(33rd Ordinary Sunday: Malachi 3:19-20; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19)
In 2008 a letter was sent from the Vatican to all bishops, concerning the use of the Hebrew name of God (written with the four letters YHWH). It points out that among the Jews before Jesus’ time, the practice of pronouncing the name disappeared. YHWH, “as an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of Sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: Adonai, which means ‘Lord.’”
This is reflected in the ancient translations. Only Kyrios (Lord) occurs in the Greek, for example, and Dominus in the Latin. And, the Vatican letter insists, the same must be the case in the Liturgy and in modern translations of the Bible.
The Beautiful Lady of La Salette was not concerned about this particular issue. But the abuse of her Son’s name troubled her deeply. For Christians, the name of Jesus is also “an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God,” especially as related to our salvation.
How could we not hold his name in the very highest respect? “For you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays,” we read in Malachi. Mary implies a similar promise.
But in the Gospel we find another prophecy, on the lips of Jesus: “You will be hated by all because of my name.” Although this is followed immediately by certain reassurances, the prospect of persecution is terrifying.
And yet we find examples of saints who desired it. One of the North American martyrs, Jean de Brébeuf, made a vow never to fail in the grace of martyrdom, if it were offered to him: “My God and Savior, I will take from your hand the cup of sufferings and call on your Name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
His prayer was heard, and he died amid unspeakable tortures.
This is not what Our Lady asks of us, and I pray that we may never be called upon to suffer in this way for the sake of the Lord’s name.
Rather let us so live as to be worthy of the name of Christian, loving and beloved disciples of her Son.
Context is Everything
(32nd Ordinary Sunday: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16—3:5; Luke 20:27-38)
If you have time, read the entire sixth and seventh chapters of 2 Maccabees. That will not only make better sense of the story of the heroic woman and her sons, but also provide a context for understanding why this story is included.
In particular, we read in 6:12-13: “Now I urge those who read this book not to be disheartened by these misfortunes, but to consider that these punishments were meant not for the ruin but for the correction of our nation. It is, in fact, a sign of great kindness to punish the impious promptly instead of letting them go for long.”
The reading from 2 Thessalonians also benefits from reading the verse immediately preceding today’s text. Here it is: “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.” It reflects a difficult time in the Christian community, calling for the strength Paul mentions twice in the next verses.
The question of the Sadducees has a double context. First is the fact that this particular question was a popular topic in the debates between Sadducees and Pharisees who, respectively, denied or believed in the resurrection. Second is the desire—often recorded in the Gospels, but always futile—to best Jesus in an argument.
The story of La Salette, likewise, is best understood by studying the world in which it took place. Some of this can be inferred from the Beautiful Lady’s words: the devastation of the local economy, her people’s indifference toward the things of God, the urgency of conversion.
Then there is the history of France, especially the French Revolution and its philosophical, religious, social and economic aftermath.
The most important context for understanding La Salette is, however, the Bible. Every part of the Message reflects that world. Without the Scriptures, La Salette is subject to every sort of interpretation.
For us who love La Salette, one other context is also important: our own lives and the world in which we live, here and now.
Glorify the Lord with me
(31st Ordinary Sunday: Wisdom 11:22—12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11—2:2; Luke 19:1-10)
The author of Wisdom says to God, “You have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people's sins that they may repent.” The psalmist declares, “The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.” The story of Zacchaeus illustrates the same truth.
Jesus took the initiative in Zacchaeus’ case. Repentance (submission, conversion) is God’s gift. At La Salette, Mary came to offer it to her people.
If all goes well, a major change takes place in the heart and life of those touched by this grace. Zacchaeus proclaims publicly the difference his encounter with the Lord has made. He breaks with the greed that has marked his life until this moment, and his new life is marked by justice and generosity. Who knows where that may lead him?
There is yet another dimension to all this, which we find in our second reading: “We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.”
Imagine! Whoever responds to God’s call to conversion will not only turn away from sin and towards a faith-filled life, but will actually be able to glorify the name of Jesus.
After all, no one ever became a saint only by giving up a sinful way of life. The Beautiful Lady did not envision that her people would merely stop abusing her Son’s name, but that they would return to the practice of the faith, in all sincerity. She speaks of submission and conversion. These are not negative notions. See how Zacchaeus was transformed when he submitted to God’s grace and was converted.
Why Jesus came, why Mary came, was not just to take us away from something evil, but to offer us something good and beautiful and wonderful. Both came because we are loved by God. They want us to respond to that love with all our heart.
Psalm 34:4 reads, “Glorify the Lord with me, together let us praise his name.” This applies more to our way of life than to our words.
(30th Ordinary Sunday: Sirach 35:12-18; 2 Timothy 4:6-18; Luke 18:9-14)
The Pharisee in today’s famous parable is not making anything up, but telling the truth about his good deeds: he has indeed gone above and beyond the call of duty.
The tax collector doesn’t list his sins. By the nature of his job as an agent of the hated Roman occupiers, he is a “public” sinner. That is enough for the Pharisee to draw the odious—and false—comparison between himself and the other man.
Our Lady of La Salette described her own unceasing prayer on our behalf. It is easy to imagine her taking the words of the tax collector and paraphrasing them: “O God, be merciful to them, sinners that they are.”
Last week’s readings helped us focus on prayer, on the need to pray always and well. This week adds another notion with respect to the quality of our prayer: honesty.
We hear today St. Paul’s celebrated words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Isn’t he boasting, like the Pharisee? No, because time and time again he makes it clear that it is only by God’s grace that he has been able to accomplish anything. “To him be glory forever and ever,” he writes.
The Pharisee begins his prayer with “O God, I thank you,” but everything that follows shows that he is not really glorifying God but himself, and drawing the conclusion that he is better than others. His “truth” is not the “whole truth.”
When Mary reminds us of our faults, she isn’t saying that we are worse than anyone else. The only comparison to be made is with her Son. On her breast we see him crucified, suffering for our sake, and in our place.
The reading from Sirach, where we hear, “The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan,” reminds me of a lovely 2010 song, “Better than a Hallelujah.” It begins:
God loves a lullaby
In a mother’s tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.
Surely God loves Mary’s tears at La Salette, soul-born, whole-truth tears shed for all her people.
The Virtue of Persistence
(29th Ordinary Sunday: Exodus 17:8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14—4:2; Luke 18:1-8)
“Patience is a virtue,” we are told. But today’s readings show us that patience is not a passive attitude. Equally important is the virtue of persistence. It may be annoying, as it was to the judge in the parable, who finally did the right thing, only because he wanted to put a stop to the widow’s pestering.
The scene is very different in the story of Moses praying on a hilltop. His prayer required a demanding posture, which he couldn’t manage by himself. He had help. Perseverance doesn’t mean going it alone.
Our Lady of La Salette speaks of her own prayer: “If I want my Son not to abandon you, I am obliged to plead with him constantly.” She also encourages us to pray daily, “at night and in the morning.” Fidelity to prayer has always been considered essential for a healthy spiritual life.
In another context, St. Paul presents a different perspective. He writes to Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus: ... proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”
But how could Timothy hope to fulfill his responsibilities without placing his life and work in God’s hands?
In the Church, some religious communities are dedicated to a contemplative life centered on prayer and worship. Others are called to the apostolate in a great variety of ministries. Some have both a contemplative branch and an apostolic branch. (This third model was proposed as an option rather early in the history of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette. It was not adopted.)
What all of these have in common is the intensity that ought to characterize them. Once we answer God’s call, we must commit ourselves totally to that vocation, like Moses, like Timothy, Like Mary. One of the prayers in the Roman Missal sums this up nicely, asking God “that we may preserve in integrity the gift of faith and walk in the path of salvation you trace for us.”
That goal is the reason why the Beautiful Lady is so persistent in her prayer for us.
(28th Ordinary Sunday: 2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Timothy 2:8-18; Luke 17:11-19)
Naaman had no personal reason to expect the prophet to help him. He was a leper. Furthermore, he was a foreigner. It was a Hebrew slave-girl that suggested he go to Samaria to be cured by the prophet there. And he had no other options.
On his arrival, he was disappointed when Elisha didn’t meet him but just sent a message to tell him to bathe seven times in the Jordan; and at first he refused. But ultimately he submitted, and his transformation was complete, physically and spiritually.
The unnamed leper of the Gospel story likewise had no personal reason to expect that the itinerant prophet named Jesus would help him. He was, after all, a Samaritan. Even if he had gone to show himself to the priests, they would have had nothing to do with “this foreigner.” But he, too, was transformed, in body and spirit.
It almost seems that the other nine lepers cured by Jesus assumed that “of course” he cured them, since he and they shared the same religion and nationality.
At La Salette, neither Mélanie nor Maximin, nor any other person of the locality had any reason to expect a visit from the Mother of God. It was not until the evening of that day that anyone understood who had appeared to the children and spoken to them. The elderly “Mother Caron” exclaimed: “It is the Blessed Virgin these children have seen, for in heaven there is none but she whose Son reigns!”
Since then, hundreds of physical healings and countless spiritual transformations have taken place through the encounter with the Beautiful Lady.
Both Naaman and the Samaritan returned after being cleansed, to glorify God and give thanks. Each had received the gift of faith. The same may be said of many pilgrims to La Salette.
The more we recognize how undeserving we are of God’s blessings, the deeper our gratitude will be. Ideally, it will express itself both as an abiding feeling, and as a determination to show the Lord that we are truly thankful.
In this way, transformations will continue to occur our whole life long.
(27th Ordinary Sunday: Habakkuk 1:2-3 & 2:2-4; 2 Tim. 1:6-14; Luke 17:5-10)
The book of Habakkuk has only three chapters. The first begins with a complaint: “How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen!” The last ends with an expression of unshakable faith. In the face of every conceivable disaster the prophet exclaims, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, and exult in my saving God. God, my Lord, is my strength.”
When the Apostles said to Jesus, “Increase our faith,” he assured them that faith the size of a mustard seed could work wonders. But the faith of the Christians Mary was addressing at La Salette was not only small; it lacked viability as well. It was unable to germinate, incapable of producing fruit.
St. Paul uses a different symbol in his letter to Timothy. “Stir into flame the gift of God.” In other words, don’t let it die out. He goes on: “Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.”
Faith is indeed a rich trust, a great gift, but it needs to be nourished and renewed regularly, through prayer and the sacraments. First, however, it must be accepted.
There is a saying, “Reject the gift, reject the giver.” The message of La Salette makes the same point. Abuse of the Lord’s name, making a mockery of religion, etc.—these are a form of rejection.
The second part of today’s Gospel seems to have no connection with the conversation about faith. There is, however, a certain logic. Simply put, if faith is a gift, we cannot take credit for it.
It is only by God’s grace at work in our lives that, as believers, we can do good or endure evil. Never can we stand before God and say, “Look what I did for you!” In that sense we are unprofitable servants, even despite our best efforts. Many saints have considered themselves among the worst of sinners, and marveled at the mercy God showed them, often including the gift of tears.
We have received the gift of another’s tears, those of our Mother, moistening the seed of her people’s faith, that it may be increased.
Get out of your Comfort Zone
(26th Ordinary Sunday: Amos 6:1-7; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16, 19-31)
The expression “comfort zone” has been in common use for many years. We settle into a set of ideas or a way of life that is taken for granted, and we are not happy when they are challenged.
The rich man of today’s parable, and the rich persons described in the reading from Amos are so comfortable in their wealth and luxury that they care nothing about the misery outside their doors, assuming they are even aware of it. They are secure, complacent.
But it is by no means only the rich who can become complacent. Anyone can become smug about some aspect of life, ready to ignore the rest of the world.
St. Paul tells Timothy to “compete” for the faith and to “keep the commandment without stain or reproach.”
Amos and Jesus both use images intended to shake their listeners out of their complacency.
Mary at La Salette is within that same tradition. Her people had settled into a comfort zone where their more or less generic faith did not challenge them, a rationalism which took for granted that religion was for the unenlightened.
This attitude is reflected in the first reaction of the secular press to news of the Apparition, published in Lyons on November 26, 1846, not ten weeks after the event: “Well, here we go again! More stories of apparitions and prophecies!” The article goes on to present a completely trivialized account of the Apparition and the Message.
Even believers can become complacent, faithfully observing the same religious practices that the Beautiful Lady specifically mentioned, but not grasping that these are intended to lead us to a deeper awareness, to see the world around us as she sees it and respond to it as she does.
Our Lady of La Salette speaks of the minimum daily, weekly and annual requirements of Catholic life, without which our faith cannot grow: prayer, Eucharist, Lent.
She does not even remotely suggest, however, that we complacently settle for the minimum!
(25thOrdinary Sunday: Amos 8:4-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13)
The dishonest steward of today’s parable was a clever man. Faced with an audit, and in danger of losing everything, he compounded his crimes and acted boldly to ensure his future. Even the master whom he was cheating had to give him credit for his foresightedness.
The steward embezzled his employer’s property to save himself. Jesus applies this in a curious way to his disciples: “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
While the first reading and the Gospel focus on money, St. Paul writes: “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all.” Here all the readings converge.
A ransom is the price paid to secure the release of captives. In our case, however, no money exchanged hands. In 1 Peter 1:18-19, we read: “You were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.”
Twice in the Gospel text, money is described as dishonest, and Jesus states emphatically that we cannot serve it and God at the same time.
At La Salette, Mary did not mention money, but she spoke a lot about the local economy, which was, quite naturally, an ongoing concern of the people of the area; in 1846, it was rapidly becoming an obsession. If the crops continued to fail, disaster was inevitable.
The Beautiful Lady acknowledged that reality. Referring to the potatoes, she said, “By Christmas this year, there will be none left.”
Besides sympathizing with her people’s plight, however, she had something to teach them. Not being able to serve two masters, they had made the wrong choice. Their devotion to the hope of prosperity for its own sake had left them, literally, unsatisfied. Mary speaks clearly: abundance is possible, “if they are converted.”
In other words, we need to recognize that we have been ransomed, and at what a price! This shows us just how precious we are in God’s sight.
Lost. Found. Joyful.
(24thOrdinary Sunday: Exodus 32:7-14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32)
Today the Church offers us the entire fifteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel. It contains three parables about recovering what was lost, all in response to the single criticism of the Pharisees and scribes: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The theme in each case is: There is “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.”
Sin is evident in the other readings as well. God’s wrath flared up when he saw his people worshiping the molten calf. Moses reminded him of his oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and “the Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.”
Psalm 106:23 summarizes this episode as follows: “[The Lord] would have decreed their destruction, had not Moses, his chosen one, withstood him in the breach to turn back his destroying anger.” This is how the words of Mary at La Salette, about the arm of her Son, have been understood from the beginning, although today various more nuanced explanations have also been proposed.
St. Paul is deeply conscious of his sinful past as a persecutor, and of the mercy that God has shown him. The transformation has been remarkable, and Paul is eager to spread the word that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This means that those who acknowledge their sinfulness may be confident of a merciful hearing. The Beautiful Lady reminds her people of their sins, precisely in view of offering hope of forgiveness.
In the first two parables, the concept of sin cannot be directly applied to a sheep or a coin; but Jesus equates being a sinner with being lost.
The third, on the other hand, perhaps the most beloved of all the parables, describes the sin of the younger son in detail, and the depths of despair into which he falls. Another important difference is that the father does not search for the son, but in his mercy watches and waits.
The Blessed Virgin of La Salette could wait no longer. The urgency of her message is clear. Her people were lost. She came to find them, so that they could in turn find her Son and be welcomed back by him in joy.