reading, is essential to our understanding of the Church. The resolution of the crisis is prefaced with the phrase, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.”

It is not conceivable that the Apostles and elders might disagree with the Holy Spirit. Why then do they add their decision to that of the Holy Spirit? We will get back to this.

The other readings express similar ideas. Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” In the Apocalypse we read, “I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.”

All of these texts reflect the intimate union of the human and the divine in the Church. We have rightly become accustomed to thinking of ourselves as the Church. Without Jesus and the Father and the Spirit, however, we are no different from any other organization. Without us, on the other hand, God lives in trinitarian glory, but there is no Church.

The Beautiful Lady of La Salette spoke to Christians who were Church in name only. Many, by cutting themselves off from the sources of faith provided by the Holy Spirit in the sacraments, were no longer God’s dwelling place or temple.

Two expressions in today’s readings are heard at every celebration of the Eucharist, close together in the Communion rite. They are, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” and “the Lamb.” Mary came to restore us to a state of peace with the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

Now we return to the question raised above. The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls “the Advocate,” is the teacher sent by the Father. We the Church cannot go astray when we teach what the Spirit teaches, through our institutions and structures, and in our individual lives. Thus the decision of the Holy Spirit is ours as well.

The very existence of La Salette Laity is a fairly recent manifestation of this reality. Let the new holy temple be within each of us as we allow the Advocate to work within us to the glory of God and the Lamb.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

All Things New

(5th Sunday of Easter: Acts 14:21-27; Revelation 21:1-5; John 13:31-35)

The closing words of today’s reading from the Apocalypse, “Behold, I make all things new,” seem to radiate through all of today’s liturgy. The word “new” occurs at least eight times: three times in antiphons and prayers, once in the Gospel, and four times in the second reading.

We have been celebrating Easter already for four full weeks. Three more lie ahead. Hopefully we are still filled with the joy and newness of the resurrection.

Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment, and goes so far as to say, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Faithful observance of this law of love is certainly a challenge, but it ought to make it more natural for us to keep the rest of the commandments. It creates the new heart promised by the prophet Ezekiel (26:36).

No one can doubt that it was love that moved Our Lady to appear at La Salette. Like the light of the apparition, her love, too, is a reflection of the love radiating from the image of her crucified Son, who died and rose for our sake. She is telling us, “I love you as much as my Son loves you.” She promises a new manifestation of God’s tenderness and power.

By urging her people to turn away from sin and turn back to the practices by which they would be recognized as Catholic Christians, she was, like Paul and Barnabas in the first reading, “exhorting them to persevere in the faith.”

We can do the same. Some of you reading this are missionaries, bringing the Gospel to peoples of other lands. Most of us need only step outside the door of our homes and hearts to meet people and, by word or action, “strengthen their spirits.” Either way, it is a challenge as we fulfill the new commandment.

We want to contribute to the manifestation of the new heaven and the new earth, here and now. The psalm expresses our hope: “O Lord, let your faithful ones bless you. Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might.”

“The old order has passed away,” says the Lord, as he offers us a new heaven, a new earth, new hearts, new courage.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

The New Evangelization

(4th Sunday of Easter: Acts 13:14, 43-52; Revelation 7: 9, 14-17; John 10:27-30)

In our second reading, from Revelation, John describes “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue... who have survived the time of great distress.”

This cannot mean only those who escaped death during persecution. It is their faith that survived. Once evangelized, they remained faithful to the Lord Jesus. They are, if you will, the descendants of the new Christians described in the first reading: “The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.”

As we know from much of Church history, enthusiasm for the Gospel needs to be renewed from time to time. In this context today we speak of the New Evangelization, which “calls each of us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel” (USCCB website).

Pope Benedict XVI put it this way: “There are regions of the world... in which the Gospel put down roots a long time ago, giving rise to a true Christian tradition but in which... the secularization process has produced a serious crisis of the meaning of the Christian faith and of belonging to the Church” (June 28, 2010). That was the situation addressed by the Beautiful Lady at La Salette, and about which all La Salette Laity, Missionaries and Sisters, are spontaneously concerned. We share her tears.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” Our call as evangelizers is to enable others to hear his voice, and help remove the noise that distracts the listener or distorts the message.

Mary asked: “Do you say your prayers well, my children?” Isn’t that the beginning of our evangelization? When we open ourselves to the word of God speaking to our hearts and souls, our faith is deepened, and we are better prepared and motivated to share it.

At the same time we can hear the Gospel message “re‑proposed” to us. That is always a good thing.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Love and Witness

(3rd Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:27-41; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19)

There are countries where it is a crime to try to win converts to Christianity. But in other parts of the world, maybe even close to home, we may hear echoes of the high priest’s words in the first reading: “We gave you strict orders to stop teaching in that name!”

Such was the case in large areas of France at the time of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette. In fact, the situation deteriorated to the point that religious orders, including the Missionaries of La Salette, were obliged around the year 1900 to relocate to other countries in order to survive.

Like the Apostles, who “left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name,” we too can rejoice in that persecution, which led to the growth of the Congregation and the dissemination of the La Salette message and charism.

Peter and the others were witnesses, called to share what they had seen and heard, regardless of opposition. Ideally, the same should be said of all believers today. But where do we get the strength?

The answer is in today’s Gospel. Look at Peter’s reaction when the other disciple said, “It is the Lord!” His heart was so full of love for Jesus that he couldn’t even wait for the boat to get to shore.

Shortly after that, the Lord asked him three times, “Do you love me?” Each time he answered, “You know that I love you” and Jesus commanded him to feed his flock. Never again would Peter hesitate to acknowledge or proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Apply that scene to yourself. When you profess your love for Jesus, how does he reply? What does he expect of you? In one way or another it will involve some kind of witness, if only by full and faithful participation in the life of the Church. This is the minimum the Beautiful Lady asks of us.

The second reading describes a sort of liturgy, different in form from ours, but expressing the same desire: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.”

In our worship and in our life, let that be our aim.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

The One who Lives

(2nd Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:12-16; Revelation 1:9-19; John 20:19-31)

Scholars generally agree that John, the author of the fourth Gospel, also wrote Revelation. In both, Jesus often uses the phrase “I am” in a way that is reminiscent of God’s words to Moses, which we read not long ago: “I AM WHO AM.”

We have an example in today’s reading from Revelation: “I am the first and the last, the one who lives.” Jesus gives himself important names, describing who he is in his very being. He goes on to say that he is “alive forever and ever”—an even more emphatic version of his words at the Last Supper, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.”

Then we read a mysterious saying, “I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.” It seems to combine the notions of power and judgment, such as we find at La Salette when Mary speaks of “the arm of my Son.”

The Beautiful Lady’s words are subject to various interpretations, but taken in the context of other parts of her discourse, such as: “If I want my Son not to abandon you,” and “I warned you last year with the potatoes,” it is hard not to accept the traditional reading.

But today is Divine Mercy Sunday. You have seen the image, with rays emanating from Jesus’ heart. In our La Salette context we have often noted that the light of the Apparition came from the crucifix which Mary bore on her breast. The great news she came to deliver comes from that cross. La Salette is a merciful apparition.

Jesus, the one who lives, breathes on us as he did on the Apostles in today’s Gospel. To them and their successors he gave special power and judgment to forgive or retain sins. To us he gives our charism of reconciliation, which shines forth with special brilliance on this day.

Forgiveness is the goal, freely offered to all who will choose to submit to the divine will and change their lives accordingly. It was among the “signs and wonders” mentioned in the first reading.

We haven’t forgotten the doubting Thomas. Let us stand with him and the other Apostles as we gratefully and lovingly accept Jesus’ greeting: “Peace be with you.”

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

He Had to Rise

(Easter: Acts 10:34-43; Colossians 3:1-4 ; John 20:1-9)

At the end of today’s Gospel, John states clearly, “They did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” In fact, as the readings during the Easter season will often show, most of the disciples did not believe Jesus had risen until he revealed himself.

Let us put ourselves in Peter’s place in the empty tomb. What are we to make of what we see? Nothing here makes sense. For example, if Jesus’ body was stolen, why would a thief fold the burial cloths?

Then let us join Peter as he appears in the first reading. By this time in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter has been boldly proclaiming the risen Christ to the Jewish people, and many have believed. But here he is preaching to a devout God-fearing Roman centurion, along with his family and friends. Now Peter is a witness, not of an empty place of death, but of the fullness of life, for everyone.

St. Paul, writing to the Colossians, reminds them, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” As a witness, he certainly practiced what he preached.

At La Salette, the Beautiful Lady made witnesses of Maximin and Mélanie. We follow in their footsteps, reminding people of the transforming power of the crucified and risen Jesus. What Peter says of himself and his companions applies also to us: “He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

John writes that Jesus had to rise. This goes beyond announcing the historical event. For without his resurrection there is no victory over death. There is no victory over sin. There is no salvation. There is no restoring of the covenant relationship with God.

If modern social media had existed at the time of today’s Gospel, imagine what theories would have circulated concerning the empty tomb! If the burning faith of Peter and the others existed today, imagine what prophets we might become in this present age!

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

The Master’s Need

(Palm Sunday: Luke 19:28-40; Isaiah 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Luke 22:14 to 23:56)

Following Jesus’ instruction, his disciples, when asked why they were taking the colt, answered, “The Master has need of it.”

What does the Master need from us? First and foremost, our very selves.

When Our Lady told Maximin and Mélanie to “make this known”, was she not saying, “The Master has need of you”? They, and no one else, were chosen to be the first to announce the La Salette message of conversion and reconciliation.

What resource, gift, or talent does the master need from us? For each it will be different, but there is much that we have in common. For example, we all receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. How then do we carry him into our personal world of family, friends, community and when possible, beyond?

Some of the Pharisees thought the crowd acclaiming Jesus was going too far. He answered, “If they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” We find at La Salette a similar extravagant prediction: “Rocks and stones will be turned into heaps of wheat,” proclaiming, as it were, God’s mercy toward those who return to him.

This is no time for silence. The Master has need of our voice, and will give us each our own “well-trained tongue” (first reading), so as to profess the glory of God and make ours the words of today’s Psalm: “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.”

For many of us, this will not be easy, especially if we live in a society that is indifferent or even hostile to our faith.

In this context let us consider what Jesus said to Peter. “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.”

We know that Peter’s courage failed at a critical moment, but not his faith. Never excusing his cowardice, he turned back and in the Acts of the Apostles he boldly proclaimed the Good News and guided the first steps of the Church. The Master still needed him, as he still needs us—what a glorious, humbling thought!—to strengthen our brothers and sisters.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Do you not Perceive it?

(5th Sunday of Lent: Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11)

The woman in today’s Gospel was guilty. The law doomed her to death. Whatever regrets she now had could do her no good.

The Jewish people, to whom Isaiah speaks in the first reading, were in exile because of their many sins. If only they had remembered how much they owed God for delivering their ancestors from slavery and bringing them through the Red Sea!

Paul recognized too late “the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He could never undo the harm he had done in persecuting the Church.

Many Christians in 1846 had forgotten the story of their salvation. God’s Son, out of love for the world, had handed himself over to death. But now some invoked his name only when they swore at rotten potatoes and the coming scourge of hunger.

It took a Beautiful Lady to bring them back to a life of faith. Yes, her words were reproachful, but she did not come to condemn her people. An alternative to punishment was available.

Paul would have to suffer much for the sake of Christ. That was no punishment. He found fulfillment in “the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death.”

Isaiah reassured his people that a sign greater than the crossing of the Red Sea lay in store for them, and sooner than they think. “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Far more remarkable is the outcome of the case of the woman in the Gospel. It was not only unexpected, it was impossible! Jesus is saying, in effect, “I am doing something new, something not seen before, something revolutionary. Can you perceive this?”

La Salette helps us to see this great wonder, not only to apply it ourselves as we strive to lead reconciled lives, but also to adopt it as a methodology in engaging our modern world.

Isaiah, Paul, Mary, and especially Jesus invite us to take on a heart of conversion. Let us not put off the time when we might hear those gentle words, “Neither do I condemn you.”

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Radiant with Joy

(4th Sunday of Lent: Joshua 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

“Look to him that you may be radiant with joy.” These words in today’s Psalm refer to the Lord, but we can apply them to the prodigal son. Once he looked to his father, he found himself dressed in the finest robe, with a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.

In the middle of this penitential season of Lent, the Church gives us Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday. Besides the specific references to joy in the Psalm and the Gospel, the readings are full of reasons to celebrate.

In the first reading, God says to his people, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” They have crossed the Jordan and will now celebrate their first Passover in the promised land. They are truly a free people at last.

St. Paul speaks glowingly of reconciliation, which is God’s doing, and which we are called to accept. In our relationships with others, we know what reconciliation is like, when offender and offended are able to look at each other happily and recognize the “new creation” of love restored.

More joyous still is the reconciliation to which the Beautiful Lady of La Salette calls us. In entrusting her message to Mélanie and Maximin and to us, she has made us ambassadors for Christ. We can proclaim to all that God, “not counting their trespasses against them,” offers them the opportunity to return humbly to him and be in a right relationship with him.

Isn’t that what the story of the prodigal son is about? “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”

We could stop here, and this reflection would be complete. But let us use the remaining space for a couple additional thoughts.

Let us rejoice that, at the Easter Vigil, thousands will become a new creation through the waters of baptism and the anointing of the holy oil of confirmation and the bestowing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Let us, as the father says, “celebrate and rejoice” over every soul saved, for every sinner (ourselves included) who is reconciled with God, who “was dead and has come to life again; was lost and has been found.”

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

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