Bystanders No More

(Easter: Acts 10:34-43; Colossians 3:1-4 OR 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; John 20:1-9)

Holy Week can be experienced as a journey or, better still, a pilgrimage, to the empty tomb. The Commemoration of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, and of his Passion on Good Friday, and especially the Easter Vigil are meant to renew, strengthen and intensify our faith.

Today, then, we are ready to cry out with the psalmist: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad,” and “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”

Here, as in the first reading, we find the notion of witnessing. In our La Salette context, we always speak of Mélanie and Maximin as witnesses of the Apparition, as indeed they were. But has it never struck you that the Beautiful Lady herself came as a witness?

“I am here to tell you great news,” she said, but her news was no mere matter of information. Knowing what she knew, and seeing what she saw among her people, she felt not only obliged to plead constantly on their behalf, but also to speak. She bore witness to her crucified Son, bearing his image on her breast. But the dazzling light of her crucifix reflected the glory of the resurrection as well.

The Church gives us a choice for today’s second reading. 1 Corinthians highlights a word we will hear constantly over the coming weeks: “paschal.” We may think that it means: having to do with Easter. But its original meaning is: having to do with Passover.

It is not a coincidence that Christ’s passion and death happened around the feast of Passover. He became our Paschal Lamb, that his blood might be put on the lintels of our hearts and souls, so that death may pass over us without harm, and we may receive the gift of eternal life in Christ.

If Lent has brought about a conversion in us, what then might this Easter accomplish? Does the Holy Spirit move within us as we enter the empty tomb? What shall we say and do as we return from there to our everyday world? (Imagine those gentiles, in the first reading, after they heard Peter’s preaching.)

As Christians, perhaps we have been bystanders or observers. Has the time come for us to be more, to find a way to share our Easter joy?

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

Voluntary Humiliation

(Palm Sunday: Mark 11:1-10; Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14–15)

Jesus anticipated the acclamation of the admiring crowd. He even arranged for a mount so as to be more visible. The people were thrilled to welcome him as their leader, their hero.

Jesus accepted it all.

He also anticipated Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, his disciples fleeing, the mockery of his enemies, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant in today’s Old Testament reading: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”

Jesus accepted it all.

Weakness in a hero has always been despised, so it is not surprising that the adulation of the crowd turned to calls for Jesus’ death. His disgrace was such that they chose a new hero, “a man called Barabbas, then in prison along with the rebels who had committed murder in a rebellion.”

What they did not and could not know was that all this humiliation was voluntary. St. Paul writes that Christ Jesus emptied himself and humbled himself, trading his “form” of God for that of a slave, out of obedience, as the Gospel makes clear, to the will of his Father.

“Because of this,” he adds, “God greatly exalted him... that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

For this we need a “well-trained tongue,” like Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. We are not talking here about the gift of eloquence, but the ability to “speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” That should come naturally to us as La Salettes, if we adopt the attitude of the Beautiful Lady.

Even if the expression of our faith meets with rejection, we have the same confidence as God’s Servant, “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced, ... knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”

Would we have joined the crowd in calling for Jesus’ death? Who can say? The more important question, however, is whether today we are prepared to follow his example of humility and obedience.

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

A Willing Spirit

(5th Sunday of Lent: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33)

Does it puzzle you to read in the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus, “Son though he was, learned obedience, was made perfect, and became the source of eternal salvation”? Was he not always the perfect, obedient Savior?

Since the beginning of lent, we have been consciously striving for perfection and holy obedience, also known as submission. We know the struggle to set aside impulses and obsessions, to “fall to the ground and die,” as Jesus says in today’s Gospel. But, if we see this primarily as something we ourselves have to accomplish, hoping that by Easter we will be able to say, “We did it!” then we are missing the point.

Look at the other readings, especially the Psalm. “Have mercy on me, O God... wipe out my offense... wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me... A clean heart create for me, a steadfast spirit renew within me... Cast me not out... your Holy Spirit take not from me... a willing spirit sustain in me.” Our role in all this is simply to humble ourselves before our loving God. He does all the work.

Only after all this does the psalmist make a resolution: “I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall return to you”—a thought dear to every La Salette heart. The joyful, though sometimes difficult, celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation can empower us in that determination.

In Jeremiah, too, we see that it’s all God’s doing. “I will make a new covenant... I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts... I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” All this for one purpose: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The Beautiful Lady comes to renew this hope in us.

Just before Communion, one of the prayers to be said by the priest ends with the words, “Keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.”

This echoes Jesus’ words, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” In wearing the image of her perfect, obedient, crucified Son, Mary invites us to stand with her at the foot of his cross.

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

Going Back up to Jerusalem

(4th Sunday of Lent: 2 Chronicles 36:14-23; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21)

Cyrus, the King of Persia, respected the cultures and religions of the peoples under his rule. But he must have received some sort of revelation from the God of Israel, for he wrote, “All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord [he uses the name YHWH], the God of heaven, has given to me.”

He authorizes the Jewish exiles throughout his vast kingdom to return, that is, to go up to Jerusalem. Today’s Psalm reflects the time of exile, and shows how precious Jerusalem was to God’s people.

Going back up to Jerusalem is a wonderfully apt image of Lent. Going implies a goal. Going back means conversion. Going up suggests struggle. Lent is all of these.

Let us begin with the notion of struggle. One of the greatest gifts God has given us is free will, which we rightly defend for ourselves and others. But St. Paul reminds us today that we are God’s handiwork, “created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” Accommodating our will to the divine will comes at a certain cost.

Returning, in the language of Lent, is a turning back to our Savior. A single example from Scripture will serve: “I have brushed away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like a mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22).

The goal, finally, is not a place, or a work. It is the time—long ago or recent—when we were most aware of the truth enunciated in today’s Gospel: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Rediscovering this for ourselves, would we not want everybody in our life to know this?

The message of La Salette contains all these elements. Some of it is hard to understand and accept. It is a call to turn back to God. It proposes a general goal, and a more specific one as well.

As La Salette Laity, Sisters and Missionaries, might we not find the “good work that God has prepared for us” in Mary’s words: “Make This Message Known”?

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

The Lord Our God

(3rd Sunday of Lent: Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25)

Do you remember what God said when Moses asked him his name? The Lord answered categorically, “I am who am,” and told Moses to tell the people, “I AM sent me to you.”

Today we read, “I, the Lord, am your God... I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God.” It might surprise you to know that in the original Hebrew, the verb am does not appear here. But our grammar requires it, so the translator inserts it.

Theoretically, in the absence of the verb, someone could translate the text as was, or will be, or many other variations. The important thing is to recognize the Lord as the one who is, who was, who will be, might be, could be, etc.—that he IS, in the most absolute sense, our God.

The Lord is God in himself, but also and, from our perspective, more importantly, he is God for us. “I, the Lord, am YOUR God.” Our faith is routed solidly in this first commandment. We may serve no other gods, we may worship no idols. This is the foundation of all the Commandments.

Our Lady of La Salette spoke explicitly of the Second and Third Commandments. It is obvious, however, that a people that violates these has rejected the First. Other idols had replaced the Lord their God.

In that light, Lent is the perfect time to reflect on the state of our relationship with our God. How faithful have we been? To what extent have we created other idols and bowed down to them?

Do we share the enthusiasm of today’s Psalm for the Lord’s law, decree, precepts, command, and ordinances? Are these more precious to us than gold, sweeter than honey? Or are they, rather, stumbling blocks and foolishness, as hard for us to accept as the notion of a crucified Messiah was in Paul’s day?

The psalmist loved the law, not as a lawyer, but because it was the law OF THE LORD, whom he loved with all his heart. Likewise, the Beautiful Lady reminds us of the commandments because of her love for us and her Son.

She shows us that If we desire a loving relationship with God, and when we bow (submit) to him alone, then the rest will follow.

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

What’s it All about?

(2nd Sunday of Lent: Genesis 22:1-18; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10)

Today’s responsorial is taken from Psalm 116. It is a prayer of thanksgiving after a crisis. Like most psalms, it relates to our own experience. Who amongst us has never been “greatly afflicted”?

It was not only the sins of her people that caused Our Lady to come to La Salette. She was keenly aware of their afflictions as well: blighted harvests, famine, the death of children. She assured them of her unceasing prayer on their behalf.

In times of trial, we ought to be comforted by St. Paul’s words in the second reading: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” He reminds us, too, that Christ Jesus died and rose and intercedes for us.

The first reading, on the other hand, is troubling. “God put Abraham to the test,” telling him to offer his beloved son as a sacrifice! We naturally wonder why God would do such a thing. But at the end of the story he says through his angel, “I know now how devoted you are to God,” and the promise of blessing is then emphatically renewed.

What does any of this have to do with the story of the Transfiguration in the Gospel? The special Preface for the Second Sunday of Lent makes the connection. “After he had told the disciples of his coming Death, on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory, to show... that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection.”

In fact, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, just before the Transfiguration, Jesus, God’s beloved Son, predicts his passion and then adds: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Like the Passion of Christ, all suffering can lead to glory. Abraham achieved his supreme moment of glory in his willingness to sacrifice his son if that was God’s will. He became a model for us all. But we know our weakness and would prefer not to be tested.

Mary came in light to remind us that, though we all might feel at times that we are going through our own passion, we can remain faith-filled, and then we will witness the glory of the resurrection and reap the harvest of the promises of God, and of the promises the Beautiful Lady herself made at La Salette.

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

Remember and Return

(1st Sunday of Lent: Genesis 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15)

God’s covenant with Noah was accompanied by a sign, the rainbow. Its stated purpose is to keep God from forgetting his promise, “There shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.”

Ordinary signs point us in the direction of something ahead of us. The rainbow, and other signs of other covenants, do the opposite. They tell us to look back, to remember what God has done for his people, and especially why.

La Salette is about conversion, repentance, and reconciliation. Those whom the Beautiful Lady calls “my people” had forgotten their covenant relationship with her Son, who had called on the people of his day to repent and believe in the Gospel. Her message is similar: remember, and return.

It is not surprising that she spoke in particular about Sunday Mass. “For on this day Christ's faithful are bound to come together into one place so that; by hearing the word of God and taking part in the eucharist, they may call to mind the passion, the resurrection and the glorification of the Lord Jesus, and may thank God.” (Vatican II on the Liturgy, 106)

In every celebration of the Eucharist we hear Jesus’ words, “Do this in memory of me.” In today’s Psalm we pray, “In your kindness remember me.” This is not only a matter of looking back. As with all covenant signs, the purpose is to let the Lord renew his presence and action in us, so that we can move forward with new strength and courage.

Lent is an opportunity to recognize to what extent we have strayed from our first fervor, so that we can return to a faithful covenant relationship going forward. This is the “clear conscience” of which St. Peter writes in the second reading.

Both the rainbow and La Salette (especially Mary’s crucifix) serve as reminders of God’s fidelity. Both are miracles of light and hope. God will never again destroy all mortal beings with a flood, and Mary, if we heed her words, will never again weep at the prospect of letting fall the arm of her Son.

If during these forty days we can remember and return, maybe we can show others the way back, too.

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

Moved with Pity

(6th Ordinary Sunday: Leviticus 13:1-2,44-46; 1 Cor. 10:31—11:1; Mark 1:40-45)

St. Paul, in the second reading, describes his ministry as “not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.”

This is exactly the example given by Jesus in the Gospel. He healed a leper, but not to attract attention to himself. Otherwise, why would he ask the man not to tell anyone, and why would Mark mention the inconvenience caused to Jesus when his fame began to spread?

Jesus acted because he was moved with pity. Before him knelt a man who was not only sick, but who was obliged by the Law of God to self-isolate, to practice social distancing, and to cover his mouth.

Moved with pity, the Mother of Jesus came in tears to La Salette. She asked nothing for herself. She was concerned about others: her people and her Son.

We might ask ourselves, “When is the last time I felt pity?” No doubt we will find many examples, among family and friends, or from the news reports of disasters and tragedies of all kinds. There are forms of marginalization directed at others because of social, religious and even political differences. Opportunities for experiencing pity abound.

The next question is harder. “Moved with pity, how did I act?” Perhaps the question seems unfair. After all, Jesus and Mary were able to intervene in a supernatural way.

La Salette priests are in a position, of course, to administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They do so gladly, and La Salette Shrines specialize, so to speak, in making confessors readily available.

For sin is a disease underlying so much of the evil in today’s world. Today’s Psalm offers great hope: “I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not... and you took away the guilt of my sin.”

Priest or not, all of us can do something. Most of us will spontaneously respond to console someone we know who has suffered a great loss. Dedicated to the cause of reconciliation, we are determined never to be the cause of alienation to another person.

Jesus showed no hesitation before the leper’s plea. “I do will it.” Like Jesus, like Mary, let’s do what we can.

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

Right and Just

(5th Ordinary Sunday: Job 7:1-7; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39)

In the Preface, which introduces the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, we affirm that it is “right and just, always and everywhere,” to praise the Lord our God for the blessings being recalled in that day’s liturgy.

Always. Everywhere. This seems to suppose a life of constant celebration. But Job, a true man of God, states, “I shall not see happiness again.” That he found himself in such a state is sad, but it is important for us to know—and accept—that believers can have bad days, weeks, months, even years.

You may recall that Job’s situation was the result of a wager. God praised Job’s righteousness, but Satan answered, “Put forth your hand and touch anything that he has, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face.” So God allowed Satan to torment Job. And although Job complained loud and long of his sufferings, we read, “In all this Job did not sin, nor did he say anything disrespectful of God.”

In many parts of France in 1846, the people were facing severe hardships. They responded by using Jesus’ name, not with prayerful respect, which is right and just, but in the expression of their anger, as Mary pointed out at La Salette.

Like Job, there are times when we have lots more questions than answers, regarding our own troubles or those of others. It is especially troubling to see Christians, struggling with fear, doubt, stress, etc., sometimes abandoning the faith, turning away from God at the time when they need him most. The Beautiful Lady’s call to conversion is addressed to just such persons.

St. Paul writes, “An obligation has been laid upon me.” He preached the Gospel out of love for Christ; out of love for others, he became “all things to all.”

Jesus also strove to bring his preaching and healing ministry, grounded in prayer, to as many as possible.

Mary tells us to make her message known. She has laid an obligation on us. In our own hard times, heads bowed low, if necessary, and humble as dust, it is right and just that we bear what we must for the sake of the Gospel and of our neighbor, in the hope of helping all to recognize Jesus’ healing presence.

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

“I Know Who You Are!”

(4th Ordinary Sunday: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28)

In today’s Gospel, the people were astonished because Jesus “taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” One man in the synagogue, however, was not astonished but terrified. Possessed by an unclean spirit, he was the only one to recognize Jesus, and cried out, “I know who you are!” Jesus then did exactly what the demon feared most, and cast it out.

The unclean spirit knew him, while those who ought to have known him did not. At La Salette, the Beautiful Lady saw that her people, judging from their behavior, no longer knew her Son. To use the language of today’s Psalm 95, they had hardened their hearts and refused to hear his voice.

La Salette is therefore prophetic. While Mary’s appearance and manner are very different from how we usually imagine prophets, her message, like theirs, contains exhortations, promises and warnings.

God told Moses that he would raise up another prophet like him from among the people. “I will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.” He kept this promise, over many generations.

In baptism, each of us was given a share in the dignity of Christ’s prophetic role. This responsibility may seem too much for us. So we pray, “Let your face shine on your servant. Save me in your merciful love. O Lord, let me never be put to shame, for I call on you” (Communion antiphon, Ps. 31).

The demon called Jesus “the Holy One of God,” and trembled. Christians call Jesus by that same title, and draw near. Psalm 95 puts this attitude into words. “Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the Lord who made us. For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.”

Our worship and our faith-filled way of life are by nature prophetic, drawing attention to God’s presence and action in our world. In other words, it should be possible for those around us to say, “I know who you are—a follower of Jesus Christ.”

Some may even recognize a certain La Salette quality about us, and seek to understand what that is or, better still, how they may acquire it for themselves.

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

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