New and Old
(Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28)
Jesus was, to say the least, an interesting personality, a phenomenon. People were amazed at his power and the authority with which he presented a new teaching.
In our second reading, we find a specific new teaching, a novel idea put forward by St. Paul. He thought that it was better not to marry, so as to devote oneself more to pleasing God than to pleasing a wife or husband.
That was nearly 2000 years ago. While most of St. Paul’s writings are normative for Christian faith, his idea about marriage never really caught on. The teachings of Jesus have, of course, been around for a very long time. In a sense, the Good News isn’t news any more.
When Mary told Maximin and Mélanie, “I am here to tell you great news,” she really did not have anything new to say, but what she had to say was vitally important, nonetheless. Her message echoes the Good News, as well as the Old Testament. But she did not just repeat Bible teachings; she had to get us to hear them in a new way. That is the prophetic approach.
If you read Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, you will find very similar messages, but the language and the personality of each individual prophet is different. How true this is of the Beautiful Lady as well!
We may reasonably expect some similarity between her words and the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and indeed the tragic image of dying children recurs there quite often. In Jeremiah 14:17 we read, “Let my eyes stream with tears, day and night, without rest.” This evokes for us not only Mary’s weeping, but also her praying for us without ceasing.
Still, certain dimensions of the Apparition are unique: the unusual elements of Mary’s costume, her choice of witnesses. The newness of her message lies in the direct application to current events. Critics say that potatoes are not a suitable topic for the Blessed Virgin to address. True enough in the abstract, perhaps, but potatoes and wheat represented life to her people, and so constituted an effective way to get their attention.
The ’new teaching’ of Jesus is ancient, but not old, never passé. La Salette reminds us of the importance of finding new, more effective ways to announce it.
(Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jonah 3:1-10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1-14-20)
Over the centuries, well over a hundred dates have been predicted for the end of the world, by an interesting variety of persons: St. Martin of Tours, Pope Sylvester II, the artist Sandro Botticelli, Martin Luther, Christopher Columbus, and a host of other famous or unknown prognosticators. Not one of those prophecies has been fulfilled. The most recent date predicted was just four months ago!
Jonah enters into that category. He was a true prophet, sent by God, to proclaim to the Ninevites that their time was up. But in Chapter 4 of the Book of Jonah, the prophet blames God for sending him on a fool’s errand. He knew all along, he claims, that he would fail and God would relent of the punishment he had threatened.
St. Paul writes that time is running out. Mary at La Salette says: “If my people refuse to submit, I will be forced to let go the arm of my Son. It is so strong and so heavy, I can no longer hold it back.” Both seem to speak with a certain threatening urgency.
We can say that Mary at La Salette was hoping for the same sort of failure that Jonah suffered. She did not want her predictions of famine and the death of children to be fulfilled. She offered an alternative. It is never too late! Transformation is always possible.
Jesus begins his public ministry by proclaiming a time of fulfillment and calling people to repentance. There is nothing threatening about this. Still, Jesus is announcing the end of the world—as we know it! A time of transformation lies ahead. This is what St. Paul means when he writes that “the world in its present form is passing away.”
We have no way of knowing just why Simon, Andrew, James and John left everything to follow Jesus. One thing is certain: it was the end of their world as they had known it. Becoming disciples of Jesus dramatically changed them in every way imaginable.
For us, as for them, the encounter with Christ inevitably changes us, and not just once, but over and over. But sometimes we resist that change and need to be called or challenged yet again. That’s where the message of La Salette finds its place. It takes a Beautiful Lady, or someone who loves her, to make it known.
(Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: 1 Samuel 3:3-19; 1 Corinthians 6:13-20; John 1:35-42)
Three times in today’s Gospel, John tells us what a Hebrew word means. We can conclude, therefore, that his audience was not familiar with them, and that he considered it important or, at least, useful to know and understand them. There are many similar cases in the New Testament, most notably the cry of Jesus on the Cross: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me).
Our Lady of La Salette, observing that at one point the children appeared confused, said, “Don't you understand, my children? Let me find another way to say it.” Then she translated the previous sentence or two into their dialect, and continued speaking that way almost to the very end of her message. She, too, knew the importance of understanding.
In the first reading, old Eli explained to young Samuel the nature of the voice he was hearing, and the importance of listening to it. After that, the boy went on to become one of the greatest of God’s spokespersons, discerning and interpreting God’s will for the people and their rulers.
St. Paul, without using the word, deals with a different kind of translation, not from one language to another, but from theory to practice or, better, from faith to life. He reminds the Corinthians that they have become temples of the Holy Spirit, and must act accordingly. Elsewhere he writes that because of that same Spirit we can call God Abba. Even in modern Hebrew, that is the name by which children call their father.
At La Salette, the Beautiful Lady laments that her people have failed to translate their Christian heritage into a Christian way of life, that life which is sometimes called simply ’the Way’ in the Acts of the Apostles.
This reflection gives me the opportunity to thank three men in a special way. Brother Moisés Rueda, M.S., and Mr. Paul Dion, have been faithfully translating these reflections every week, respectively into Spanish and French; and Fr. Henryk Przeździecki, M.S., publishes them on the Internet. Together they make these reflections accessible to so many whom I cannot reach.
But you don’t really need to be a linguist to translate the message of La Salette. Just live it!
What to Wear?
(The Holy Family: Genesis 15:1-6 & 21:1-3; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:22-40)
Pilgrims to La Salette often ask about the meaning of the roses, chains, crucifix and, especially, the hammer and pincers which the Beautiful Lady added to the otherwise simple costume of the women from around Corps. Since she herself offered no explanation, and even though there exists a certain tradition concerning these details, any reasonable interpretation is possible.
These elements, however, do not concern the essence of the Apparition. Let us take a closer look at this woman, dressed in “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Yes, this is Our Lady and our Mother, in whom we find the virtues recommended by St. Paul to the Colossians.
The gentleness of her voice reassured Maximin and Mélanie and calmed their fears. Her kindness is evident in all she does and says—even changing from French to the local dialect when she observed that the children didn’t understand. Her message, even in its more demanding parts, is imbued with the compassion that moved her to come to us, to reconcile us with her Son. In all humility, Mary wept in the presence of two young strangers. “And you yourself a sword will pierce,” as Simeon had told her.
These are also the qualities of the Christian family, in both senses of the term: the Christian home, and the universal Church. St. Paul further writes: “… bearing with one another and forgiving one another… And over all these put on love.”
Is this really possible? Of course. Still, examples of it seem relatively rare. We see so many conflicts, so much hate. Forgiveness is proving to be more and more difficult, even among Christians.
Christian love is not automatic. “Christian” refers to faith in Jesus. In Genesis we read, “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” Just as faith was the foundation of the edifice of Abram’s descendance, so is it also for the Christian family. But it needs to be deep and solid.
Many persons who dedicated themselves to Our Lady of La Salette, wear a cross with the hammer and pincers. But we should also imitate her way of dealing with the two children she had chosen; like her, we need to put on “heartfelt compassion, kindness….”
(Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12)
For Christians, the word Epiphany has a limited, specific meaning. If you look it up in a dictionary of Ancient Greek, you might be surprised to see how many meanings it has. Examples include: what something looks like; when something or someone comes into view; what is visible on the surface; the sensation created by someone. In short, something or someone is seen or noticed.
The Magi created a sensation when they arrived in Jerusalem. Before that, they saw a star come into view. They received an epiphany and then became one themselves when they appeared on the scene.
Another translation of the Greek word is simply Appearance, interchangeable with Apparition.
At La Salette, the bright globe of light the children first noticed revealed within itself a woman seated, her face in her hands, weeping. Thus begins the story of her epiphany, her Apparition. Mélanie and Maximin described what they saw. This created a sensation. We could paraphrase the words of the Gospel and say: The mayor was greatly troubled, and all the region around La Salette with him. And, like Herod, local authorities tried to hush everything up.
Epiphanies are not restricted to visual phenomena, however. Just as we say, “I see,” meaning “I understand,” there is more to an epiphany than meets the eye.
This is why we devote more attention to the message of the Beautiful Lady than to her appearance; why we study the history of the event, before and after September 19, 1846; why the lives of the two children matter; and why the Apparition is still an epiphany today.
Isaiah, as a prophet, experienced many epiphanies. St. Paul experienced one, on the Road to Damascus. As a result, both proclaimed the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan of salvation: “Nations shall walk by your light;” “The Gentiles are coheirs… copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
The Magi represented the Nations. They walked by the light of a star which changed their lives.
As long as La Salette remains an epiphany, it will have the power to change lives.
(Fourth Sunday of Advent: 2 Samuel 7:1-16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38)
The motto of the Society of Jesus is: Ad majorem Dei gloriam—For the Greater Glory of God. Today’s reading from St. Paul expresses, in a long sentence, the same sentiment: “To him who can strengthen you… be glory forever and ever.”
God’s glory is infinite. We cannot possibly add to it. We can, however, seek to reflect his glory more and more in our lives. It is a matter of service, whether great or small, according to our call and our abilities.
A famous biography of St. Teresa of Calcutta described her as having done Something Beautiful for God. King David had the same idea, but it was not his vocation. Still, he was rewarded for his desire to serve, and the promise made to him was fulfilled in Jesus, through the words of an Angel: “Of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Not all of us can glorify God as we might wish. The choice is not ours to make. Mary surely never expected to be the mother of the Messiah. But she did not refuse God’s call, and lived her vocation according to the gifts she had received. In fact, immediately after the Annunciation, she left home to help her cousin. In this and throughout her life the Lord was glorified (“magnified”) in her.
Mélanie never expected to encounter the Blessed Virgin and to be given a message for all her people. The time came, later, when she would gladly have served God as a religious Sister, but it was not to be. Instead, she faced many trials, and the Lord was glorified through her fidelity.
We cannot take the credit, however, when God is glorified in our lives. In one of the Prefaces at Mass we recognize this explicitly: “Although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness but profit us for salvation.”
Sometimes, all we can do is to acknowledge his glory, and to proclaim it as, for example, we do in today’s Psalm: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!”
In this context, we can understand the message of La Salette as an echo of Psalm 34:4, as though Mary were urging us: “Glorify the Lord with me, together let us praise his Name.”
(Third Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 61:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28)
In her Magnificat (today’s Responsorial Psalm), Mary joyfully identified herself as God’s servant. This means she understood her role in God’s plan. John the Baptist identified himself as a Voice. He, too, knew his role, his place.
The Beautiful Lady of La Salette did not identify herself in this way, but she did indicate her role: “I am here to tell you great news.” She identified herself, therefore, as God’s Messenger.
Isaiah describes himself in similar terms. He is sent by God to bring tidings, to proclaim, to announce.
What we do, however, does not define us completely. When St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to rejoice, to pray, to refrain from evil, there is an underlying reality that explains the doing, the role, the behavior. They are disciples of Jesus Christ, and therefore they live in a certain way.
That is Mary’s message at La Salette. The difference is that St. Paul was encouraging Christians who were aware of their identity, while Our Lady was speaking to those who had lost that sense of Christian identity, whose behavior contradicted it in many ways.
Conversion, a turning back, a return to a Christian way of life, might restore that identity. Mary promises that if her people are converted, their fields will again produce abundantly. In a mirror-image way, this would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: “As the earth brings forth its plants…, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.”
What all plants do, regardless of species, is to grow and produce fruit. That is the way God made them, and so they do God’s work. What true disciples of Christ do is to grow in their faith and produce fruits of righteousness, made holy and preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord. This is what God calls us to, it is his work and, as St. Paul writes, he will also accomplish it.
There should therefore be no difference between who we are and what we do. A poet named G.M. Hopkins wrote that everything in the universe cries out: “What I do is me: for that I came.” This applies to John the Baptist, to Mary and—why not?—to us.
Preparing the Way
(Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8)
In 1972, when I was a seminarian studying in Rome, my parents came to Europe and we traveled to the Holy Mountain of La Salette, which is about a mile above sea level.
We took the bus from Grenoble (about 700 feet above sea level) along a narrow, winding and increasingly steep road. My poor mother was terrified, and stared at the floor of the bus for much of the trip! She would surely have preferred that the valleys were filled in and the mountains made low!
In the ancient East, new roads might be built in anticipation of a monarch’s visit, or at least the old roads repaired. It’s not unlike the modern custom of a red carpet.
Isaiah’s call to prepare the way of the Lord had nothing to do with physical mountains and valleys. His concern, like that of John the Baptist, was the fact that the ups and downs and rough places of our lives can at times become an obstacle to God’s plan for us.
Those who go up to the Mountain where the Virgin Mary appeared, encounter the same message: a call to repentance and the forgiveness of sins. In her message she reminds us, in simple language, of the ordinary means to achieve that aim.
John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus. His goal was that his own disciples be ready to abandon him and follow the One who was to come after him. He took that role seriously, in all humility. In John’s Gospel, he says of Jesus and himself, “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Similarly, at La Salette, Mary asked nothing for herself. All she wanted was to persuade her people to follow her Son again, returning to the practice of their faith.
“Come, Lord Jesus!” is a recurring theme in Advent. It refers not only to the coming Feast of Christmas, but to the final return of Jesus in the end-time. St. Peter writes that we should not only wait for that coming, but so live as to hasten it.
As challenging as the call to conversion is, it really should be appealing to us. After all, why wouldn’t we want to be in a right relationship with God?
Mary prepares the Lord’s way to us, and ours to him.
Wakeful and Faithful
(First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 63:16-64:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37)
Every year on the First Sunday of Advent, the Gospel (whether Mark’s, Matthew’s or Luke’s) tells us to “watch,” “be vigilant,” “stay awake” for the Master’s return.
The Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette, like most apparitions, serves a similar purpose. It is as though the Blessed Virgin is saying to us, “Open your eyes! Look at what you are doing! Why do you pay no heed? Wake up!”
Just as the Master’s return cannot be predicted, no one could have anticipated such an event as an apparition in such a remote place. No one could have expected either Mélanie Calvat or Maximin Giraud, of all people, to have such an encounter and bring back such a surprising message.
Yet, when Mary says, “If the harvest is ruined, it is only on account of yourselves,” does not her voice resonate with the words of Isaiah: “You have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt”? What a dreadful prospect!
In both instances, God’s people were taking him for granted. They never expected that God would really abandon them. They were, after all, his people. He had a responsibility to them.
What they forgot, precisely, is that they were his people, that they had a responsibility also to him. Here again we see the prophetic character of La Salette, as the Beautiful Lady speaks of warnings given in the past, of the lack of fidelity in her people’s lives, of the need for submission.
The image of servants is one of submission. Their one responsibility is to carry out their master’s will faithfully, ideally out of love for the master, like the Christians of Corinth, to whom St. Paul writes: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Later in the same letter, he emphasizes that the gifts are meant to be put to use for the good of the community.
Let us be faithful, wakeful servants, lovingly submissive, waiting not in fear but in joyful anticipation and expectation that the Lord will indeed reveal himself to us in new ways in this new liturgical year.
Like King, Like Queen
(Solemnity of Christ the King: Ezekiel 34:11-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46)
Hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, sick, in prison. That’s the checklist Jesus uses in the famous judgment scene in Matthew’s gospel. There is another list, in today’s reading from Ezekiel, where the Lord catalogues all the things he will do for his sheep which, as we find in the preceding verses (not included), the official shepherds have failed to do.
But, as with other lists in the Scriptures, these are not exhaustive. They point us in a certain direction and allow us to see beyond the list, to draw up “new, improved” lists according to the world we live in. This is exactly how many Religious Orders came into existence. Some literally feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Some meet other, equally urgent, needs.
Interestingly, though hunger and sickness are specifically mentioned in the message of La Salette, the perspective is quite different. There they are seen as the consequence of sin.
When people bring misfortune on themselves, we can be “judgmental,” content to blame them. But we are not dispensed from reaching out to them in their need. Jesus identifies himself with “the least,” the lowest of the low, whom we might think of as “those people.” What we do or fail to do—even for them—we do or fail to do for him. Jesus says that none of us has the right to look the other way when confronted by the essential needs of others.
Our Lady, whom we also call the “Queen of La Salette,” not content to blame her people, saw beyond their sufferings. She came to “seek out the lost and bring back the strayed,” (cf. Ezekiel) promising abundance “if they are converted.”
She spoke of Lent. How can we adopt Lenten practices, and not be aware of the death of children and the famines that continue to occur in our world? If we are converted, we will not turn a blind eye.
In the Gospel, it is clear that the failure to respond to the needs of others reflects a failure to grasp the full implications of discipleship.
Once again, the message of Our Lady of La Salette is remarkably close to the message of Christ. King and Queen are in perfect accord.