(Palm Sunday: Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:15—27:66)
The first time I participated in the afternoon Eucharistic procession on the Holy Mountain of La Salette was in the late 1960s. At the end, everyone knelt on the unpaved ground, with their arms extended in the form of a cross, and sang: “Spare, O Lord, your people, and be not angry with us forever.”
This was an act of “reparation,” a then popular form of devotion, which consisted in doing something painful or uncomfortable as a way of atoning for sin, and making up for unrepentant “poor sinners.”
Our Lady of La Salette said: “However much you pray, however much you do, you will never be able to repay the pains I have taken for you.” This kind of challenge further encouraged the reparation movement that already existed.
Imposing on oneself a share in the sufferings of Christ is a way of participating in his redemptive act, which in turn was the great act of Atonement toward his Father. Jesus “humbled himself,” St. Paul writes. As the Suffering Servant Jesus refused to defend himself, as we see in Matthew’s account of the Passion.
In wearing a large crucifix, the Beautiful Lady draws our attention to Jesus’ Passion and death. She who, in Luke’s Gospel, calls herself the “handmaid of the Lord” and God’s “lowly servant,” appeared humbly in an attitude of weakness, weeping in front of two children, two strangers.
The Passion according to St. John, which we will hear on Good Friday, describes the scene of Mary at the foot of the cross. Here was fulfilled the prophecy of Simeon: “You yourself a sword shall pierce” (Luke 2:35). She participated intimately in his redemptive suffering.
In Colossians 1:24 St. Paul writes: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” Theologians disagree on the exact meaning of the text, but we find an echo of it in Mary’s message: “How long a time I have suffered for you!”
Jesus suffered for us. Mary suffers for us. Can we not choose to enter, in some way, into their suffering?
(Fifth Sunday of Lent: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-45)
Sooner or later the gates of death will close behind us as they did for Lazarus. In much of the Old Testament, the grave is the ultimate prison, the ultimate exile, even from God. The dead “are cut off from your care,” cries the Psalmist. “Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades arise and praise you?” (Ps. 88:6, 11) Through Ezekiel, however, God, using the image of death, promises deliverance from exile: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.”
“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God,” writes St. Paul. By this he means those who have do not have the Spirit, those devoid of a spiritual life. They live in a self-imposed exile from God.
These are the people Mary calls “my people.” Their behavior shows that they have rejected the salvation won for them by her Son. They have cut themselves off from her people, from “the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8). They “cannot please God.”
The Beautiful Lady is profoundly concerned about the consequences of such an attitude: she weeps over the famine that is imminent and, worse still, the death of children. Her invitation to Mélanie and Maximin, “Come closer,” is addressed to all her people.
It is in the spirit of Ezekiel that Our Lady, Queen of Prophets, makes a promise of her own. There is hope, great hope for her people, “if they are converted.” Her message paraphrases Psalm 95: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Which reminds us of yet another promise of Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
The faith of Martha and Mary is exemplary. Unlike those who harden their hearts and blame God for their troubles, they continue to believe in Jesus, even though he had not arrived in time to save their brother from dying.
Jesus shows us it is never too late to put our trust in him. Mary at La Salette reminds us of the same. It is never too late for reconciliation.
(Second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 12:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9)
The imperative form of a verb is used for commands. It occurs in all of today’s readings. It also marks the beginning and end of the message of La Salette.
Imperatives usually are nothing more than commands, one person telling another what to do or what not to do. Sometimes, however, they highlight the importance or the urgency of what is commanded.
God had a plan for Abram. It was urgent that Abram leave everything behind and follow that plan, not knowing where it would lead.
St. Paul reminds Timothy of the importance of bearing hardships for the Gospel. Suffering, an evil in itself, finds value when borne for the cause of Christ.
The Transfiguration of Jesus sets the stage for the command from heaven: “Listen to him.” What could be more dramatic, more urgent? And what could be more important, after such an experience, than the comforting command, “Don’t be afraid”?
The first imperatives of the Beautiful Lady, “Come closer, children, don’t be afraid,” are followed immediately by the words, “I am here to tell you great news.” And the final command to “Make it known” is given in two slightly different forms.
A La Salette Missionary from Angola once explained that, in his culture, the normal course for sending a message would be to have the messenger come to your house and sit down with you for a chat and a cup of tea. Then you would communicate the message and the messenger would go off. But if the message is especially urgent, you would meet the messenger at the door and communicate the message at once. Thus, the fact that the Blessed Virgin remained standing and launched immediately into her message is yet another sign of the importance and urgency of what she had come to tell her people.
Lent has a character of urgency about it that distinguishes it from all other liturgical times. It begins with the command to “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you will return,” or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
Well? What are you waiting for?
Seeing Light, Being Light
(Fourth Sunday of Lent: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-14)
If you have ever been questioned by people who don’t want to believe you, you have a good idea of what the man born blind went through. And so you also know what the two children who saw Our Lady of La Salette experienced.
They were first subjected to interrogation by the mayor, who did not want his town associated with anything like an apparition, and was by no means disposed to believe in it himself. He even tried to bribe Mélanie, whose family was desperately poor, to deny what she had seen and heard.
After all, who could reasonably be expected to believe that the Blessed Virgin could come to this remote place, and to such persons as these? But, as we read in the first reading, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”
Even the clergy were naturally skeptical. The last thing they wanted was to have a fraud perpetrated in the name of Our Lady. They, too, questioned the children, trying to trip them up; but, unlike the mayor, they came away convinced of two things at least: these children were not lying, nor were they remotely capable of making up such a story and such a message.
As more light was shed on the event, the more the truth of the event became evident. St. Paul writes that “light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” He goes so far as to say that Christians are light.
The man born blind received light in stages: physically first, and then spiritually. The hostility he encountered actually helped him to deepen his understanding of what had happened to him, preparing him for his profession of faith at the end of the story.
Lent is half over. It provides an opportunity for us to be gradually enlightened, both over a six week period and from year to year. The discipline of Lent is not meant to be easy. Through it we are challenged, or we challenge ourselves, to turn ever more toward the light that is Christ.
It is time for us to become light.
(First Sunday of Lent: Genesis 2:7-9 & 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11)
Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3. The context of those words is worth noting: “The Lord let you be afflicted with hunger [in the desert] … in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.”
There are two places in her message where Our Lady of La Salette echoes this thought. First she speaks of a “great famine” that is about to ravage much of Europe. Later she complains that her people eat meat all during Lent.
Today, abstinence from meat is no longer universally required of Catholics except on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the Fridays of Lent. But the challenge is still there. Mary’s point is not about a rule that has been broken, but about the meaning of Lent.
The story of the Temptation of Jesus makes it clear: if we are not nourished by God’s Word, the life we live is but a shadow, a shell of what it might be. If we do not place our hope in God’s Grace which, as St. Paul writes, “overflows for the many,” even our deepest hopes cannot achieve their fullness.
The serpent held out a false hope to Adam and Eve, and they brought sin and all its effects into the world. The devil held out false hopes to Jesus, but Jesus was not deceived.
He does not deny the importance of bread. But bread is not enough. Psychology tells us that merely feeding a child is not sufficient for the child’s well-being. Human relationships are more essential still.
The season of Lent, and the Beautiful Lady, both remind us of our need for a healthy relationship with God. Of course, material needs cannot and must not be ignored, but in another place in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6: 33).
It is a good sign that Ash Wednesday, which is not a Holy Day of Obligation, is among the days that have the highest Mass attendance. Its meaning may even change from year to year. That’s a good thing, too.
Dear Confreres, with this Eucharistic celebration the Council of the Congregation, begun on February 6, closes its doors, but not before having accomplished its agenda.
The Lord and the Virgin of La Salette - we are certain of this - have accompanied us throughout these three weeks, and we firmly believe that the Holy Spirit has guided us in the discussions and decisions which have come forth.
We have endeavored to dialogue with one another, listening to each one’s reasoning in a spirit of communion and family, with our sight always fixed on the good of our Congregation and on the mission to which she is called in the Church and in the world.
We have had the experience that walking together is at times not easy because of the varying sensitivities of culture and language, but a richness is always revealed whereby new horizons are opened to us, as well as new possibilities for understanding and collaboration.
Our Congregation is going through a significant period marked by interdependence, characterized by support and mutual collaboration among the Provinces on a number of levels: ministry, mission, community - as well as finances. It is a time of grace, which we should not squander, but make fruitful to the greatest extent possible.
In particular, three decisions taken by this Council of the Congregation capture for me in a clear way the path of our Congregation in this precise moment of our history: the raising of the District of Myanmar to the level of a Region; the “missionary” response to a church very much on the periphery, with the opening of a new mission of La Salettes in Mozambique, and the work we are doing with those laity desiring to make their own and live along with us the charism of reconciliation. These decisions constitute real challenges that we must confront in faith, with courage and without fear, in full trust and awareness that God is always with us and that the Beautiful Lady will never withhold her maternal guidance and protection.
In this Council of the Congregation we have also officially begun preparing for the General Chapter, which will take place in Las Termas (Argentina) from April 9 to May 5, 2018. This constitutes, as does every Chapter, a very important step on the road of charism and mission that our Congregation is called to travel in the heart of the Church and the world of today.
We must arrive at this ecclesial and charismatic event having prepared well along with all our confreres, supported by the human and spiritual solidarity of many laity, friends and benefactors who share with us the joys and challenges of mission.
“Nella grazia della Salette, profeti per un mondo riconciliato” is the theme chosen to accompany the preparation and celebration of the General Chapter. Herein there are three important elements which call for our attention: the return to the roots of our religious and La Salette vocation, which stems from the apparition of the Virgin to Maximin and Melanie and the need to make clear our identity; the call on the Church’s part to be credible witnesses in our lives and by our words; and putting our charism at the service of reconciliation.
I ask you, dear Provincials, to help the confreres live this time of preparation as a time of grace and a new opportunity for a profound renewal that touches our personal and communal identity as religious and as missionaries.
In light of Isaiah 43:19, our theme for the year, I invite you to see, with the Spirit’s help, all the good that our confreres are doing, in order to thank God for this and at the same time to notice what new thing is emerging within and around us, in our communities and in the world of mission. This attentiveness to the signs of the times is a characteristic that has accompanied us from our very beginnings in the Church. Let us open our eyes to the reality of sin, of injustice, of the disregard for human dignity which surrounds us; let us listen to the “cry of the poor,” of the marginalized, of those who do not count, and let us be ready to act there where the Church calls us to our mission in today’s world.
Silvano Marisa MS
The Lord in our Midst
(Third Sunday of Lent: Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-42)
There are many springs flowing in the mountains around La Salette; only one is called miraculous, and this for two reasons. First, it usually dried up in the summer, but since September 19, 1846, it has never stopped flowing. And second, a great number of miraculous cures have been attributed to its waters.
Today’s Gospel features a well. Its source was not considered miraculous, and no miracles were attributed to the water; but this well witnessed a miracle of conversion, not only of the Samaritan woman but of many others in the town.
The spring in the desert that God caused to flow from rock through Moses was a response to the people’s complaints. They had gone so far as to ask, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”
The Beautiful Lady spoke with sadness about those who did not recognize the Lord in their midst, who used the name of her Son in anger. She came to tell us that the Lord is truly in our midst, i.e. among us and within each one of us. Her words echo what St. Paul writes, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts.”
That is what many have experienced on the Holy Mountain of La Salette. Through what we might call the miraculous spring of Mary’s tears, as well as through her warnings and encouragement, pilgrims have come to know and encounter God’s boundless love, God’s presence in their lives. It has often been said that at La Salette the truest, deepest miracles occur in the confessional.
A biblical image similar to the spring is that of the torrent, a rushing stream typically caused by melting snows or a severe storm. Some torrents are so violent as to carry away everything in their path.
This image can be used in a positive sense. How hard it is to resist the torrent of the Blessed Virgin’s tears. How hard it is to withstand the torrent of God’s love once we have become aware of it.
Lent is the perfect time to make that discovery, or to deepen it. It is a reminder, in a different key, so to speak, of Emmanuel, God-with-us, God in our midst.