Rejoice Always

(3rd Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 61:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-28)

We all know people who are not cheerful. Some are simply of a somber disposition; others are afraid of what lies ahead, or they may be mourning a loss, recent or old. In these and similar cases, it is hard to hear St. Paul’s exhortation: “Rejoice always.”

The Weeping Mother of La Salette bewails her people’s suffering and danger, and even complains of being obliged to pray for us without ceasing. Her Apparition could be considered an unhappy event, except for one thing: “I am here to tell you great news.” Those words are similar to Isaiah’s: “The Lord has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” 

Mary appeared in the hollow of a ravine, but after speaking to the children she climbed to a higher spot and then rose beyond their reach before vanishing from their sight. It was a movement from grief to glory.

La Salette is a place of joy. This is true not only of the Mountain where the Beautiful Lady stood, but of every La Salette shrine. Many come in sadness, yes; but most leave with a spirit that, like Mary’s, “rejoices in God my savior,” echoing Isaiah: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.”

This is often a deep interior joy, a quiet peace, which is not the same as joviality. It might not dispel fears or stop tears or change one’s personality. It cannot always be described, it cannot be denied either.

John the Baptist is introduced in today’s Gospel with these words: “A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” 

Here is a challenge for you. Change the text to “A person named [your name] was sent by God, to testify to the light.” Is this a joyful thought?

We have reason to believe that the Baptist was happy in his ministry, because in John 3:29, when he learned that everyone was now going to Jesus, he responded: “This joy of mine is made complete.”

The verse just before today’s Gospel text reads: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This should be true of our joy, too. May nothing ever overcome it.

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

Comforting Justice

(2nd Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8)

About four months ago, we had the same Responsorial Psalm (85) as today, and we commented on the words, “justice and peace shall kiss,” as opposites. In the context of today’s readings, however, the perspective is different.

In modern languages, justice is a legal term. In the news, we hear of persons or groups “demanding” justice. But in the Bible, it is primarily theological. Like peace, it is God’s gift to his faithful people.

Isaiah speaks wonderful words of comfort, predicting the end of the exile, which was God’s punishment upon the iniquity of his people. St. Peter reminds us of God’s promise of “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Some translations have “justice.” Either way, it means the state of those who are such as they ought to be.

In this sense, John the Baptist was just, because he was faithful to his vocation. Mary, too, was just when, at the annunciation, she acknowledged and accepted her role as handmaid of the Lord. Both, in their humble service, were as they ought to be.

When we consider Mary’s message at La Salette, we are inclined to associate justice with “the arm of my Son.” But once we admit our sinfulness and make the humble submission that she asks of us, we are ready to hear her tender word of comfort.

We often draw attention to the crucifix on Mary’s breast. Today is no exception. See how it reflects Isaiah’s words as if they were addressed to the Beautiful Lady: “Go up on to a high mountain, fear not to cry out and say: Here is your God!” 

As St. Peter writes, “The Lord does not delay his promise, ... but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 

Comforting words indeed. What he adds a bit later is more challenging: “What sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion?”

How full our life would be if, unworthy as we are, we were always able to give comfort, to speak tenderly, and to proclaim the forgiveness of sin, in kindness, truth, justice and peace. This is yet another way to make the La Salette message known.

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

The Return of God’s Favor

(1st Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 63:16—64:7; 1 Cor. 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37)

The prophets love to remind God of things he already knows. Today’s first reading begins with just such a statement: “You, Lord, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever.” Isaiah goes on to recall God’s past “awesome deeds” in favor of his people.

He is really saying: “Lord, you’ve done this before. Do it again!” 

Rather than force Israel to return to him, God had allowed his people to wander from his ways and to suffer the consequences. It was in just such a circumstance that Mary came to La Salette.

Isaiah adds, “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” He knows that this does not describe his people’s attitude and behavior; for he adds: “There is none who calls upon your name.”

The Beautiful Lady tells us she prays constantly to her Son on our behalf. Part of that prayer surely consists in reminding him of what he has done for us. Then, speaking to the two children, she acknowledges her people’s infidelity, and the crucifix she wears serves as a reminder of the redemption achieved by her Son, the source of our hope.

In the Opening Prayer of today’s Mass we ask God to grant us “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.” We must understand this correctly. It is not that we hope to earn salvation by our deeds. Rather, to the One who has already saved us we desire to offer what he himself tells us will please him.

There may have been a defining moment in your life, when you embraced your faith in a truly personal way. Your life changed in certain ways, and you resolved to live your Christian life as fully as possible.

Advent is the perfect time to pray for the return of God’s favor, as we do in today’s psalm response: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”

In our hearts we might hear him respond: “My child, turn to me; let me see your face and you shall be saved.” Perhaps he will remind us of our former devotion and say, “You did it once; do it again!” 

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

Works of Mercy

(Christ the King: Ezekiel 34:11-17; 1 Corinthians 14:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46)

For three weeks now the Gospels have pointed to a moment of judgment, using a different standard in each case. Two weeks ago it was readiness for Christ’s return; last week it was resourcefulness in his service; today it is the works of mercy.

A king on his throne is at the top of the social hierarchy. Christ our king, however, identifies himself with “these least ones,” those at the margins of society. Serving him must include reaching out to them.

The Church teaches that, besides feeding the hungry, we must work to eliminate the underlying causes of hunger. This principle applies to every work of mercy we can imagine, whether “corporal” or “spiritual.” It often requires the courage to speak unwelcome truths.

Mary at La Salette, not forgetting that she was a lowly servant, identified with “these least ones” in her choice of witnesses. She offered a remedy for the spiritual causes of her people’s bodily sufferings, by speaking the truth about their lack of faith in and reverence for her Son, Christ the King.

The goal of reconciliation is to restore peace; this is an appealing and comforting thought. The work of reconciliation, on the other hand, as exemplified by the Beautiful Lady, is not easy. It calls for gentle firmness. This can be a challenge. 

In the rite of baptism, the anointing with sacred chrism unites us symbolically with Christ as Priest, Prophet and King. This means we share his role of guiding, leading, and protecting his flock, of caring for his people. How we do this depends on many factors, including our personality, our talents, and our most deeply held values.

If nothing else, most of us can try to lead by example—speaking truth and acting rightly, in such a way as to attract others to do the same. 

At the same time, the spotlight is not on ourselves. Whatever form our works of mercy might take, they are never a performance. Jesus is at the center, and at the beginning, and at the end. If we can serve as channels of his truth and love, we need never fear the coming judgment.

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

Worthy Wife, Worthy Faith

(33rd Ordinary Sunday: Prov. 31:10-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30)

The poem in praise of a worthy wife, eight verses in the Lectionary, is actually twenty-two verses long. Most of them describe her accomplishments.

But one verse stands out as different from the rest. Instead of saying what she does, it portrays who she is: “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Here as in many other places in the Book of Proverbs, we find the foundation of a worthy life, on which everything else is built.

The foundation of our Christian identity is the gift of faith. When it is weak, it cannot support the other spiritual gifts God wants to grant us.

St. Paul tells us, “We are not of the night or of darkness.” But there are times, perhaps, when we are. Our Lady of Salette, appearing in light, comes to help us walk in the way of the Lord. She is a beacon of unfailing hope; she bears the image of Perfect Love on her breast.

In her discourse she addressed issues of faith, particularly our relationship with God; but she certainly did not exclude concern for the well-being of others, as she demonstrates by her tears.

One day the Apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith (Luke 17:5). We would do well to make the same prayer from time to time, for ourselves, our families and friends. Then we may grow in hope and especially in love—the greatest of the everlasting gifts—becoming more charitable and loving, harvesting what God has sown in us.

Or, to use the image of today’s parable, we will be empowered to be good and faithful servants even in small matters. Each according to our ability, and cooperating with divine grace, we will be able to capitalize on the talents confided to us and make a worthy return to the Master when he comes.

Questions are thus raised: Who am I as a believer, and how may I best place myself at the service of the Lord? Answers vary, but they have a common foundation: faith and hope and love, and abiding joy.

Today’s collect expresses this thought as follows: “It is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the author of all that is good.”

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

Choose Wisdom

(32nd Ordinary Sunday: Wisdom 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matt. 25:1-13)

The parable of the foolish and wise virgins is a cautionary tale. Having failed to welcome the bridegroom on his arrival, the foolish ones are themselves no longer welcome at the feast. Their lack of wisdom has cost them dearly.

Jesus warns his disciples to be like the wise virgins, not only anticipating his return but also doing what is required to prepare for it. 

In the Bible, wisdom encompasses many ideas, such as practical skills, shrewdness, deep thoughts and, as in the parable, prudence. It also includes the study of the Scriptures, so as to learn how to use the knowledge obtained, in view of distinguishing right from wrong, in accordance with God’s will.

Thus we read today in Psalm 63, “I will remember you upon my couch, and through the night-watches I will meditate on you.” In another Psalm (119) we find the famous verse, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.”

But unless this wisdom is desired, it will not be found. That is why, in 1846, a Beautiful Lady appeared to two ignorant children in the French Alps, in a globe of light. She meant her words to be a lamp for the feet and a light for the path of her people.

By her beauty and her gentleness, she draws us, like Mélanie and Maximin, into her light or, more precisely, into the light of her crucified Son. Wise Virgin that she is, there are things of which she, like St. Paul, does not want us to be unaware. So she lights the way between Jesus and her people, and shows the distance sin creates between him and us. 

Finally, by her compassion, she leads us to hope for the wisdom that comes with repentance, as well as the benefits promised to those who return to the Lord.

Mary speaks of prayer, the Lord’s Day, the Mass, and Lent. These, along with our personal commitment and devotion, are like the oil in the parable, symbolic of the ongoing renewal of our life in Christ.

May our lamp be ever lit as we pray with the Psalmist, “Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory... in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.”

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

See What Love!

(All Saints: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1‑3; Matthew 5:1-12)

There are two recurring themes in today’s readings: counting, and purity.

In Revelation we see two groups among the saved: one hundred forty-four thousand from the tribes of Israel, and then a multitude which no one could count. In 1 John, we are counted among (called) the children of God. And there is a list in the Gospel enumerating several beatitudes—a sort of manual of discipleship.

One of these reads, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” John writes, “Everyone who has this hope... makes himself pure.” And in the first reading, the uncounted multitudes “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

The Psalm unites the two themes in these words: “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? or who may stand in his holy place? One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.”

We desire to be counted among the “servants of God,” the term used in Revelation. If we are to be truly faithful in his service, we need to be clean of heart.

This notion is similar to that of pure gold; all impurities have been removed. In moral terms, it refers to the integrity of Christian life, the fullness of Christian love.

In our La Salette context, we can paraphrase St. John: See what love the Beautiful Lady has bestowed on us that she calls us her children, her people. In wearing the glowing image of her Son on her breast, she shows us God’s boundless mercy. Like all of today’s readings, she offers us a bright hope, which, however, is based upon one primary expectation: submission, which she also calls conversion.

This need not discourage us or, worse, lead to scrupulosity. Still, it calls for serious commitment to the person of Jesus Christ and the practice of our faith, humble acceptance of Church teaching, and honest examination of conscience.

St. John tells us that we shall see God as he really is. Let it be our prayer that, with a meek and humble heart, we may have the sure hope of being counted among those who seek God’s loving face.

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

Reputation

(30th Ordinary Sunday: Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40)

No one could ever accuse St. Paul of flattery. So, when he writes to the Thessalonians, “You became a model for all the believers,” he  must mean what he says.

How different from the words of the Beautiful Lady! Her people, far from being held up as a model, have earned a completely opposite reputation, which might be called spiritual laziness. After her Apparition, however, a certain number of people, Maximin’s father among them, resolved to restore her good opinion, so to speak.

Reputation is important. None of us likes to be ridiculed, insulted or made to look less than what we think we ought to be. We all would prefer to be known for the good we do than for our faults. 

Paul tells the Thessalonians that other Christian communities have heard “how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Thus they observed the Greatest Commandment. 

But they observed the Command to love their neighbor as well. They were known for their missionary zeal: “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth.” 

La Salette Missionaries, Sisters and Laity have a reputation, among other things, for a welcoming spirit and a desire to promote reconciliation. As individuals we sometimes fall short, but we can hope that it might be said of us that our love for God spills out into love of our neighbor.

We must maintain a certain balance, especially when our faith might be unwelcome in the foreign land that is our modern secular society. It is then that the witness of our Christian way of life most matters.

This includes Paul’s famous list of fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” We might also add the witness of Mary at La Salette: her tears and unceasing prayer, in response to sin and suffering.

In this way we hope to live in peace with all. May our reputation at least arouse curiosity in others, and draw them to the One who draws us. 

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

Tell his Glory

(29th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 45:1-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21)

Our Lady told Maximin and Mélanie to make her message known to all her people. Initially, that simply meant to tell people what they had seen and heard. Today’s Psalm suggests, however, a deeper significance.

“Tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.” The joyous context of these words shows that, here too, it is not just a matter of communicating information, but sharing the enthusiasm of our faith.

The Beautiful Lady expresses her sadness not only about poor Mass attendance in the summer, but also about the disrespectful attitude of those who go to church in the winter, only to make fun of religion.

We know for ourselves the difference in attending Mass and participating fully in it. Distractions are many and often unavoidable, but our intent at least ought to be, as the psalmist says, to “worship the Lord in holy attire,” responding to his holiness.

Giving glory to God is at the core of the La Salette event. We do so when we honor his name, respect his day of rest, observe Lenten penance, pray faithfully and well, and recognize his fatherly care in our lives.

But it is at the Mass, as the Church’s chief form of public worship, that we can cry out: “Give to the Lord, you families of nations, give to the Lord glory and praise; give to the Lord the glory due his name!” 

The Eucharist is called “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Everything else in our life of faith flows from it, and everything leads back to it. In it “is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324).

This has practical consequences for us. Not only should we give God glory in the worthy celebration of the Sacrament, but we should so live in the public square as to “repay to God what belongs to God.”

Isn’t that what Mary was doing when she sang her Magnificat?

St. Paul writes, “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” This is a goal which we all should aspire to.

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

The Lord will Provide

(28th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 25:6-10; Philippians 4:12-20; Matthew 22:1-14)

Just look at all things that God promises, in our first reading, to provide for his people! The image of rich food and choice wines is so enticing, it might almost distract us from all the rest. 

There is so much more: he will destroy death forever, wipe away tears from every face, remove his people’s reproach from the whole earth. See how in each case God’s intervention is definitive, complete.

So too in today’s Psalm, which sums up the reality from our perspective: “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”

And yet, it seems that today these images have lost their appeal. It is like the wedding guests who not only refuse to come to the feast, but abuse the messengers. How discouraging this can be for believers, as they see their numbers decrease.

In 1846, the anticlerical legacy of the French Revolution was still strong. This was the context of Mary’s Apparition at La Salette. Reproaching her people, she hoped to remove their reproach; speaking of the death of small children, she hoped they would turn in trust to the One who has destroyed death forever.

It is one thing, like St. Paul, to know how to live in humble circumstances and with abundance, materially speaking. Many people manage that. But it is quite another thing to deprive ourselves of what the Lord offers us. Paul makes a promise every bit as wonderful as Isaiah’s: “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

This requires chiefly one thing: the wedding garment, which is faith. And the living faith that the Beautiful Lady wishes to reawaken will enable us to do the three things she asks of us: to convert, to pray well, and to make her message known.

Conversion includes but is not restricted to returning to the Sacraments. If we remember the seven “Capital” sins, we can ask the Lord to “enlighten the eyes of our hearts,” so as to discern what virtues and behaviors we personally will need to cultivate, and “so that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call.”

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

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