Food in a Deserted Place

(Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ: Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 19:11-17)

La Salette is a remote spot in the lower French Alps. Whereas millions of pilgrims visit Lourdes each year, only some 250,000 come to this mountain Shrine, and then mostly in the spring and summer. Otherwise, it is quite a deserted place.

That was certainly the case on September 19, 1846. A handful of persons, including the two children, Maximin Giraud and Mélanie Calvat, were minding cattle or mowing hay. From where they had their simple meal of bread and cheese, Maximin and Mélanie could see no one else.

Then, suddenly, a Beautiful Lady was there!

She spoke, among other things, of other deserted places—the churches. During the French Revolution roughly 50 years earlier, France had become fiercely anti-Catholic. Times had changed since then, but the effects were still felt, and the nominally Catholic population retained a certain hostility toward religion. 

Every now and then people leave the Catholic Church because of a conflict, or scandals, or rejection of Church teaching, etc. In so doing, they deprive themselves of the Eucharist. Today’s readings make it very clear how essential the Eucharist is to our Catholic Christian way of life. In both theory and practice, it is hard to imagine one without the other. Without the Eucharist, we find ourselves truly in a deserted place.

One of the longer Psalms describes a scene of persons wandering in a desert, hungry and thirsty. Finally they cry out to the Lord, who rescues them and leads them to a city. This portion of the Psalm concludes:

“Let them thank the Lord for his love,
for the wonders he does for men:
for he satisfies the thirsty soul;
he fills the hungry with good things.” (Ps. 107: 8-9)

Besides the readings, today’s Liturgy includes a Sequence, a poem written over 750 years ago by St. Thomas Aquinas when this Feast was first established.  It echoes those same sentiments of gratitude for the goodness shown us in the gift of the Eucharist.

In the Mass, Christ blesses us and fills us with very good things indeed. Why should anyone prefer the deserted place?

In Our Own Language

(Pentecost Sunday: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-13 OR Romans 8:8-17; John 20:19-23 OR John 14:15-26)

After the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon them, the Apostles addressed an international audience, speaking Aramaic while people of different nationalities heard them speaking in their own languages. This, of course, was the work of the Spirit, a unique sign.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this sign had continued to our own day? But this particular manifestation of the gift of tongues seems to have been reserved to that one event. Today missionaries spend a long time learning languages in order to preach the Gospel. 

At international gatherings of La Salette Missionaries, I have often provided simultaneous translation, and I am keenly aware of how inadequate that can be at times. Finding the right turn of phrase on the fly is always a challenge.

Mary spoke two languages at La Salette. She started in French, and then at a certain point saw that the children were confused. She said, “Oh, you don’t understand? I’ll say it another way.” The rest of her discourse was in the local dialect, except for the final command to “Make it known.”

One would think that Mary might have anticipated this problem. But, as the sign of many tongues at Pentecost showed that the Gospel message was universal, the Beautiful Lady, through the sign of just two languages, showed that her message was likewise not restricted to one place.

As Fr. Marcel Schlewer, M.S. points out, Our Lady spoke her people’s language in more than one sense. In the local dialect, in fact, she spoke of the things that mattered in their life—blighted crops, famine and children dying—showing that these things mattered to her, too. This was her “mother tongue,” i.e. her speaking as a mother. She also spoke to their hearts through the language of tears.

It is not surprising that different aspects of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette speak to each of us in different ways. We are each unique, after all, and we might say that the Holy Spirit, as at Pentecost, was at work to ensure that each of us would hear Mary “in our own language.”

Making it Known

(7th Sunday of Easter: Acts 7:55-60; Revelation 22:12-20; John 17:20-26)

Most people cannot recite the whole message of Our Lady of La Salette, but they always remember the beginning: “Come closer, my children, don’t be afraid,” and the end: “Well, my children, you will make this known to all my people.”

Jesus prays in John’s Gospel: “Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they [my disciples] know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known.” In Revelation, Jesus himself is the one who provides the testimony that his disciples are to give.

A martyr is one who witnesses to Christ by giving up his life, like the deacon Stephen. He was a true witness, whereas his death sentence was obtained through false witnesses.

Jesus also prays that his disciples “may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me.” It may be too harsh to say that Christians sometimes give false witness, but we can surely speak of counter-witness.

The Beautiful Lady addresses that reality. Who are these Christians, whom she calls her people, but who hold the Lord’s name in such little respect; who will not give God the day he has chosen for himself; who treat Sunday like any other day of the week, and Lent like any other time of the year?

Let us be careful not to restrict this reflection only to the words Mary spoke. Just as in the Scriptures a list is never complete, so too, she could well have concluded this part of her message with a phrase Jesus used in commenting on the hypocrisy of the Pharisees: “And you do many such things” (Mark 7:13).

It is commonly said that actions speak louder than words. The same may be said of inaction. Thus, in the penitential rite of the Mass, we say, “I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”

In every society, integrity is valued. Psalm 119:104 states, “I hate every false way.” La Salettecalls us to Christian wholeness. If we are to make the Gospel known we must live it; whatever is false among us, or within us, must be uprooted and cast away.

Keeping it Simple

(6th Sunday of Easter: Acts 15:1-2 and 22-29; Rev. 21:10-23; John 13:23-29)

Compared to Lourdes and Fatima, the message of Our Lady of La Salette is long and appears complex. Still, it is basically quite simple.

In the early Church, as described in today’s first reading, the situation had seemingly become very complex, due to the influx of gentile converts to the Christian way of life and faith. Some were convinced that these new believers had to convert first to Judaism. At the “Council of Jerusalem,” as it is sometimes called, an elegant solution was found, a minimum set of conditions, decided not by the power of reason alone, or by majority vote. We read, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us, not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities.”

At La Salette, Mary selected a few such necessities: personal prayer, Sunday worship, respect for the Lord’s name, the discipline of Lent.

In the early Church, anyone taking the basic requirements seriously would, of course, not stop there. So too at La Salette. It is a fact of human nature that, when we settle for the minimum, even that in due time gets neglected. The minimum is a foundation of sorts, but a foundation on which nothing is built will sooner or later crack and disintegrate.

In the gospel Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word.” This is another way of saying the same as above. Love of Christ is the foundation of the Christian way of life, but “keeping his word” is a sign of the genuineness of that love and the strength of our personal commitment to him. And yet it all ultimately very simple—follow him in love, learn to know his will, and seek to carry it out.

Experience teaches that this is easier said than done. This is why St. Paul in many of his Letters takes the Christians to task for their failure to understand the implications of their faith. 1 Cor. 13, (“Love is patient, love is kind,” etc.) for example, is so beautiful in itself that we can forget that Paul wrote this because the Christians of Corinth were not making the connection between faith and life.

La Salette also helps us make that same kind of connection. Pretty simple, really.

Wiping away Every Tear

(5th Sunday of Easter: Acts 14:21-27; Revelation 21:1-5; John 13:31-35)

When we see someone crying, our first instinct is, often, to wonder what is the matter and, perhaps not often enough, to wonder whether we can or should do something to ease the pain or grief that lies behind the tears. 

Those who are sometimes puzzled or even offended by Mary’s words at La Salette need to remember the tears that accompanied them. One and the same sorrow is at the source of both.

In today’s gospel Jesus offers the ultimate key to consoling the disconsolate. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” If only we could all live this new commandment perfectly! Not only would we do everything in our power to respond to all the suffering around us and in the world at large, but we would likewise devote our best efforts to eliminating the root causes of so much unhappiness.

Like Paul and Barnabas in the second reading, we would recognize that “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” But these hardships are different from the suffering that leads to despair. They are endured out of love, and in the midst of them the disciples of Jesus can support one another. More than once Jesus made it clear that his disciples could not expect an easy life.

Mary at La Salette wept for—and with—her people as she looked on their sins and hardships. Moved by the same love that moved her Son, she responded in her maternal way. She cannot make all our troubles disappear, but she offers a way through them, a way of trust, of hope, of faith.

No one person can do everything, but each can do something, however simple, in communion with the Lord, to "make all things new." 

The best-known English hymn to Our Lady of La Salette has the refrain:

I long to dry thy tears,
To make thy message known,
Of penance, prayer and zeal,
Until God calls me home.

One way to dry her tears is to look through her eyes on her people’s suffering, and then do our part to “wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Why Don’t they Get it?

(4th Sunday of Easter: Acts 13: 14, 43-52; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:27-30)

Have you ever had the experience of knowing something to be true but being unable to convince others? To you it is perfectly clear, but everyone looks at you as though you were speaking a foreign language, and you wonder, “Why don’t they get it?”

This was the experience of Paul and Barnabas. They went to the synagogue, eager to share with their Jewish brethren the fantastic news that the Scriptures had been fulfilled and the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. There was initial interest—we are told that almost the whole city gathered to hear them. Paul’s preaching was clear, logical, verifiable. Why didn’t they understand?

At La Salette, Mary addressed a similar situation when she said: “You take no heed!” Her people were oblivious to her concern for them, and to the ways she had tried to make them aware of the consequences of neglecting their faith.

So she did what she had to do to get their attention. She came, she wept, she spoke, sometimes even harshly—whatever it might take to make her people see what she saw.

The Church has often been in the same situation. We Christians have such Good News to share, but there are obstacles to faith. Secular society has little respect for believers. Scandals in the Church make it difficult to hear the Shepherd’s voice above the outcry. Rivalries among Christians distract them from the Christ they all strive to serve. In the case of Antioch in Pisidia, jealousy on the part of the synagogue leaders led to rejection of Paul’s preaching; then came opposition and, finally, persecution.

At the time of the Apparition, among the chief obstacles to the practice of the faith in France was the anticlericalism inherited from the French Revolution. Besides that, life was hard for so many. But Our Lady of La Salette chose not to stand by and watch her people bring destruction on themselves.

Her tears, her words and even her choice of witnesses, were to make sure that we “get it,” so that we might stand among the multitude shepherded by the Lamb of God to springs of life-giving water.

Guilty as Charged?

(3rd Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:27-41; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19)

A question often quoted in Christian sermons asks, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would they find enough evidence to convict you?” The Apostles, in today’s reading from Acts, sought no defense against the charges brought against them. They admitted their guilt, and they left the court “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” 

When we see how Mary at La Salette described the behavior of her people, we would have to conclude they could easily have pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the accusation of being Christian.

Earlier, in Acts 4:18, the Apostles had been forbidden to speak in the name of Jesus. At that time, Peter had answered: “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” Now, in Chapter 5, though they are found guilty of again speaking “in that name,” they are released, but with a warning which includes flogging. The verse immediately after our reading adds: “And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus.”

At La Salette, on the other hand, the Beautiful Lady states that her people, in moments of anger, “cannot swear without throwing in my Son’s Name.”

In Revelation we read today, “I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever." 

The whole universe praises the Father and the Son, except for “my people.” Mary complains on God’s behalf: “I gave you six days to work; I kept the seventh for myself, and no one will give it to me.”

Let us be clear. The message of La Salette is not limited to religious practices; their origin lies in a relationship of respect and love. This is what gave the Apostles courage in the face of persecution.

In the longer version of today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” If with Peter we may honestly answer, “You know that I love you,” and live accordingly, then yes, we are guilty of being Christians.

Telling the Story

(2nd Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:12-16; Revelation 1:9-19; John 20:19-31)

“Write down what you have seen, and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards.” Jesus says this to John in the first chapter of Revelation and, quite naturally, we assume it refers to the prophetic visions that will be described in the ensuing chapters.

But there are three parts to the assignment, the first of which is “what you have seen.” May this not refer to John’s Gospel and Letters?

The opening of 1 John insists on this: “What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

On September 20, 1846, a Sunday evening, Baptiste Pra, Mélanie’s employer, invited Pierre Selme (whose sick shepherd Maximin had replaced for just six days), and Jean Moussier (another man of the same hamlet, Les Ablandens) to come to his house. They asked Mélanie to tell them again what the Beautiful Lady had said to her and Maximin on the mountainside the day before. More importantly, they wrote it down!

They were not well educated, but they were able to translate into French the parts spoken in the local dialect. It was not quickly done. Why did they do this? The only reasonable explanation is that they felt it was important to do so. 

They gave their document a curious title: “Letter Dictated by the Blessed Virgin to Two Children on the Mountain of La Salette-Fallavaux.” This shows they understood that this was to be passed on to others. We mean exactly the same when we speak of the message of La Salette.

But let us look at our Gospel. While we may not think that one passage is more important than another, Thomas’s story—absence, refusal to believe, ultimatum, profession of faith—is well worth telling.

It is also a message. And lest we miss that point, John adds: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” 

The La Salette story serves exactly the same purpose.

The Empty Tomb

(The Easter Vigil offers seven Old Testament readings, a New Testament reading, plus the Gospel. The Easter Sunday Mass also has options to choose from.)

All four Gospels speak of women going to the tomb on Sunday morning and finding angels there instead of the body of Jesus. In Luke the angels say to the women, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised.”

The empty tomb is one of the most powerful symbols in all the Scriptures, probably because a tomb is usually so absolute, so final. When Jesus rose from the dead, he gained a double victory. He conquered death; death is no longer the end, and therefore it has lost its power to inspire despair. At the same time, he overcame sin once for all.

For our part, we need to enter into that triumph by continually accepting the salvation acquired for us. This is easier said than done, which explains why so many private revelations, including La Salette, draw us back to this truth.

We have been set free. We are no longer imprisoned by or entombed in sin. In Romans 6, St. Paul wrote: “We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him… For sin is not to have any power over you.”

The message of La Salette is addressed to people who have yielded to the power of sin by turning away from the love of God. Even today, the title of Mary as “Reconciler of Sinners” is validated as pilgrims visiting La Salette shrines throughout the world turn back to God. This is no easier today than it was in 1846. It takes a powerful grace to turn a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. But Mary’s tears at La Salette can soften the hearts of those who might otherwise resist her words.

St. Paul writes: “Death is swallowed up in victory;” and, in another place, “You too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.” In this way we acquire a new self-image. Yes, we are still sinners, but we are not defined by our sin. 

Rather, we are defined by the supreme moment in the life of Jesus, his resurrection. His triumph is our triumph. His empty tomb is our empty tomb. 

Alleluia!

She who Weeps

(Palm Sunday: Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14—23:56)

The outline of the Passion is the same in all four Gospels but there are details that are unique to each one. For example, Luke alone records Jesus’ encounter with the weeping women on his way to Calvary. He tells them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children.” A similar painful image is used by Our Lady of La Salette: “Children under the age of seven will be seized with trembling and die in the arms of those who hold them.” 

Anyone who has lost a child can understand the weight of grief evoked by these words. At La Salette Mary weeps, in a sense, for herself and for her children, her people. Her tears are a source of consolation for us. They are also a renewed invitation to return to the Lord with all our heart.

I am reminded of other biblical texts: “No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying. No longer shall there be in Jerusalem an infant who lives but a few days, nor anyone who does not live a full lifetime” (Isaiah 65:19-20); “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

The old order of sin and death has been replaced by the new order of grace—of hope, of life, of love—by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Luke’s Passion also includes three “last words” of Jesus not found in the other Gospels.

The first is: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” At La Salette, Our Lady makes us painfully aware of our offenses, but assures us that she pleads ceaselessly on our behalf.

The second is addressed to a confessed criminal: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” The Beautiful Lady highlights the importance and the benefit of conversion. 

And the third is: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” In encouraging us to pray, Mary teaches us to adopt Jesus’ attitude of absolute trust. 

None of these similarities should surprise us, coming from her who stood at the foot of the cross and wept over us at La Salette.

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