(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.