Beware the Tempter
(1st Sunday of Lent: Genesis 2:7-9 & 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11)
When the celebrant washes his hands at the end of the offertory, he says, “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” As he is about to enter into the most sacred part of the Mass, he is reminded of his unworthiness to do so, both personally and as a mere human being.
The same thought is expressed in today’s Psalm, but is balanced, if you will, by the last verse: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” By God’s grace, our sinfulness is not an insurmountable obstacle to sincere worship.
St. Paul reminds us that “all sinned” when “through one man sin entered the world;” but that was not the end of the story. Acquittal has come through Christ. The Author of Life, who “formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life,” sent his Son Jesus to restore life.
But before entering fully upon his mission, Jesus was tempted. We can easily identify with this experience.
He triumphed over the Tempter, but let us not suppose that he was not really tempted. Jesus was truly human, and surely knew the appeal of easy gratification of his needs, of proof that God was watching over him, of royal power.
When we acknowledge our sins, we recognize the temptations to which we have succumbed. Or, as at La Salette, someone else may point out the ways in which we have yielded to the Tempter.
The Beautiful Lady spoke of the following offenses: abuse of her Son’s Name; working on the Lord’s Day; neglecting the Eucharist; going to the butcher shops, “like the dogs,” in Lent. What is the underlying temptation common to all of these?
The answer can be found in Jeremiah 2:20: “Long ago you broke your yoke, you tore off your bonds. You said, ‘I will not serve.’” Jesus’ responses to the Tempter are a declaration of his desire to obey the Father alone. “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
That is the model of how to resist temptation. But don’t wait till the temptation comes. Resist it in advance. Always beware the Tempter.
Fr. René Butler, M.S. and Wayne Vanasse
(7th Ordinary Sunday: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48)
“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” This sentence occurs four times in the Book of Leviticus.
Observe the reason given for the command. It is not the promise of prosperity, which we might expect. No, the reason is even more important. Everything connected to God is holy. His will is sacred. We obey out of reverence.
There is a similar passage in Leviticus 22:32: “Do not profane my holy name, that in the midst of the Israelites I may be hallowed. I, the Lord, make you holy.” Our holiness is God’s doing. St. Paul echoes this thought when he writes, “The temple of God, which you are, is holy.”
The psalmist exclaims: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name.” Mary at La Salette wept at the profanity directed at her Son’s name. This was but one of the signs that her people had abandoned their identity as God’s temple. Instead of praying, they blasphemed; they made a mockery of religion.
The call to holiness is a tall order. It needs to permeate every aspect of our life. St. Paul expresses this as follows: “If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.”
Mary chose Mélanie and Maximin as her witnesses. The message of divine wisdom was entrusted to uneducated children, so that no one could miss the meaning of her words.
The wisdom of this world is contrary to the message of today's gospel in particular. Turning the other cheek is (and probably always has been) counter-cultural. It is hard even for committed Christians.
Fortunately, our holiness is not a matter of who is right or wrong, of winning or losing. It is first and foremost a question of sharing in the Lord’s holiness or, as Jesus puts it, being “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In our efforts to make the Beautiful Lady’s message known, we can advance toward that goal, and maybe transform some little part of our world along the way.
Fr. René Butler, M.S. and Wayne Vanasse
Hammer and Pincers
(6th Ordinary Sunday: Sirach 15:15-20; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37)
Among the most distinctive features of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette, as you well know, are the hammer and pincers on either side of the crucifix. We are used to seeing them attached to the cross, but in fact they were not.
People seeing these for the first time always ask what they mean. You are familiar with the traditional interpretation, but I think it might be more helpful to respond with another question. Supposing Mary simply showed herself to the children without saying a word, how would we understand her purpose?
Carpenters’ tools in and of themselves would have no special meaning. But, as they are associated with the Crucified One, they must have a connection with the Passion of Jesus. And they served opposite purposes.
It is no wonder that they have always been explained as calling us to choose between “life and death, good and evil,” as we read today in Sirach, who is paraphrasing Moses’ speech in Deuteronomy 30:15.
All of today’s readings are about choice. The psalmist chooses fidelity to God’s statutes; Paul has opted for “God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden;” and Jesus says four times, “You have heard... but I say to you,” demanding our allegiance to his teaching.
We tend to see choice as a moral question, and that is often the case. That is certainly the perspective of Sirach. It is easy to forget that the Sermon on the Mount is more demanding than the Commandments. That is what Jesus meant by saying, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Still, what Sirach says is true: “No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.” In other words, when we sin, it is because of our choice. There may be mitigating circumstances, of course, especially if we are not truly free.
That said, before any concrete decision there must be an underlying fundamental resolve: as disciples of Christ, to strive with all our heart to live by his word.
That is what the Beautiful Lady came to tell us. She put before us a choice: failure to submit, with its consequences, or conversion, with its benefits. Exact opposites, just like the hammer and pincers.
Fr. René Butler, M.S. and Wayne Vanasse
Weakness and Power
(5th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 58:7-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16)
In many cultures, people prefer to shed tears in private than where others can see them. Perhaps this is because tears are sometimes seen as a sign of weakness. From that point of view, Our Lady could say, with St. Paul, “I came to you in weakness.”
In fact, much of what St. Paul says in today’s second reading could be said of Mary at La Salette. This is especially true of her wearing the crucifix: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
We have often noted that, according to Maximin and Mélanie, the light of the Apparition emanated from that crucifix. In John 8:12 Jesus says of himself, “I am the light of the world.”
In this week’s Gospel, he reminds us that we, too, are the light of the world. He also describes us as salt of the earth.
It is hard for us to imagine tasteless salt. The Beautiful Lady talks about blighted wheat, literally, but the image could apply figuratively to her people. When put to the test, what was their faith? It crumbled, like the ears of wheat.
St. Paul also states, “I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom,” and “My message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power.” At La Salette, Mary went so far as to speak the patois, the local dialect, typically associated with uneducated rural classes, in contrast with the French that she used at the beginning. And she spoke of things that her people could understand.
Coming in weakness is not the same as being powerless. It means that the power that we might show is not ours, but comes from God. Mary’s simple words had power, which she communicated to the children, empowering them to make her message known.
How bright our light could shine, quoting Isaiah now, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted.”
All this and more we may be empowered to do, but, always remember, the glory is God’s.
Fr. René Butler, M.S. and Wayne Vanasse
(Presentation of Jesus: Malachi 3:1-4; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40)
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes that Jesus “had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way.” There is a text in Galatians 4:4-5 that points in the same direction: Jesus was “born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law.”
The Gospel account of the presentation of Jesus in the temple refers twice to the Law, at the beginning and near the end. The legal requirement Joseph and Mary were fulfilling is found in Exodus 13: “Consecrate to me every firstborn; whatever opens the womb among the Israelites, whether of human being or beast, belongs to me.” In the case of smaller animals, the firstborn was to be slaughtered as a sacrifice; a donkey could be ransomed with a sheep.
The text adds: “Every human firstborn of your sons you must ransom.” Remember that Moses was leading God’s people to Canaan, a land where child sacrifice was not unheard of. Here God expressly forbids that practice.
There is a delicate irony here. Jesus, who came to ransom us, first had to be ransomed himself! The Redeemer had to be redeemed—bought and paid for, so to speak— “to ransom those under the law,” as quoted above.
This has consequences in our life of faith. La Salette can help us understand them.
We have to recognize the gift of redemption that has been won for us. The Beautiful Lady indicates means for achieving that goal: prayer, the Eucharist, penance, respect for the Lord’s Name and the Lord’s Day.
Then we need to recognize our own need of redemption. Mary uses the term “submit.” This will involve purification, a sometimes painful process. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: “Jesus himself was tested through what he suffered.” And old Simeon told Mary in the temple, “you yourself a sword will pierce.” (“How long a time I have suffered for you,” she said at La Salette.)
Finally, like Mary, we must welcome the Redeemer into our life. We can make ours the words of today’s Psalm, expressing the desire “that the king of glory may come in!”
(3rd Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 8:23—9:3; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Matthew 4:12-23)
In the face of the confusion and even rivalry that we find reflected in our second reading, Paul goes to the heart of the matter: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
As we can see in this and various other texts of the New Testament, disunity among believers was an ongoing concern. As it happens, we have just concluded the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25). The fact that this is an annual event is a sign that the problem, unfortunately, still exists.
Separation, of course, is natural. People who have been joined by bonds of affection may move to different cities or countries; couples vow to be faithful “until death do us part,” and so on. Peter, Andrew, James and John left their families to follow Jesus. Separation is part of every human life.
Division is different. It implies a kind of separation that has a different kind of cause, usually conflict, the sources of which seem virtually endless.
Our Lady of La Salette addresses one sort of division in particular, occasioned by the indifference of those whom she calls “my people” toward the one she calls “my Son.” As La Salette Religious and Laity, whenever we see division, we feel a desire to draw people back together again and, if necessary, back to God.
Some divisions are of a specifically religious character. Just as the Beautiful Lady could not stand by and simply allow us to suffer the consequences of our sins, just as St. Paul could not be indifferent to the divisions among the Corinthians, so also we feel the need to respond to the divisions and suffering in our Church. But there are many situations in our world as well and, probably, much closer to home, in need of our charism of reconciliation.
Matthew sees the move of Jesus to Capernaum as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” In responding to his call, and to Mary’s desire that we make her message known, we can do our part to bring light into the darkness.
How? That depends on the uniqueness of our individual call, personality and gifts. Be creative!
Called, Formed, Sent
(2nd Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 49:3-6; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34)
St. Paul presents himself as “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus,” and reminds the Corinthians that they are “called to be holy.” In the first reading, we read of one who says that the Lord “formed me as his servant;” John the Baptist speaks of “the one who sent me to baptize with water.”
All of these are reflected in the Psalm response: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”
God’s servant further declares: “I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord.” He claims no merit other than what the Lord has done for him and promises to do through him: “I will make you a light to the nations.”
When God chooses persons for his service, it is not necessarily because they possess special skills. On the contrary, he looks upon them, makes his choice and then bestows his gifts on them. John the Baptist, for example, was empowered to recognize Jesus as Lamb of God and Son of God.
We have often observed that the children chosen by Our Lady of La Salette had no special talent for the mission she confided to them. She provided what they lacked, and they were remarkable in resisting bribes and threats, in answering objections and trick questions. Thus did she call them, form them, and send them.
We may say the same for ourselves. Whatever our vocation may be, however we were attracted to it, it was God’s doing. Thus, one of the most important principles of the spiritual life is this: go where you are drawn. Discernment, after all, is precisely the prayerful discovery of the answer to the question asked by Saul on the road to Damascus: “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10)
A La Salette vocation is often, so to speak, inserted into or overlaid onto another vocation. In the varied circumstances of our life as laity, religious or clergy, we find ourselves drawn to the Beautiful Lady. She who declared herself the handmaid of the Lord, invites us to serve the Lord with her.
Like Maximin and Mélanie, we might not be the candidates we ourselves would choose, but we can trust Mary to provide guidance and inspiration.
Voice of the Lord
(Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 42:1-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17)
Great singers and speakers know how to modulate their voice. In this way they can communicate the subtleties and depths, the infinite variety of emotions of the words they say or sing. God knows this.
This explains why there are so many books in the Bible. As varied and ‘modulated’ as they are, they all speak with God’s voice, which in today’s readings is heard from the heavens, from a prophet and from an apostle. The psalmist hears it in the thunder, perhaps, and describes it as mighty and majestic.
We cannot hear God’s voice as we do those of the people around us. At Mass we rely on lectors and priests (or deacons) to announce the word eloquently but simply, to speak it in such a way that the word may live, and so touch our hearts and minds directly.
The Scriptures do not hesitate to speak with a woman’s voice, most notably in the Song of Songs, and in the books of Ruth, Judith and Wisdom. La Salette is well situated within this tradition.
As we listen to the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, we might wonder what he means when he says to John, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Many scholars, ancient and modern alike, agree that it means carrying out God’s will.
This principle lies at the heart of Mary’s message at La Salette. God’s will for us is always for our good. Giving thanks to him is, as we say just before the Preface at Mass, right and just. But this justice goes beyond the fulfillment of legal requirements.
The biblical concept of justice refers to a state of being in which all is as it ought to be, where everyone does what is right and just. It brings joy and peace to all.
Without using the word, the Beautiful Lady was describing the injustice of her people. In neglecting the things of God, they had placed themselves in a state in which all was not as it should be, and found themselves far from joy and peace.
Like Jesus, God calls us to be his beloved children, with whom he is well pleased. By modulating her voice to that message, Mary communicates it to us anew, in a wondrous way.
Mystery of the Magi
(Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12)
For a brief time, all Jerusalem was talking about mysterious foreigners who had arrived from the East, asking a strange question. Biblical Scholars of the day found the answer, and King Herod sent them on their way.
Who were they? How many? How did they recognize the star? What identified it with the birth of Jesus? How could it move in a southerly direction from Jerusalem to Bethlehem? Theories abound, some quite interesting.
But none of these things really matters. They can easily distract us from the essence of the text, the object of the Magi’s quest: Jesus.
It seems unlikely that St. Paul had ever heard of the Magi. But he makes the point of their story most effectively: “The mystery was made known to me by revelation... that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Thus is fulfilled the promise of Isaiah to Jerusalem: “Nations shall walk by your light.”
In late 1846, everyone in the diocese of Grenoble, and beyond, was talking about a mysterious Beautiful Lady who had arrived, it would seem, from heaven. Her objective was similar to that of the Epiphany star: to point the way (in this case, to point the way back) to the one whom she calls “my Son.”
The Wise Men “were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.” At La Salette, Maximin and Mélanie saw a different Madonna and Child, where Jesus is represented not as a babe in arms but as the crucified Savior. The universal salvation anticipated in the accounts of Jesus’ birth was accomplished on Calvary.
As we reflect on the Gospel story and on the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette, we look to the past. But both invite us to enter into the mystery of the present, and of the future as well.
The Church reminds of the Magi for a reason. We remember La Salette for a similar reason. Both hold the hope expressed in the refrain of today’s Psalm: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” Can we play a part in bringing that about?
What to Wear, How to Behave
(Holy Family: Sirach 3:2-12; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23)
One of the first things one notices about Our Lady of La Salette is her attire. Besides the typical women’s garments of the locality—long dress, apron, shawl, shoes and bonnet—there are roses, a broad chain, a smaller chain supporting a crucifix, and a particularly bright light around her head, usually depicted as a crown.
But that is not all. She has also put on “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,” as St. Paul recommends to the Christian community of Colossae, whom he calls “God's chosen ones, holy and beloved.”
In the first reading, these qualities are expressed by the verb “honor,” specifically towards parents. The Gospel reminds us that no family is without its crises.
Paul even acknowledges a painful reality, “if one of you has a grievance against another,” and emphasizes the need for mutual forgiveness. It is a fact of life that, even in the best families and the best communities, we don’t always like the people we love.
I suppose this is true in the greater La Salette family as well: Missionaries, Sisters, Laity. When we often rub elbows with the same people, we sometimes step on each other's feet. As apostles of Reconciliation, this is especially troubling to us. What to do about it?
First, while such moments are indeed inevitable, they can to a certain extent be anticipated. We can cultivate the attitudes proposed by St. Paul, especially the readiness to forgive. Sometimes, dialogue can lead to better understanding; forgiveness may not be necessary. Desiring to put things right among us, we can be creative in using the tools of charity at our disposal (see also 1 Corinthians, 13).
Mary recommended reciting at least an Our Father—where we pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”—and a Hail Mary—in which we are reminded of “the hour of our death.” These should help us put personal tensions into proper perspective.
In her own words, the Beautiful Lady echoes the rule of thumb enunciated by St. Paul: “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”