Back to the Basics

(16th Ordinary Sunday: Wisdom 12:13-19; Romans 8:26-27;  Matthew 13:24-43)

People learning about La Salette are puzzled when they read the words of the Beautiful Lady : “I gave you six days to work; I kept the seventh for myself, and they will not give it to me.” They rightly insist: it’s the Lord’s Day, not Mary’s. 

This is true, but the problem is resolved by remembering the biblical nature and tone of her message. In the prophets and the psalms especially, we sometimes need to intuit who is speaking, to insert mentally, “Thus says the Lord.” This is also true, here, of Mary’s message. 

Keeping holy the Lord’s Day is the Third Commandment. Our Lady alludes also to the Second, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” when she speaks of “the Name of my Son.”

Both find their foundation in the First Commandment: “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me.”

This has always been a struggle. We are easily enslaved by other gods.

This is why the author of Wisdom and the psalmist both celebrate God’s mercy and forgiveness. God “permits repentance,” because he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity.”

The parables we read today all indicate that we are, individually and as Church, a work in progress. St. Paul urges us not to be discouraged. “The Spirit,” he writes, “comes to the aid of our weakness... And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” In other words, he knows what is best for us.

The event and message of La Salette dovetail perfectly with this. We are challenged, in our weakness, to let the Spirit shine on our inmost hearts and do what he must to make God’s good seed take root and grow, like the mustard seed, to be large and fruitful.

Conversion, worship of our One True God, abiding trust in him—these are the ways La Salette teaches us to get back to the basics.

Wayne Vanasse and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Abundance

(15th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23;  Matthew 13:1-23)

Fr. Paul Belhumeur, M.S. is passionate about nature and creation. He is also an avid gardener, and understands the importance of good soil, and even has his own all-natural recipe for it.

I asked him, therefore, to offer some thoughts on today’s readings.

In the first reading, he noted the image of God speaking through nature and comparing the word “that goes forth from my mouth” to the rain that makes the earth fertile and fruitful.

In the Psalm, God has greatly enriched the land, producing unimaginable abundance: “You have crowned the year with your bounty, and your paths overflow with a rich harvest; the untilled meadows overflow with it, and rejoicing clothes the hills.” In the Gospel, the seed is good, but needs the right soil.

Making the connection to La Salette, Fr. Paul sees God’s image in nature spoiled by sin; there is no abundance. But the image of Jesus shines on Mary’s breast, offering hope.

The long version of today’s Gospel includes a quotation from Isaiah: “Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them.”

The message of La Salette is a response to that hardness of heart. To use the image of the garden, we may say that Our Lady is reminding her people of tools available for tending to the garden of the soul. 

We have the sacraments. Baptism waters the soil, Eucharist provides nutrients to enrich it, Reconciliation removes stones, thorns and other obstacles. 

Holy Mother Church provides additional  tools: Adoration, the Rosary, a great variety of devotions. Among them, let us not forget our La Salette novenas and prayers (at least an Our Father and a Hail Mary).

None of which will guarantee a bountiful harvest, literally or spiritually. That is the Lord’s work. But by his grace we can prepare our soil, so that the seed (the Word) may take root in our souls, making them fertile and fruitful, as we make Mary’s message known.

Wayne Vanasse and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

True Praise

(14th Ordinary Sunday: Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9-13; Matthew 11:25-30)

Matthew, Mark and Luke all report—twice each—that Jesus made it a condition of discipleship that we must take up our cross and follow him. We heard one of those speeches in last week’s Gospel.

Only Matthew records the invitation we receive today, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest... For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” 

We prefer this passage, naturally, if only because it reminds us of Mary’s words to Mélanie and Maximin. But there is no contradiction between the two sayings. If we follow the Lord with all our heart, no cross will be too heavy or too bitter, even if it is our own fallen and disordered nature.

The beginning of today’s Gospel provides the context for the invitation quoted above. Jesus says, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.”

The Father, through Jesus, invites the humble to enter into communion with him.

Notice how Jesus begins, “I give praise to you.” We find much praising today, especially in the  first reading and psalm: rejoice, shout for joy, extol, bless, praise God’s name—along with reasons: the King of peace is coming; “The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.”

The Beautiful Lady of La Salette, in praying ceaselessly for her people, is asking her Son to show us compassion and, in coming to us, is asking us to turn our lives over to him, with all our burdens, and worship him.

St. Paul reminds us that we are “in the Spirit.” That is why we can live in sure and certain hope of being heard by the Lord. It is the Spirit also that prompts us, whom Jesus calls “little ones,” to give praise that is truly acceptable to God as we recognize the blessings great and small that he bestows on us.

Praise is more than a matter of words. The wonder and gratitude that inspire it will lead us to seek God’s will for us, and to carry it out with open and full hearts, minds and souls. 

Wayne Vanasse and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Children of Light

(13th Ordinary Sunday: 2 Kings 4:8-16; Romans 6:3-11;  Matthew 10: 37-42)

I wonder if Jesus was thinking of the story of Elisha and the woman of Shunem when he said, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”

He himself makes several promises in today’s Gospel, and he confirms the last one with the words, “Amen, I say to you.” In the New Testament, this expression occurs almost eighty times, always on the lips of Jesus.

The Psalmist also makes a promise: “Through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.” Can we make the same claim?

A Beautiful Lady came to a place called La Salette because God’s faithfulness was, in fact, not being proclaimed by her people. It had been largely forgotten. She proclaimed it by her words, which included warnings and promises, and more effectively by the crucifix that she wore.

You have heard many times that the shining crucifix seemed to be the source of the light in which Mary appeared and which enfolded the children as they stood close to her. It is as if she came to “announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (Gospel acclamation).

The great La Salette scholar Fr. Jean Stern, M.S. writes: “Everything this Lady is, including her compassion, goodness and power, comes from elsewhere, from her Son, from the crucified one who is truly her Son, but who is, first, God from true God.”

Jesus is the source of light. Mary draws us to him. Like St. Paul, she does not want us to be unaware of the relationship we have with Christ Jesus as a result of our baptism.

Walking “in the light of his countenance,” we receive the gift of knowledge to help interpret our age, and the gift of understanding and wisdom, to conduct ourselves in right action, which might be “credited” to us as righteousness (see Romans 4:22). 

Or, in the words of today’s opening prayer: “O God, who through the grace of adoption chose us to be children of light, grant, we pray, that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth.”

Wayne Vanasse and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Enemies no More

(12th Ordinary Sunday:  Jeremiah 20:10-13; Rom. 5:12-15;  Matthew 10: 26-33) 

Do you have enemies? We all know persons who dislike us, who may bear a resentment against us. But enemies seek our harm and rejoice in our downfall. It is easy to wish the same upon them, as Jeremiah does.

He prays, “O Lord of hosts, you who test the just, who probe mind and heart, let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause.” It is a prayer for justice, but the vindication he seeks involves the punishment of his enemies.

Today’s responsorial consists of eight verses selected from Psalm 69. If you read all thirty-seven verses, you will find a series of curses. Here is just one: “Make their eyes so dim they cannot see; keep their backs ever feeble.”

As human beings, we can understand such a reaction on the part of victims of injustice. As Christians, however, we cannot forget Jesus’ commandment: “Love your enemies.” In today’s Gospel, speaking of persecutions to come, he gently encourages us: “You are worth more than many sparrows.” Trust, not vengeance.

As members of the La Salette Family worldwide, we try to live by these principles, with a special concern for Reconciliation. Fighting the evils of the day means looking for ways to put a stop to enmity wherever it exists.

However, the cessation of hostilities is not enough. Reconciliation calls for healing. Our prayer should be “that enemies may speak to each other again, adversaries may join hands, and peoples seek to meet together” (Second Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation).

Today’s text from St. Paul states this powerfully: “But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”

He is referring to what he calls, earlier in this chapter, “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That was the purpose of Mary’s Apparition at La Salette. The transformation brought about by Reconciliation is infinitely greater than the offense that made Reconciliation necessary. 

Wayne Vanasse and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Manna in the Desert

(Body and Blood of Christ: Deuteronomy 2:8-16; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58) 

Moses tells his people that God deliberately tested them with afflictions. To modern ears, this is perhaps more shocking than Jesus’ telling his disciples, in the Gospel, to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

Every age has its time of testing: persecution, disease, economic collapse, famine, etc. How are we to make sense of this? 

Let us read Moses’ words more attentively. God’s purpose was twofold: to “find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments,” and “to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.” 

At La Salette the Blessed Virgin was very much aware of her people’s affliction. She came to beg them to honor God’s commandments. While acknowledging their hunger, she regretted their failure to seek the Bread of Life. “In the summer,” she declares, “only a few elderly women go to Mass. The rest work on Sundays all summer long. In the winter, when they don't know what to do, they go to Mass just to make fun of religion.”

Let us return to Moses, and hear his words in a broader context. Before mentioning the afflictions, he says: “Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert.”

Thus, along with the afflictions of hunger, thirst and serpents, God provided manna, water from the rock, and the bronze serpent.

St. Paul reminds us: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” He wrote this in a time of testing: there were many divisions in the Christian Community of Corinth, and his point was that our sharing in the cup and in the bread makes us one. 

The Mass is not just an obligation. It is a precious gift. When we forget this, we forget precisely what Jesus meant when he said, “Do this in memory of me.” He invites us to his table, that we may receive life from the Living Bread, and sustenance in our times of affliction.

Wayne Vanasse and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Be with us, Lord

(Trinity Sunday: Exodus 34:4-6 & 8-9; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18) 

“If I want my Son not to abandon you, I am obliged to plead with him constantly.” The Beautiful Lady’s words reflect the situation of Moses in our first reading, from the book of Exodus.

This is not the first time he has pleaded with God not to abandon his people. Psalm 106 sums up the situation: “Then he [God] spoke of exterminating them, but Moses, his chosen one, withstood him in the breach to turn back his destructive wrath.”

We are not surprised to find that God continues, to this day, to forgive his people (with or without punishment). He chose Abraham and his descendants and made promises that he intends to keep. John puts it beautifully: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Love and intimacy go together. Friends share secrets, each entering gradually into the mystery of the other. So it was with God and Moses. In Exodus 3, God revealed to Moses his mysterious Name—the Name which must never be taken in vain.

For Christians, the name of God in the Blessed Trinity is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We cannot adequately understand this mystery, but that does not prevent our entering into it. St. Paul writes: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Moses prays for a similar blessing: “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company.” This scene bears out what is written in the previous chapter (Exodus 33:11): “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks to a friend.” 

I have seen, in a tiny private chapel, a stained-glass window that presents a unique image of Our Lady of La Salette. She is kneeling before her Son Jesus. He is seated, holding a cross-shaped scepter in his left hand, while his right hand is raised in blessing. Her face is sad, his gaze is peaceful and loving. 

In this solemn yet simple encounter, we can imagine her prayer, very nearly in the words of Moses: “This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon their wickedness and sins, and receive them as your own.” 

Blessed Trinity, one true God, be with us always!

Wayne Vanasse and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

The Gift of Tears

(Pentecost: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7 and 12-13; John 20:19-23) 

St. Paul writes: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit.” In the omitted verses (8-11) of the second reading, he gives examples and, later in this same chapter, he cautions individual Christians against thinking their own gifts are better than those of others.

If we look at many of the great spiritual writers over the centuries, however, there is one gift that is absent in Paul’s list: the gift of tears.

In the Bible, tears and weeping are most often presented as an outpouring of grief, remorse or supplication. However, universal experience teaches us that tears provide release for a great variety of other emotions as well, including joy, gratitude, awe. All of these have one thing in common: intensity of feeling.

We must keep this in mind when we think of our Weeping Mother. Think of her sorrow as she complained of her people’s ingratitude and confronted them with their sins, and especially when she said, “However much you pray, however much you do, you will never be able to recompense the pains I have taken for you.”

Her tears disclose also a Mother’s infinite tenderness, as she speaks of the death of children, of impending famine, of a widening rift between her people and her Son. 

Here let me mention some notable exceptions to what I wrote above about tears in the Bible. When Jacob and Esau met after years of alienation, we are told: “Esau [the offended party] ran to meet him, embraced him, and flinging himself on his neck, kissed him as he wept” (Gen. 33:4). The same language is used for the reunification of Joseph with his brothers (Gen. 45:14-15), and with his father (Gen. 46:29). 

In our reading from St. Paul, the Greek word for “gift” is charisma. We often say the La Salette “charism” is reconciliation. Today’s Gospel offers that very gift, in Jesus’ words to his Apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit: Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”

If Mary’s tears can lead us to rediscover her Son’s immense love for us, and his desire for reconciliation with us, and if we can respond in kind, then what a gift those tears are!

Wayne Vanasse and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Gone but not Absent

(7th Sun. of Easter: Acts 1:12-14; 1 Peter 4:13-16; John 17:1-11; OR Ascension: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesiens 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20) 

Depending on where you live, you are today celebrating either the Ascension or the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Today’s reflection includes both.

We see Jesus at the end of his earthly career. Acts describes the Ascension, Matthew implies it. In John, Jesus says, “Now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.”

Another theme is glory. On the Seventh Sunday, Jesus says: “Father, the hour has come... Now glorify me with the glory that I had with you before the world began.” On Ascension, St. Paul writes: “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.”

“Knowledge” occurs also on the Sunday: “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.”

And in both, Jesus speaks of his disciples. They have kept his word, he has been glorified in them, and will be empowered to become his witnesses, making disciples of all nations.

All this is reflected at La Salette. Mary appears in glory; she seeks to re-awaken her people to a knowledge of God. She commissions Mélanie and Maximin (and, later, La Salette Missionaries, Sisters and Laity) to spread her great news “to all my people.”

Jesus promised to be with his disciples, “until the end of the age.” The Beautiful Lady’s attentiveness to the details of the children’s lives shows that she is a faithful companion on our earthly pilgrimage.

As mentioned above, Acts describes the Ascension of Jesus: “He was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.”

I always smile at how the children described Mary’s disappearance at the end of the Apparition. “She melted like butter in a frying pan,” they said. Various sources have “in a pot on the fire,” or “in soup.”

They never saw her again, but she never lost sight of them, or of us. If only we could recognize this and remember.

Wayne Vanasse and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

If / Then

(6th Sunday of Easter: Acts 8:5-17; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21) 

“If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will keep my commandments.” He describes some of the things that will happen as a result: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.”

Best of all, “Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” This explains, I think, why there was such joy in the city of Samaria, when Philip proclaimed the Christ to them, and confirmed his preaching by many signs.

Our Lady of La Salette tells of what will happen, “if they are converted.” Externally, there will be abundance instead of famine. 

What about internal effects? We might borrow some ideas from our second reading and the psalm.

If they are converted:

They will “sanctify Christ as Lord” in their hearts. They will no longer abuse his name.

They will learn to pray well. They will sing praise to the glory of God’s name, crying out, “Blessed be God who refused me not my prayer or his kindness!” 

They will be ready to give an explanation, gently and respectfully, to anyone who asks them for a reason for their hope. This presupposes they will live in such a way that others will actually notice their Christian commitment. (That is what Maximin’s father did when, after years of not going to church, he then went to daily Mass.)

They will keep their conscience clear, and accept suffering, if it is God’s will, even when they are innocent.

In 1852, Bishop de Bruillard decided to erect a Shrine, and at the same time to call into existence the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, noting: “Their institution and existence shall be, like the Shrine itself, an eternal monument, a perpetual remembrance, of Mary's merciful apparition.”

Nothing quite so public would be expected of most persons who accept Mary’s call to conversion, but if we are to persevere, then it would good, it would be wise, to ensure that our first encounter with the Beautiful Lady will never be forgotten.

Wayne Vanasse and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

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