The Treasure of Faith
(19thOrdinary Sunday: Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48)
“Blessed the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.” This phrase from today’s Psalm finds an echo in our second reading: “God is not ashamed to be called their God.”
This, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews insists, is because Abraham and other patriarchs acted “by faith.” Later generations were not so faithful. Psalm 95 expresses God’s frustration with his people during the wandering in the desert: “Forty years I loathed that generation; I said: ‘This people’s heart goes astray; they do not know my ways.’”
That is what we find at La Salette. Mary weeps over her people’s sufferings, to be sure, but also over their wayward hearts. They had forgotten the privilege of being chosen.
God chose a people for himself; he treated them as a personal inheritance. He rightly expected that they would in turn recognize him as their chief treasure. “I will be your God and you will be my people,” is one of the most important recurring themes in the Bible.
We see this carried out in the liberation of Abraham’s descendants from slavery. Our reading from Wisdom states that they had courage precisely because they had faith in God’s promises.
It is something of a mystery that believers can lose their faith. It may mean thatthe faith has not become their faith; in other words, it is not deeply personal. When religious practice becomes routine, it does not nourish the soul. One does not recognize the gifts offered through the Sacraments.
Or, it may mean that we do not wish to accept the moral demands that living by faith places on us. This was, for example, a major part of St. Augustine’s struggle before he finally was baptized. There are also many trials that put our faith to the test.
Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” There is no doubt where the Beautiful Lady’s treasure is: “My people…My Son.” In her words and in her tears, she reveals her abiding love for both.
It is that love that moved her to come to come and call us to live in faith, to appreciate the treasure that is ours.
(18thOrdinary Sunday: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2: 21-23; Col. 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21)
All the readings today caution us against greed and trusting in our possessions. St. Paul succinctly summarizes these thoughts: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
And yet, half of the message of Our Lady of La Salette is very much concerned with the things of earth: worm-eaten walnuts, rotting grapes, blighted, but potentially abundant, wheat and potatoes and, worst of all, the death of young children.
She could hardly tell her people not to worry about these things. She wept with them. What mattered to them mattered to her. These things are not vanity.
At the same time, she points out her people’s failure to think of what is above. Long before the famine began, they appear to have had little use for God. Religion had become the domain of “a few elderly women.”
In today’s Psalm we pray, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” This means living in the presence of God, not in constant fear of death. Two chapters after the “vanity of vanities” in Ecclesiastes, we read that there is “A time to give birth, and a time to die.”
The Beautiful Lady knows that, between birth and death, there is plenty in life to be afraid of; but, close to her, we need no longer be afraid. Under her guidance, we can achieve wisdom of heart. And yet, it is no contradiction to say she will teach us the fear of the Lord.
Sirach 1:12 is one of three verses in the Bible that tell us, “The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord.” But read the whole chapter, and you will learn that fear of the Lord is also wisdom’s fullness, garland, and root; that it “warms the heart, giving gladness and joy and length of days;” it is “glory and splendor, gladness and a festive crown.”
What could be more desirable?
The Beautiful Lady’s first words, “Come closer, my children, don’t be afraid,” set the tone for everything that follows. As we read each portion of the message, however distressing, we should continue to hear, “Don’t be afraid... don’t be afraid...” This will help us think calmly and peacefully of what is above.
(17th Ordinary Sunday: Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13)
“If I want my Son not to abandon you, I am obliged to plead with him constantly,” Mary said at La Salette. “However much you pray, however much you do, you will never be able to recompense the pains I have taken for you.”
Abraham’s pleading on behalf of innocent persons who might die in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is persistent, to say the least. His prayer is bold: “Far be it from you to do such a thing... See how I am presuming to speak.”
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he first outlined briefly the kinds of things we should pray for. Then, with the parable about an importunate friend, he stressed the need to persevere in prayer, to pray boldly. Finally he inspired confidence: “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
St. Paul speaks of a bond against us. In this context, a bond is a legal obligation which, if not honored, entails the forfeiture of money or something else of value, even one’s life. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God obliterated that bond and forgave all our sins.
This does not mean that Christians no longer have any obligations. They have the duty be faithful to the God who sent his Son to save us, they need to learn his will and to do their best to carry it out.
But, unfortunately, that has not always been the case. What the Beautiful Lady of La Salette saw among her people was the lack of respect for her Son and, more generally, for the things of God. It is not surprising that she spoke specifically about prayer—hers, and ours.
Speaking to two ignorant children, she kept it simple: an Our Father, a Hail Mary, more when you can. But our prayer really ought to be more like hers. We need to be aware of what is happening in and around us, and constantly bring our concerns and feelings to the Lord, like the Psalmist who, today, offers a prayer of thanksgiving, but sometimes cries out in despair, or complains, or asks for forgiveness, etc., etc., etc.
Our Lady of La Salette, Reconciler of Sinners, pray without ceasing for us who have recourse to you!
Welcoming the Word
(16thOrdinary Sunday: Genesis 18:1-10; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42)
“It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” Three times Paul writes: everyone.Translations vary, but this is what the original Greek says.
Why this insistence? Because no one is to be excluded from hearing the Good News. Everyone must be given the opportunity to believe and to persevere in the faith, “holy, without blemish, and irreproachable,” as Paul writes in verse 22 of this same chapter.
This same idea is reflected somewhat in the Gospel story of Martha and Mary. Listening to the Word of God is “the better part,” the first priority. No one is to be deprived of it.
As you know, Our Lady of La Salette also added emphasis to her final words by repeating, “Well, my children, you will make this known to all my people.” On one occasion, Mélanie was asked how she understood this expression. Did it refer only to people of the local area? She answered, “I don’t know... Everybody, I suppose.”
She was right, of course. Today Mary’s words are known to all corners of the globe.
The Beautiful Lady had something important to tell the children, so she invited them to come closer to her. Their fear was dispelled and, drawn into her light, they were ready to hear her great news. “We drank her words,” they said.
La Salette has its opponents. That is unfortunate, but no one is obliged to believe in apparitions. What is tragic, however, is that in every age there have been those who try to stop the Gospel from being preached. Paul himself was in prison. From there he wrote, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David: such is my gospel, for which I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:8-9).
Hospitality (such as we see in Genesis and Luke today) means receiving others warmly and generously. If our Christian life reflects this attitude towards everyone, if, like Mary, we invite everyone to ‘come closer,’ perhaps we will help them to welcome the Word as well.
The Law of Reconciliation
(15thOrdinary Sunday: Deut. 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37)
We have a choice between two Responsorial Psalms today. Psalm 69 invites us to turn to God in times of trouble; Psalm 19 sings the praises of the Law of the Lord. Both speak to a La Salette heart.
The Beautiful Lady describes the behavior of her people at the prospect of famine: “When you found the potatoes spoiled, you swore, and threw in my Son's name.” In this situation, blasphemous language seems to have come to them more spontaneously than prayer.
The Law was one of God’s greatest gifts to his chosen people, a source of pride, even. The psalmist recognizes this in many other places, notably at the end of Psalm 147: “He has proclaimed his word to Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances to Israel. He has not done thus for any other nation; his ordinances he has not made known to them.” Moses makes an impassioned plea: “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes.”
But Mary has seen that her people do not love God with all their heart, being, strength and mind.
Her remedy for this situation is presented in what today we would call a “multi-media” approach. There is the message, of course. But her tears say what words cannot. Light contrasts with the darkness she describes. And, most important of all, the crucifix she bears on her breast reminds us, as we read in St. Paul today, that God, through Jesus, chose “to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
At the end of the Good Samaritan Parable, Jesus says: “Go and do likewise.” That is: “Ask not, then, Who is my neighbor? but, To whom can I be a neighbor?”
This is an invitation to go beyond the Law. The spirit of reconciliation is not confined to certain persons or to the observance of certain precepts.
The message of La Salette does not directly address the question of the “neighbor.” But when we contemplate this visit of the Blessed Virgin, coming to our aid and showing us the way, how could we fail to hear the invitation to go and do likewise?
(14thOrdinary Sunday: Isaiah 66:10-14; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-20)
There is nothing wrong in taking satisfaction in the successes and joys that come our way. We must, however, learn to acknowledge their source. As Jesus said: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21).
But, we may wonder, “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” (Psalm 116:12). This is where prayer comes in.
Mary asked the children at La Salette, “Do you say your prayers well?” They admitted they did not.
Prayer takes many forms. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, beginning with number 2626, describes them as: Blessing and Adoration; Petition; Intercession; Thanksgiving; Praise. The Beautiful Lady mentions the Our Father and the Hail Mary, the Mass, and Lent. Spiritual authors distinguish discursive prayer, contemplation, Lectio divina, and so on.
Failure to acknowledge who God is and who we are is poison to the spiritual life. Prayer is by no means the only response to God’s goodness, but it is fundamental. Without it, whatever else we do in his service and the service of others can lead to a warped sense of self-sufficiency.
Yes, St. Paul sometimes boasts of his accomplishments, but even then he acknowledges that God has made them possible. His feeling is best expressed, however, in his heartfelt prayer: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The seventy-two disciples in today’s Gospel are thrilled at the powers Jesus has given them; but he cautions them: “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Isaiah uses the lovely image of a nursing mother to prophesy a time of abundance. At La Salette, our mother Mary spoke of “heaps of wheat.” In both cases, the future event is preceded by a time of hardship and mourning, after which “the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.”
Praying well is nothing more nor less than regular personal communication with our all-powerful God. Its importance cannot be exaggerated.
(13thOrdinary Sunday: 1 Kings 19:16-21; Galatians 5:1-18; Luke 9:51-62)
The Psalmist sings today, “I set the Lord ever before me.” This serves at least two purposes. First, as we read in the second half of the same verse, it inspires trust. But it is also a reminder of our own commitment to the Lord.
Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,” knowing full well what awaited him there. He expects the same steadfastness from those who seek to follow him; in particular they must leave behind everything and everyone else.
In 1846, the Revolutionary slogan, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” was well on its way to becoming the official motto of France. This attitude was directed, among others, to religion in general and, with particular ferocity, towards the Church.
In was in this context that a Beautiful Lady, in tears, came to call her people back to the integrity of their Christian heritage. She could have spoken about many ways in which her people had proven to be unfaithful. Instead, she chose what we might call typical examples, making the point that there is such a thing as an authentically Christian way of life, which places legitimate demands on us.
St. Paul champions freedom, but shows that it does not mean license to do anything we please. While he does not want the Galatians (who were “biting and devouring one another”) to “submit again to the yoke of slavery,” i.e. to the legalism associated with keeping the Law of Moses, he writes, “Live by the Spirit.”
But this, too, is a form of submission, not to something outside of us but within. Thus is fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:33: “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” God is faithful, and we are to be faithful in return.
Fidelity is, after all, the touchstone of any serious pledge, not only in marriage or religious life, for example, but fundamentally and more broadly as applied to our baptismal vows, our discipleship.
In her Litany, Mary is called Virgin most faithful. From Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt to Cana to Calvary to La Salette and Lourdes and so many other places, she is a perfect example of commitment and love.
Food in a Deserted Place
(Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ: Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 19:11-17)
La Salette is a remote spot in the lower French Alps. Whereas millions of pilgrims visit Lourdes each year, only some 250,000 come to this mountain Shrine, and then mostly in the spring and summer. Otherwise, it is quite a deserted place.
That was certainly the case on September 19, 1846. A handful of persons, including the two children, Maximin Giraud and Mélanie Calvat, were minding cattle or mowing hay. From where they had their simple meal of bread and cheese, Maximin and Mélanie could see no one else.
Then, suddenly, a Beautiful Lady was there!
She spoke, among other things, of other deserted places—the churches. During the French Revolution roughly 50 years earlier, France had become fiercely anti-Catholic. Times had changed since then, but the effects were still felt, and the nominally Catholic population retained a certain hostility toward religion.
Every now and then people leave the Catholic Church because of a conflict, or scandals, or rejection of Church teaching, etc. In so doing, they deprive themselves of the Eucharist. Today’s readings make it very clear how essential the Eucharist is to our Catholic Christian way of life. In both theory and practice, it is hard to imagine one without the other. Without the Eucharist, we find ourselves truly in a deserted place.
One of the longer Psalms describes a scene of persons wandering in a desert, hungry and thirsty. Finally they cry out to the Lord, who rescues them and leads them to a city. This portion of the Psalm concludes:
“Let them thank the Lord for his love,
for the wonders he does for men:
for he satisfies the thirsty soul;
he fills the hungry with good things.” (Ps. 107: 8-9)
Besides the readings, today’s Liturgy includes a Sequence, a poem written over 750 years ago by St. Thomas Aquinas when this Feast was first established. It echoes those same sentiments of gratitude for the goodness shown us in the gift of the Eucharist.
In the Mass, Christ blesses us and fills us with very good things indeed. Why should anyone prefer the deserted place?
In Our Own Language
(Pentecost Sunday: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-13 OR Romans 8:8-17; John 20:19-23 OR John 14:15-26)
After the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon them, the Apostles addressed an international audience, speaking Aramaic while people of different nationalities heard them speaking in their own languages. This, of course, was the work of the Spirit, a unique sign.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this sign had continued to our own day? But this particular manifestation of the gift of tongues seems to have been reserved to that one event. Today missionaries spend a long time learning languages in order to preach the Gospel.
At international gatherings of La Salette Missionaries, I have often provided simultaneous translation, and I am keenly aware of how inadequate that can be at times. Finding the right turn of phrase on the fly is always a challenge.
Mary spoke two languages at La Salette. She started in French, and then at a certain point saw that the children were confused. She said, “Oh, you don’t understand? I’ll say it another way.” The rest of her discourse was in the local dialect, except for the final command to “Make it known.”
One would think that Mary might have anticipated this problem. But, as the sign of many tongues at Pentecost showed that the Gospel message was universal, the Beautiful Lady, through the sign of just two languages, showed that her message was likewise not restricted to one place.
As Fr. Marcel Schlewer, M.S. points out, Our Lady spoke her people’s language in more than one sense. In the local dialect, in fact, she spoke of the things that mattered in their life—blighted crops, famine and children dying—showing that these things mattered to her, too. This was her “mother tongue,” i.e. her speaking as a mother. She also spoke to their hearts through the language of tears.
It is not surprising that different aspects of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette speak to each of us in different ways. We are each unique, after all, and we might say that the Holy Spirit, as at Pentecost, was at work to ensure that each of us would hear Mary “in our own language.”
Making it Known
(7th Sunday of Easter: Acts 7:55-60; Revelation 22:12-20; John 17:20-26)
Most people cannot recite the whole message of Our Lady of La Salette, but they always remember the beginning: “Come closer, my children, don’t be afraid,” and the end: “Well, my children, you will make this known to all my people.”
Jesus prays in John’s Gospel: “Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they [my disciples] know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known.” In Revelation, Jesus himself is the one who provides the testimony that his disciples are to give.
A martyr is one who witnesses to Christ by giving up his life, like the deacon Stephen. He was a true witness, whereas his death sentence was obtained through false witnesses.
Jesus also prays that his disciples “may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me.” It may be too harsh to say that Christians sometimes give false witness, but we can surely speak of counter-witness.
The Beautiful Lady addresses that reality. Who are these Christians, whom she calls her people, but who hold the Lord’s name in such little respect; who will not give God the day he has chosen for himself; who treat Sunday like any other day of the week, and Lent like any other time of the year?
Let us be careful not to restrict this reflection only to the words Mary spoke. Just as in the Scriptures a list is never complete, so too, she could well have concluded this part of her message with a phrase Jesus used in commenting on the hypocrisy of the Pharisees: “And you do many such things” (Mark 7:13).
It is commonly said that actions speak louder than words. The same may be said of inaction. Thus, in the penitential rite of the Mass, we say, “I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”
In every society, integrity is valued. Psalm 119:104 states, “I hate every false way.” La Salettecalls us to Christian wholeness. If we are to make the Gospel known we must live it; whatever is false among us, or within us, must be uprooted and cast away.