Testimony

(Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 55:1-11; 1 John 5:1-9; Mark 1:7-11)

In today’s Gospel, there are three who bear witness to Jesus. The first is John the Baptist, who foretells his coming.

The other two, in order of appearance, are the Holy Spirit, in the visible form of a dove, and God the Father, who is heard, not seen. At the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, they assume their role in all that is to follow. St. John sums this up in our second reading: “The Spirit is the one who testifies, and the Spirit is truth... Now the testimony of God is this, that he has testified on behalf of his Son.”

Witnessing to Christ is the vocation of the whole Church. This takes the form of words, of course, in the Scriptures and in Church teaching.

But as we see throughout the Gospels, the Father and the Spirit affirm Jesus’ person and ministry through their power and presence as well. Thus is fulfilled the saying of today’s first reading: “For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth... my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

At La Salette, as important as the Beautiful Lady’s message is, her witness is far more than words. It is light, it is a crucifix, roses, and chains, it is the eloquence of tears.

Similarly, there is a difference between speaking the truth and living it. No doubt, people in the area around La Salette used traditional religious speech, such as “Thank God,” but it did not translate into a way of life, at least not, as Mary pointed out, in participating in the great thanksgiving, the Eucharist.

The life of the baptized is not purely sacramental, of course. Our whole way of life ought to manifest the authenticity of our faith. At baptism we received a white garment; so too we ought always to be clothed in faith, hope, and love, as we live out the beatitudes.

None of this is to say that words are unimportant. We cannot think of La Salette without Mary’s loving invitation, her discourse, and her final sending forth. It is possible, too, that our words might help others to understand our way of life, as we play our part in fulfilling the mission of the Church.

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

Their Story, Our Story

(Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

The story of the Magi is one of the most familiar Gospel narratives. It never fails to charm us, but it also invites personal reflection.

As you look back, can you recall who or what was your Star of Bethlehem, leading you to Jesus? Many famous Christians have described the circumstances of their conversion. They all speak of a key experience or a meaningful encounter. Join that conversation. Ask yourself: Who, What, When, Where, How?

While in Jerusalem, the Magi lost sight of the star, and had to rely on Scripture scholars for directions. Afterward, “the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them... They were overjoyed at seeing the star.” Try to relive the experience of your own joy in finding your faith in Christ Jesus.

Our joy would be even greater if everyone around us could share it. It is hard to understand why some of the people we love have never known what it is to believe deeply. In our La Salette context, this is where we experience the greatest challenge to “make the message known.”

The Magi prostrated themselves before the child, and did him homage. In our case, this could represent initial feelings of guilt for past sins, or gratitude for blessings never noticed, or wonder: “why me?”

“Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” What treasures did you bring, what gifts did you offer?

In answering that question, consider the prayer from the offertory of the Mass: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you.”

St. Paul writes to the Ephesians about “the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit.” We are stewards, not owners, of our gifts; they have been entrusted to us for service.

The Lord will help us discern which of our gifts will best accomplish his will. Is it possible for us to think that our La Salette charism will not be among them?

He will also grant us the desire, perhaps even the need, to serve his people through action and prayer.

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

Where Faith Takes us

(Holy Family: Genesis 15:1-6 & 21:1-3; Hebrews 11:8-19; Luke 2:22-40)

Faith is mentioned twenty-four times in Chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews, almost always in the phrase, “by faith.” Today’s readings highlight the faith of Abraham and Sarah, and God’s promise of a family and descendants as numerous as the stars.

In the first reading we are told: “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” It was God who attributed a certain power to Abram’s faith, and this served as the basis for the covenant which followed.

This power acts in two directions. God accepts our faith and answers our prayers, as we find in the splendid examples of Simeon and Anna in today’s Gospel. At the same time, however, we see the transformation wrought by faith in their lives; Anna “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer,” while Simeon lived for the day when the Lord’s promise to him would be fulfilled.

Shared faith works the same way in groups, families, communities, and the Church. When the faith of some is lost, the group is adversely affected. A certain Beautiful Lady observed this from her place in heaven, and she decided to intervene. Her words closely resemble God’s to Abram in Genesis: “Fear not! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great.”

Rediscovered faith has at least the same impact as faith that was never lost. Maximin’s father is a good example. Once he came to believe in the Apparition, he recovered his Christian faith and returned to the Sacraments which he had long abandoned, and with greater fervor than ever.

It would not surprise us to learn that many La Salette Laity have experienced just such a conversion. But why limit this to the Laity? We may certainly include the Sisters and the Missionaries. 

Faith places demands on us, and may at times feel burdensome, especially when we consider our own weakness and doubts. But, like Abraham and Sarah, Simeon, Anna, not to mention Mary and Joseph, we can go where faith will take us.

We pray that the story of your lives and ours may be interspersed often with the words, “by faith.”

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

Who? Me?

(4th Sunday of Advent: 2 Samuel 7:1-16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38)

When they first saw a globe of light at the place where they had eaten their lunch of bread and cheese, Maximin told Mélanie to hold on to her staff, in case of danger. They were terrified.

The Beautiful Lady understood their fear. She, too, had been “greatly troubled” at the greeting of the angel. So she did for the children what the angel had done for her, saying: “Don’t be afraid,” and explaining the purpose of her coming. 

Have you ever fantasized how you would react if you found yourself in a similar situation? You might think, What? Who? Me? Not possible! 

But look at the patriarchs, the prophets and the apostles. Some felt unworthy of their call, or unready, even afraid; but not one of them doubted its authenticity. Though some faltered along the way, all but one remained faithful.

Look at King David. In our first reading, as in many other places, God calls him “my servant David.” Yet David, as we know, had serious flaws and had committed grievous sins. Being absolutely perfect is clearly not a precondition for serving the Lord.

Today’s psalm describes God’s promise to David as follows: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant: Forever will I confirm your posterity and establish your throne for all generations.” The angel in the Gospel declares that those words are fulfilled in Jesus: “Of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Paraphrasing today’s opening prayer, we recognize that God has poured forth the grace of reconciliation into the hearts of those who have responded to the invitation of Our Lady of La Salette to “come closer.” She calls us to have hearts that are entirely with the Lord, as the Scripture says of David (1 Kings 11:4). That is our part in the covenant relationship.

Then we will be ready to undertake God’s work, which he has entrusted to us, even though he knows our faults better than we do.

Mary has given us the example. Her yes to the angel changed the world. We can say yes to her, acting on her words and hoping to make a difference. Who? You!

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

Rejoice Always

(3rd Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 61:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-28)

We all know people who are not cheerful. Some are simply of a somber disposition; others are afraid of what lies ahead, or they may be mourning a loss, recent or old. In these and similar cases, it is hard to hear St. Paul’s exhortation: “Rejoice always.”

The Weeping Mother of La Salette bewails her people’s suffering and danger, and even complains of being obliged to pray for us without ceasing. Her Apparition could be considered an unhappy event, except for one thing: “I am here to tell you great news.” Those words are similar to Isaiah’s: “The Lord has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” 

Mary appeared in the hollow of a ravine, but after speaking to the children she climbed to a higher spot and then rose beyond their reach before vanishing from their sight. It was a movement from grief to glory.

La Salette is a place of joy. This is true not only of the Mountain where the Beautiful Lady stood, but of every La Salette shrine. Many come in sadness, yes; but most leave with a spirit that, like Mary’s, “rejoices in God my savior,” echoing Isaiah: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.”

This is often a deep interior joy, a quiet peace, which is not the same as joviality. It might not dispel fears or stop tears or change one’s personality. It cannot always be described, it cannot be denied either.

John the Baptist is introduced in today’s Gospel with these words: “A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” 

Here is a challenge for you. Change the text to “A person named [your name] was sent by God, to testify to the light.” Is this a joyful thought?

We have reason to believe that the Baptist was happy in his ministry, because in John 3:29, when he learned that everyone was now going to Jesus, he responded: “This joy of mine is made complete.”

The verse just before today’s Gospel text reads: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This should be true of our joy, too. May nothing ever overcome it.

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

Comforting Justice

(2nd Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8)

About four months ago, we had the same Responsorial Psalm (85) as today, and we commented on the words, “justice and peace shall kiss,” as opposites. In the context of today’s readings, however, the perspective is different.

In modern languages, justice is a legal term. In the news, we hear of persons or groups “demanding” justice. But in the Bible, it is primarily theological. Like peace, it is God’s gift to his faithful people.

Isaiah speaks wonderful words of comfort, predicting the end of the exile, which was God’s punishment upon the iniquity of his people. St. Peter reminds us of God’s promise of “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Some translations have “justice.” Either way, it means the state of those who are such as they ought to be.

In this sense, John the Baptist was just, because he was faithful to his vocation. Mary, too, was just when, at the annunciation, she acknowledged and accepted her role as handmaid of the Lord. Both, in their humble service, were as they ought to be.

When we consider Mary’s message at La Salette, we are inclined to associate justice with “the arm of my Son.” But once we admit our sinfulness and make the humble submission that she asks of us, we are ready to hear her tender word of comfort.

We often draw attention to the crucifix on Mary’s breast. Today is no exception. See how it reflects Isaiah’s words as if they were addressed to the Beautiful Lady: “Go up on to a high mountain, fear not to cry out and say: Here is your God!” 

As St. Peter writes, “The Lord does not delay his promise, ... but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 

Comforting words indeed. What he adds a bit later is more challenging: “What sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion?”

How full our life would be if, unworthy as we are, we were always able to give comfort, to speak tenderly, and to proclaim the forgiveness of sin, in kindness, truth, justice and peace. This is yet another way to make the La Salette message known.

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

The Return of God’s Favor

(1st Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 63:16—64:7; 1 Cor. 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37)

The prophets love to remind God of things he already knows. Today’s first reading begins with just such a statement: “You, Lord, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever.” Isaiah goes on to recall God’s past “awesome deeds” in favor of his people.

He is really saying: “Lord, you’ve done this before. Do it again!” 

Rather than force Israel to return to him, God had allowed his people to wander from his ways and to suffer the consequences. It was in just such a circumstance that Mary came to La Salette.

Isaiah adds, “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” He knows that this does not describe his people’s attitude and behavior; for he adds: “There is none who calls upon your name.”

The Beautiful Lady tells us she prays constantly to her Son on our behalf. Part of that prayer surely consists in reminding him of what he has done for us. Then, speaking to the two children, she acknowledges her people’s infidelity, and the crucifix she wears serves as a reminder of the redemption achieved by her Son, the source of our hope.

In the Opening Prayer of today’s Mass we ask God to grant us “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.” We must understand this correctly. It is not that we hope to earn salvation by our deeds. Rather, to the One who has already saved us we desire to offer what he himself tells us will please him.

There may have been a defining moment in your life, when you embraced your faith in a truly personal way. Your life changed in certain ways, and you resolved to live your Christian life as fully as possible.

Advent is the perfect time to pray for the return of God’s favor, as we do in today’s psalm response: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”

In our hearts we might hear him respond: “My child, turn to me; let me see your face and you shall be saved.” Perhaps he will remind us of our former devotion and say, “You did it once; do it again!” 

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

Works of Mercy

(Christ the King: Ezekiel 34:11-17; 1 Corinthians 14:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46)

For three weeks now the Gospels have pointed to a moment of judgment, using a different standard in each case. Two weeks ago it was readiness for Christ’s return; last week it was resourcefulness in his service; today it is the works of mercy.

A king on his throne is at the top of the social hierarchy. Christ our king, however, identifies himself with “these least ones,” those at the margins of society. Serving him must include reaching out to them.

The Church teaches that, besides feeding the hungry, we must work to eliminate the underlying causes of hunger. This principle applies to every work of mercy we can imagine, whether “corporal” or “spiritual.” It often requires the courage to speak unwelcome truths.

Mary at La Salette, not forgetting that she was a lowly servant, identified with “these least ones” in her choice of witnesses. She offered a remedy for the spiritual causes of her people’s bodily sufferings, by speaking the truth about their lack of faith in and reverence for her Son, Christ the King.

The goal of reconciliation is to restore peace; this is an appealing and comforting thought. The work of reconciliation, on the other hand, as exemplified by the Beautiful Lady, is not easy. It calls for gentle firmness. This can be a challenge. 

In the rite of baptism, the anointing with sacred chrism unites us symbolically with Christ as Priest, Prophet and King. This means we share his role of guiding, leading, and protecting his flock, of caring for his people. How we do this depends on many factors, including our personality, our talents, and our most deeply held values.

If nothing else, most of us can try to lead by example—speaking truth and acting rightly, in such a way as to attract others to do the same. 

At the same time, the spotlight is not on ourselves. Whatever form our works of mercy might take, they are never a performance. Jesus is at the center, and at the beginning, and at the end. If we can serve as channels of his truth and love, we need never fear the coming judgment.

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

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.

Choose Wisdom

(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.

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