Strength in Weakness
(14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6)
We often experience our tears as a sign of weakness or vulnerability. We struggle against them, we hide them if we can. In many cultures, it is extremely rare for adults to cry in front of other persons, and only the most intense grief or pain can cause them to do so.
At La Salette, the Blessed Virgin showed herself in tears. Far from demonstrating weakness, however, they are one of the strengths of the Apparition, an important part of its appeal.
When we are in the presence of someone crying, most often we want to find a way to comfort or console. But Mary said, “However much you pray, however much you do, you will never be able to recompense the pains I have taken for you.” Before such words we feel powerless ourselves.
St. Paul, however, encourages us when he writes, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” In the notion of weakness he includes “insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints,” such as Jesus experienced even in his visit home and Ezekiel was told he could expect to encounter as a prophet.
It is in this context that St. Paul quotes the Lord’s words to him: “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, the source of our strength does not, cannot lie in ourselves.
When the Beautiful Lady calls us to conversion, she highlights prayer and the Mass because these are the best ways to obtain from the Lord the strength that can come only from him—strength to make necessary changes in our lives, to accept the hardships or rejection they may entail. If we rely on our own efforts, we will fail.
The hardest part for us is giving up. I don’t mean abandoning hope but acknowledging how powerless we are. This is painful. It may even lead to tears.
In the confessional at La Salette Shrines we often encounter penitents who weep as they confess their struggles with sin. They apologize for their tears, but one of our priests has learned to say to them, “This is La Salette. Tears are welcome here.”
Death, Faith, Life
(13th Sunday in Ordinary time: Wisdom 1:13-15 & 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43)
The Book of Wisdom acknowledges death as an unhappy fact of life. Our Lady of La Salette tearfully acknowledges the death of children in the arms of those who hold them. We, too, understand instinctively that this is not how things were supposed to be.
In today’s Gospel two persons in dire need approach Jesus. Jairus desperately wants his daughter to live. The woman in the crowd has been sick for twelve years and wants to live a normal life. They come to Jesus because they believe in his power to heal.
But their immediate reaction after each of the two miracles is not what we would expect. The woman tries to disappear into the crowd, but then feels obliged to come to Jesus “in fear and trembling” to tell him “the whole truth,” as if she feels guilty. Later, when Jesus raises the 12-year-old girl, her parents and the few disciples present are “utterly astounded,” as though they had not really believed it possible.
Does this mean their faith was insincere? By no means. It was real, but perhaps they were also “hoping against hope” (cf. Roman 4:18), like Abraham, the model of faith. This is why Jesus encouraged Jairus: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
When the Beautiful Lady enumerated the ills afflicting her people, she wept also over their response to their sufferings. Far from turning to God in faith, they abandoned hope, speaking blasphemies when they should have been saying prayers.
Mary’s tears reflect the words from Wisdom, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.” We find the same in Ezekiel 33:11, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” She wanted her people to understand that “God’s anger lasts but a moment; a lifetime, his good will,” as we read in today’s Psalm.
When we are open to experiencing God’s good will, especially in hard times, we can live again, and join the Psalmist (and the sick woman, and Jairus) in singing, “You changed my mourning into dancing; O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks.”
Called from Birth
(Birth of John the Baptist: Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26: Luke 1: 57-77, 80)
Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives wondered what her child would be. Now we know his story. His role was to go before the Lord to prepare his ways. He was well aware of his unworthiness. He seems even to have passed through a moment when he shared the sentiment of God’s servant in Isaiah: “I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength“ (cf. Matthew 11:2-6).
Mélanie Mathieu and Maximin Giraud were, we can say, called from birth to announce the event of La Salette. The later lives of both were largely unstable, partly because people around them thought they must be destined for a vocation in the Church. They were willing to try, but neither one succeeded.
From contemporary descriptions of Maximin, he might have been what is today called autistic, incapable of sitting still. He never did settle in any of the occupations he pursued and often found himself deeply in debt. He died in 1875, only 40 years old.
Mélanie was taciturn and excessively shy but, over time, there came a shift in her relation to the Apparition, as she herself became increasingly the center of attention. In later life she published writings describing her childhood as that of a mystic, in terms that have nothing in common with any of the early documents about the Apparition and its witnesses.
My purpose here is not to focus on the unworthiness of Mélanie and Maximin. That goes without saying. Like John the Baptist, through no merit of their own they were objects of God’s favor and plan.
Yes, we are all called to be saints. That doesn’t change who we are. The children’s flaws actually lent credibility to their account. Ignorant as they were, they were incapable of inventing such a story, much less such a message, and in a language they barely knew! But their simplicity, humility and constancy in telling the story made them more trustworthy still.
No one could have predicted what their lives would be after the Apparition. But now we know their story. At the heart of it we find an encounter with the divine, to which they were destined by God, and fidelity to the mission received, despite their faults. The Beautiful Lady’s witnesses are good models for us all.
(Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34)
A farmer’s wife once told me that the only legalized form of gambling in her state was farming. Jesus, on the other hand, presents farming as an act of faith. The seed is planted and is mysteriously transformed as determined by the creator to produce fruit and shade. It is God’s work. Such is the Kingdom of God.
None of this would have been lost on the communities around La Salette in 1846. Farming was their life, and now more of a gamble than ever, with the failure of both staples of their diet: wheat and potatoes.
“If you have wheat,” Mary said at La Salette, “you must not sow it. Anything you sow the vermin will eat, and whatever does grow will fall into dust when you thresh it.” The professors of the major seminary of Grenoble, writing to the bishop in December 1846, found this disturbing. “This recommendation appears suspect, contrary to the rules of prudence and the laws of the Creator… Did she really forbid sowing?”
The secular press said such an idea was an abuse of ecclesiastical authority to terrify the “less enlightened” portion of the population.
Indeed, taken out of context, Mary’s words seem almost cruel. But we must keep in mind the whole of the Apparition and the message.
Look at the second reading. St. Paul says that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” This is not a popular passage. But it is a reminder, a call to consider our way of life. St. Paul is here reinforcing what he said a few verses above: “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
God says through Ezekiel that he will plant a majestic cedar on a lofty mountain of Israel, which will bear fruit and provide shelter for birds. He will restore Israel’s glory, and make them once again a faithful people. “As I, the Lord, have spoken, so I will do.”
Mary’s words are in the same prophetic tradition. We can be faithful, we can walk by faith, if we will offer the submission of faith (cf. also Hebrews, 11). The rest (planting, growth, fruit) is God’s work.