If / Then

(6th Sunday of Easter: Acts 8:5-17; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21) 

“If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will keep my commandments.” He describes some of the things that will happen as a result: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.”

Best of all, “Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” This explains, I think, why there was such joy in the city of Samaria, when Philip proclaimed the Christ to them, and confirmed his preaching by many signs.

Our Lady of La Salette tells of what will happen, “if they are converted.” Externally, there will be abundance instead of famine. 

What about internal effects? We might borrow some ideas from our second reading and the psalm.

If they are converted:

They will “sanctify Christ as Lord” in their hearts. They will no longer abuse his name.

They will learn to pray well. They will sing praise to the glory of God’s name, crying out, “Blessed be God who refused me not my prayer or his kindness!” 

They will be ready to give an explanation, gently and respectfully, to anyone who asks them for a reason for their hope. This presupposes they will live in such a way that others will actually notice their Christian commitment. (That is what Maximin’s father did when, after years of not going to church, he then went to daily Mass.)

They will keep their conscience clear, and accept suffering, if it is God’s will, even when they are innocent.

In 1852, Bishop de Bruillard decided to erect a Shrine, and at the same time to call into existence the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, noting: “Their institution and existence shall be, like the Shrine itself, an eternal monument, a perpetual remembrance, of Mary's merciful apparition.”

Nothing quite so public would be expected of most persons who accept Mary’s call to conversion, but if we are to persevere, then it would good, it would be wise, to ensure that our first encounter with the Beautiful Lady will never be forgotten.

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

Mind your Step

(5th Sunday of Easter: Acts 6:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12) 

St. Peter, in today’s second reading, combines three distinct Old Testament texts: Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14.

The first two are used to give force to his exhortation: “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”

The third, however, refers to “a stone that will make people stumble,” and he adds, “They stumble by disobeying the word.” 

This is an apt image for the people whom Mary complained about at La Salette. They were stumbling in many ways. Blighted wheat and potatoes, rotten grapes and worm-eaten walnuts, the prospect of famine—it is no wonder that they were anxious and demoralized.

Mary saw all this, but she also saw their blighted inner harvest—their indifference to and mockery of religion, their blasphemous disrespect for her Son’s name. These had brought them very low indeed.

Not all spiritual stumbling is sin. In our first reading, for example, we learn that dissension over the distribution of food was threatening the harmony of the early Christian community in Jerusalem. A solution was found before permanent harm could be done.

The same is true of our doubts and questioning. These are most often honest expressions of our inability to understand the ways of God. When we are tempted to go so far as to blame God for our troubles, we do well to remember St. Peter’s quotation of Isaiah 28:16, “Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion, a cornerstone, chosen and precious, and whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame.”

We must believe in the cornerstone and build a structure of hope upon it. It is one thing to stumble. It is quite another thing not to get up. 

Let us not forget the Gospel, in which Jesus says, “You have faith in God; have faith also in me,” and “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Along this Way no stumbling is fatal, before this Truth no doubt is permanent, and in this Life, death shall not have dominion.

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

Shepherd, Gate, Life

(4th Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:36-41; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10) 

“Faith is not a noun but a verb.” Grammatically this assertion is patently false, and yet its meaning is obvious.

Continuing last week’s theme of the path, we can say that faith is taking the first step. Here I mean the precise moment when our faith becomes a genuinely personal encounter, when we discover that our relationship with the Lord is essential to our existence.

In the first reading, Peter concludes his Pentecost speech: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” The Apostle is making the message known to all his people.

In his letter, Peter gives words of encouragement in a time of suffering: “Christ bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” The Beautiful Lady shows the image of her crucified Son even as she speaks of sin and conversion.

She is addressing those who, in the first reading, are called “this corrupt generation.” We need to separate ourselves from everything, within and without, that debases us in any way.

Her call to conversion expresses a hope that Peter states as fact: “You had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” Which leads us to our Gospel, where it seems John could have used a good editor. Distinct images are jumbled together.

First, Jesus is not a thief or a robber, but the shepherd who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out;” then he is “the gate,” then “All who came before me are thieves and robbers,” then he is the gate again, then once more not a thief, and finally he declares: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

This last sentence is what holds the rest together. Whichever image we prefer, abundance of life is what it is meant to convey. Mary’s discourse at La Salette lacks a certain logic in parts, but the message is clear: when we return to the Shepherd, we find life.

And he will lead us to that place which the Psalmist this week tells of.

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

La Salette Path

(3rd Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:14,22-33; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35) 

The notion of a path appears throughout today’s readings. The reading from Acts paraphrases today’s Psalm, including the words “You will show me the path to life.” The Gospel shows Jesus and two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

At this point I need to acknowledge Mr. Wayne Vanasse, a La Salette Associate, who has become a precious collaborator in these reflections. We study the readings independently, and then compare notes on what we perceive as “La Salette links.” On this occasion we were both struck by the image of the path of life.

There is no doubt that the Beautiful Lady came to show her people that path once again. Part of her message is, if you will, an echo of Peter’s words in the second reading: “Conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning,” that is, while staying in one place temporarily, on our way to another destination.

One of the distinctive features of La Salette is that Mary moved. She was seated when she first appeared, then she rose and took a few steps to the spot where the children joined her, and finally she stepped between them, crossed a little stream and climbed in the typical mountain zig-zag pattern to a level spot, where she disappeared.

Like Jesus for the disciples on the road, so for Mélanie and Maximin she took the initiative, she “drew near and walked with them.” Not only did they follow her movements, but she invited them to make her message known “to all my people.” This opened up a unique path for each of them.

In the path of our life, it happens all too easily that our eyes are prevented from recognizing Jesus as our companion along the way. It was in a Eucharistic moment shared by Jesus with the two disciples that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”

He had prepared them, however, by interpreting the Scriptures for them, setting their hearts to burning within them.

As we travel our path of life, what makes our hearts burn within us? How can we spread that fire?

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

Once upon a Time, Again

(2nd Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31) 

The life of the first believers, as described in Acts, seems almost too good to be true. Their enthusiasm for the teaching of the apostles, for common prayer, fellowship and the sharing of goods—it is no wonder that “Awe came upon everyone.”

In the Psalm we read: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes.” But in 1846 Mary wept because the Cornerstone was, tragically, being rejected again. And today?

St. Peter, in our second reading, lists the benefits of God’s “great mercy.” Our Lady of La Salette is our “Merciful Mother.” Let us consider the parallels.

First, God “gave us a new birth to a living hope.” At La Salette, this hope lies not only in future prosperity but, before that, in conversion to the things of God.

Next is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,” beyond our current needs and concerns. Peter says this is kept in heaven for us, but that does not mean we cannot draw on it even now. Prayer and especially the Eucharist give us access to it. These are essential to the message of La Salette.

Thirdly, salvation. This, above all, explains the enthusiasm of the earliest Christians, and the attractiveness of that community. “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” La Salette does not offer salvation independently, of course, but leads us to the Savior himself.

Then Peter writes, “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials.” Anyone who has truly experienced God’s mercy—as have many through La Salette—knows exactly what he means. Troubles will come and go, the joy remains.

The Apostle Thomas went through a time of darkness, and then experienced the Lord’s mercy. His first response was to acknowledge Jesus’ divinity: “My Lord and my God!”

Earlier, fear had confined the Apostles behind locked doors. Divine mercy changed all that. What it did for them, it can do for us and, through us, devoted to our Merciful Mother, for others.

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

The Greatest Promise

(Easter: Readings from the Easter Vigil and the Sunday are too many to list)

In the fourth reading of the Easter Vigil, God says through Isaiah: “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; but with enduring love I take pity on you.”

Here is contained all the message of La Salette. Is any further commentary needed?

The phrase “outburst of wrath” may make us think of Mary’s words about “the arm of my Son.” But this reading also helps us to remember that in many other places in Scripture, God’s hand or arm is, in fact, extended in order to save.

After the reading about the crossing of the Red Sea, for example, we recite, in the song of Moses: “Your right hand, O Lord, magnificent in power, your right hand, O Lord, has shattered the enemy.”

And, at both the Vigil and the Sunday Mass, we pray the words of Psalm 118: “The right hand of the Lord has struck with power; the right hand of the Lord is exalted. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”

While God’s hand and arm demonstrate his power to save, his great tenderness and enduring love express his Will to do so. Even when God uses his power to punish his people, his love always prevails.

In the Gospels the question is raised, “Which Commandment is the greatest?” Today I would like to suggest, from a La Salette perspective, a different question.

First, let me give the answer: “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you.” This quote from Isaiah is from the reading referenced at the beginning of this reflection.

Now, the question: Which Promise is the greatest?

Think about it. Is there any promise you would rather hear from God than this one? Is there anything about the Beautiful Lady and her message that is not founded on that promise? 

And what greater proof is there of God’s fidelity to his promise than the resurrection of Jesus? On this day that the Lord has made, may you rejoice and be glad! 

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

Two Gospels

(Palm Sunday: Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14—27:66)

At the opening of today’s Liturgy, we hear the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Later, we hear the story of the Passion. 

There is one similarity. In both, Jesus sends disciples to perform a task (arrange transport, prepare the Passover), and they “did as Jesus had ordered.” (This may remind some readers of Maximin and Mélanie.)

The contrasts, however, are many. “Hosanna” yields to “Let him be crucified.” “This is Jesus the prophet,” announced by some in the festal crowd, becomes, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews,” the charge against him, placed over his head on the cross.

We might imagine certain differences that are not mentioned. For example, it seems likely that Jesus wept as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. By contrast, how do you visualize Jesus responding to the cheering crowd in his entry to Jerusalem? 

The Suffering Servant in our Isaiah text says, “The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” An encouraging, comforting word is seen even in the scene of the betrayal. In Matthew, Jesus calls Judas “friend,” offering him salvation even in his darkest moment of guilt.

At La Salette, the equivalent is “my people.” No matter how lost they are, Mary does not reject them. “Come closer, don’t be afraid,” is addressed first to the children, but by no means to them alone. 

The Beautiful Lady calls us to submission. Jesus is the very model of submission, silent before his accusers. In the Gospel, he is “forsaken” and, as St. Paul writes, “He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The same text says that Jesus received “the name which is above every name,” dear to Our Lady but, alas! not so dear to her people.

Matthew makes no mention of Mary in the Passion, but the thought of her suffering leads me to conclude with the words of the Memorare to Our Lady of La Salette: “Remember, Our Lady of La Salette, true Mother of Sorrows, the tears you shed for me on Calvary.”

La Salette Laity and Ministry Committee

Death, Life, Love, Hope

(5th Sunday of Lent: Ezekiel  37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45)

Jesus was, in a way, testing Martha’s faith, when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die,” and then asked her, “Do you believe this?”

If he had asked, “Do you understand this?” the conversation might have taken a different turn. But Martha’s response expressed her faith in Jesus himself, and thus in everything he said or did. “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” 

Later we read, “And Jesus wept. So the Jews said: See how he loved him.” Love and tears are not strangers to each other.

The Beautiful Lady wept. We can see, therefore, how she loves us, and longs for us to believe that her Son is the resurrection and the life, to trust in his word.

Every time I encounter the phrase ’my people’ in the Bible, I think of La Salette. In today’s first reading, that connection is especially strong. This passage concludes the famous episode of the Valley of the Dry Bones. Until now, in Ezekiel, God has spoken about his people, rarely to them. But here he addresses them directly, and with what feeling: “O my people!” Can they ever doubt his love again?

The appropriate response to that question is found in today’s Psalm: “If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness that you may be revered... For with the Lord is kindness and with him is plenteous redemption.”

St. Paul uses an image very different from that of dry bones, but to the same effect. To live in the flesh is to be spiritually dead. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” The Blessed Virgin wants her people to understand this.

The message of La Salette, like all of our readings today, highlights God's will to restore us to life. In the words of the first reading: “I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.”

Sometimes we find ourselves praying “out of the depths.” We need never despair. Lazarus was not a lost cause. Neither are we.

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

Anointing

(4th Sunday of Lent: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41)

David was anointed with oil by Samuel, and “from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” One of the many peaceful images in today’s Psalm is, “You anoint my head with oil.”

Jesus made mud and spread it on the eyes of the blind man. Because of the material used, it is hard to recognize this gesture as anointing. But is hard to see it otherwise when we consider its purpose. Jesus says the man was born blind “so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”

He adds, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” St. Paul applies the same idea to us: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord... Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness.”

At La Salette, Mary, who was “all light,” empowered two children to accomplish a mission. That, too, was a kind of anointing. And her message reminds us of our Christian identity, sadly neglected by so many of those she calls “my people,” but who are still caught up in darkness.

All of us were anointed in the name of Christ, not once but twice, in the sacrament of Baptism, with the oil of salvation, so that we might “live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”

Indeed, it is only through the Beautiful Lady’s Son that we can hope to produce, as St. Paul writes, “every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” We can look to Jesus to guide us in right paths for his name’s sake.

The story of the man born blind raises many questions—sixteen, to be exact—most notably: What do you have to say about Jesus? Do you want to be his disciple? Do you believe in the Son of Man? Who is he, that I may believe in him?

We would do well to reflect privately on these questions. It might, however, be more interesting, stimulating and profitable to ask them of each other, perhaps in a time of faith-sharing.

The “La Salette question” is: Do you say your prayers well? In prayer let us present ourselves to be anointed, so that, through us, “the works of God might be made visible.” A noble ambition, indeed!

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

I Thirst

(3rd Sunday of Lent: Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-42)

The French and Spanish Lectionaries include information that is not evident in the English translation of the first reading, i.e.: Meribah comes from the verb meaning “to quarrel,” and Massah “to test.” Both refer to the adversarial character of the episode when the Hebrews dared to bring a case against the Lord.

In Micah 6:1-2, the prophet summons his people: “Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice! Hear, O mountains, the Lord’s case... For the Lord has a case against his people.” Here is that Meribah word again, now as “case.” 

The message of Our Lady of La Salette fits into this context. She calls her people to task for their sins, especially their indifference. Today’s Psalm, which also references Meribah and Massah, has the response, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” 

When Jesus asks the woman for a drink, she adopts a contentious attitude. “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Jesus takes no offense, but opens a dialogue with her with the words, “If you knew the gift of God.”

Much later in John’s Gospel, Jesus will declare from Golgotha’s height, “I thirst.” Here, in chapter 4, his thirst is brought on by the fatigue of his journey. But we get an inkling of that thirst that marked the whole of his life and ministry, that burning desire he expresses in John 12:32: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” In satisfying our thirst, Jesus satisfies his own.

On the cross, blood and water flowed from Jesus’ pierced side. The famous biblical commentator Matthew Henry explained this in the following words: “They signified the two great benefits which all believers partake of through Christ—justification and sanctification; blood for remission, water for regeneration; blood for atonement, water for purification.”

Catholic theology applies this also to the Sacraments.

At La Salette, there is a miraculous spring. It had long existed, but always dried up in the summer. But ever since the Apparition it has flowed without ceasing, a reminder of the Beautiful Lady’s tears, and of her deepest thirst—ours, too, if we only knew.

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

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