Fruit of Vine or Tree

(5th Sunday of Easter: Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8)

Jesus, drawing on a sight familiar to anyone in his day, describes himself as a vine and his disciples as branches in the Father’s vineyard. For us, he might have used a different metaphor, a fruit orchard, for example. Then he would have said, “I am the tree.”

Everything else would be the same: “A branch cannot bear fruit on its own... Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” Good branches are pruned and bad ones discarded.

The Father, who tends the vine, also tends the tree. He knows that certain shoots grow fast but will never bear fruit, and if allowed to grow they will simply drain resources from the rest. He also knows exactly what is needed to promote healthy growth, and to produce the best and most abundant fruit.

Jesus seems almost to be pleading with his disciples when he says, “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” He cares about them. At La Salette, a Beautiful Lady sadly observed that some Christians were no longer heeding that appeal.

Using Mary’s own language about spoiled wheat and rotten potatoes, we might say she found the vine or tree to be in need of much pruning and care, full of blight, and covered with the useless shoots of spiritual apathy. She therefore comes with the remedy, the necessary medicine when she offers us the opportunity for conversion and reconciliation, so we, the branches, might return to bearing fruit once again.

There is another way in which La Salette is an example of what true conversion can do in producing good fruit. Look at the missionary efforts of the religious communities and lay movements which have developed around the Apparition. Through them, many persons and countries have received Mary’s “great news;” the mission has led to abundant fruits of reconciliation.

If we may favor, for a moment, the metaphor of the tree, we may think of windfall fruit, which the grower does not throw away. We might apply this to marginalized persons. They must be included in our mission; as St. John says in the second reading: “Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”

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

The Lord is my...

(4th Sunday of Easter: Acts 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18)

Most of us, if asked to finish the above title phrase, would say: Shepherd. We might even be surprised that today, often called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” we do not have the Twenty-third Psalm as our responsorial.

However, while the Gospel focuses on Jesus as Shepherd, the other readings and the Psalm provide other images or titles.

For example, Jesus is the stone rejected. St. Peter, continuing his discourse which we began reading last week, applies Psalm 118 to the people gathered around him in the Temple: “The stone rejected by you the builders,” reflecting the hostile relationship on the part of some of the people and their leaders.

At La Salette, the Blessed Virgin gave examples of the ways in which her people had rejected her Son. Have we, personally, ever deserved her reproaches? As we contemplate the crucifix on her breast, do we hear Peter’s words, speaking of “Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified”? If so, let us approach the Lord with humble repentance.

Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation of our faith and of the Church. This image is very close to what we find in Psalm 18, where David calls the Lord “my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.” Here we stand before our God in a relationship of trust.

It is the same with the Good Shepherd, of course, even though sometimes we are tempted by pride to strike out on our own, and finding only the sinful path by ourselves. Since we would never want the Shepherd to abandon us—remember Mary’s words, “If I want my Son not to abandon you”—why would we ever abandon him? We need him to guide us, to nourish us (especially in the Eucharist), to protect us.

Stone rejected, Cornerstone, Good Shepherd: see how these are not just names but relationships with God the Son.

Some might say, “The Lord is my friend,” not as an equal, of course, but as one who truly cares about us. This is part of the La Salette message.

Think about it. Who is Jesus for you? Who are you for him? Most importantly, do you feel how deeply you are loved? And do you respond in kind?

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

Come Closer

(3rd Sunday of Easter: Acts 3:13-19; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48)

Today’s title quotes Mary’s first words to the children at La Salette. She adds, “Don’t be afraid.” We recognize the pattern, in reverse, from the Scriptures.

In last Sunday’s Gospel, Thomas was invited to come so close as to touch Jesus’ wounds. Today, Luke tells a similar story. While two disciples were telling how they had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, suddenly, there he was!

He reassured them, “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”

In both accounts, Jesus’ first words are, “Peace be with you.” Of course, this might simply have been the normal greeting, “Shalom,” but the context gives it a richer meaning. The invitation to touch is viewed as a way of restoring inner peace.

It is almost as if the Church this week is giving us a second chance, a second invitation to recognize Christ crucified, Christ risen, and to desire ever more zealously to be his faithful disciples.

Peter’s speech in today’s first reading acknowledges that his audience missed their chance to accept Jesus as the Redeemer and, instead, put him to death. But all is not lost. If we read between the lines, Peter is saying, “Even you can be saved.” By telling the people to repent and be converted, he is inviting them to draw closer to the one who can give them true peace.

Is that not what Our Lady tells us? Even we can be saved. She reminds us in her own way of what we hear today in the second reading: “Jesus is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.”

After calming his disciples’ fears, Jesus said, “It is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” All are called to come closer.

Maximin said that, when he and Mélanie ran down to the Beautiful Lady, “No one could have passed between her and us.” She came to bring her people closer to her Son, to restore us to peace with him. We are called to make that message known.

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

Impossible?

(2nd Sunday of Easter: Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31)

For the Apostle Thomas one thing was certain: Jesus was dead and buried. Therefore, it was simply impossible that the others had seen him alive. The doors of his mind were shut even tighter than those of the place where the disciples were gathered on that evening of the first day of the week.

Another impossible thing is presented as fact in the first reading. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” And in the Psalm we read: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

These things are beyond human comprehension, so the psalmist adds: “By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes.” The second reading puts it another way: “And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.”

Anyone seeing the state of Christianity in nineteenth century France might have thought it impossible for the Church to survive, given the hostility that surrounded it, and the tepid faith of many within it. But, like the Apostles who “with great power bore witness to the resurrection of Christ,” the Mother of our Lord, with great tenderness, called her people to reconciliation and a conversion of heart, through a faithful return to prayer and the Eucharist.

Today’s Gospel story about Thomas is a reminder for us not to take our faith for granted, but rather to cherish it as the greatest and most beautiful of gifts. Yes, Jesus can pass through the locked doors of indifference, complacency, pride, despondency, etc. But do we really wish to put ourselves in that position?

Jesus mercifully took the initiative to restore Thomas to his rightful place among the Apostles. Then he pronounced a Beatitude: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” That was for us.

The goal is beautifully expressed in today’s Opening Prayer: “that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed.”

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

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.

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