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.
(27th Ordinary Sunday: Habakkuk 1:2-3 & 2:2-4; 2 Tim. 1:6-14; Luke 17:5-10)
The book of Habakkuk has only three chapters. The first begins with a complaint: “How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen!” The last ends with an expression of unshakable faith. In the face of every conceivable disaster the prophet exclaims, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, and exult in my saving God. God, my Lord, is my strength.”
When the Apostles said to Jesus, “Increase our faith,” he assured them that faith the size of a mustard seed could work wonders. But the faith of the Christians Mary was addressing at La Salette was not only small; it lacked viability as well. It was unable to germinate, incapable of producing fruit.
St. Paul uses a different symbol in his letter to Timothy. “Stir into flame the gift of God.” In other words, don’t let it die out. He goes on: “Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.”
Faith is indeed a rich trust, a great gift, but it needs to be nourished and renewed regularly, through prayer and the sacraments. First, however, it must be accepted.
There is a saying, “Reject the gift, reject the giver.” The message of La Salette makes the same point. Abuse of the Lord’s name, making a mockery of religion, etc.—these are a form of rejection.
The second part of today’s Gospel seems to have no connection with the conversation about faith. There is, however, a certain logic. Simply put, if faith is a gift, we cannot take credit for it.
It is only by God’s grace at work in our lives that, as believers, we can do good or endure evil. Never can we stand before God and say, “Look what I did for you!” In that sense we are unprofitable servants, even despite our best efforts. Many saints have considered themselves among the worst of sinners, and marveled at the mercy God showed them, often including the gift of tears.
We have received the gift of another’s tears, those of our Mother, moistening the seed of her people’s faith, that it may be increased.
Get out of your Comfort Zone
(26th Ordinary Sunday: Amos 6:1-7; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16, 19-31)
The expression “comfort zone” has been in common use for many years. We settle into a set of ideas or a way of life that is taken for granted, and we are not happy when they are challenged.
The rich man of today’s parable, and the rich persons described in the reading from Amos are so comfortable in their wealth and luxury that they care nothing about the misery outside their doors, assuming they are even aware of it. They are secure, complacent.
But it is by no means only the rich who can become complacent. Anyone can become smug about some aspect of life, ready to ignore the rest of the world.
St. Paul tells Timothy to “compete” for the faith and to “keep the commandment without stain or reproach.”
Amos and Jesus both use images intended to shake their listeners out of their complacency.
Mary at La Salette is within that same tradition. Her people had settled into a comfort zone where their more or less generic faith did not challenge them, a rationalism which took for granted that religion was for the unenlightened.
This attitude is reflected in the first reaction of the secular press to news of the Apparition, published in Lyons on November 26, 1846, not ten weeks after the event: “Well, here we go again! More stories of apparitions and prophecies!” The article goes on to present a completely trivialized account of the Apparition and the Message.
Even believers can become complacent, faithfully observing the same religious practices that the Beautiful Lady specifically mentioned, but not grasping that these are intended to lead us to a deeper awareness, to see the world around us as she sees it and respond to it as she does.
Our Lady of La Salette speaks of the minimum daily, weekly and annual requirements of Catholic life, without which our faith cannot grow: prayer, Eucharist, Lent.
She does not even remotely suggest, however, that we complacently settle for the minimum!
(25thOrdinary Sunday: Amos 8:4-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13)
The dishonest steward of today’s parable was a clever man. Faced with an audit, and in danger of losing everything, he compounded his crimes and acted boldly to ensure his future. Even the master whom he was cheating had to give him credit for his foresightedness.
The steward embezzled his employer’s property to save himself. Jesus applies this in a curious way to his disciples: “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
While the first reading and the Gospel focus on money, St. Paul writes: “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all.” Here all the readings converge.
A ransom is the price paid to secure the release of captives. In our case, however, no money exchanged hands. In 1 Peter 1:18-19, we read: “You were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.”
Twice in the Gospel text, money is described as dishonest, and Jesus states emphatically that we cannot serve it and God at the same time.
At La Salette, Mary did not mention money, but she spoke a lot about the local economy, which was, quite naturally, an ongoing concern of the people of the area; in 1846, it was rapidly becoming an obsession. If the crops continued to fail, disaster was inevitable.
The Beautiful Lady acknowledged that reality. Referring to the potatoes, she said, “By Christmas this year, there will be none left.”
Besides sympathizing with her people’s plight, however, she had something to teach them. Not being able to serve two masters, they had made the wrong choice. Their devotion to the hope of prosperity for its own sake had left them, literally, unsatisfied. Mary speaks clearly: abundance is possible, “if they are converted.”
In other words, we need to recognize that we have been ransomed, and at what a price! This shows us just how precious we are in God’s sight.
Lost. Found. Joyful.
(24thOrdinary Sunday: Exodus 32:7-14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32)
Today the Church offers us the entire fifteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel. It contains three parables about recovering what was lost, all in response to the single criticism of the Pharisees and scribes: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The theme in each case is: There is “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.”
Sin is evident in the other readings as well. God’s wrath flared up when he saw his people worshiping the molten calf. Moses reminded him of his oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and “the Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.”
Psalm 106:23 summarizes this episode as follows: “[The Lord] would have decreed their destruction, had not Moses, his chosen one, withstood him in the breach to turn back his destroying anger.” This is how the words of Mary at La Salette, about the arm of her Son, have been understood from the beginning, although today various more nuanced explanations have also been proposed.
St. Paul is deeply conscious of his sinful past as a persecutor, and of the mercy that God has shown him. The transformation has been remarkable, and Paul is eager to spread the word that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This means that those who acknowledge their sinfulness may be confident of a merciful hearing. The Beautiful Lady reminds her people of their sins, precisely in view of offering hope of forgiveness.
In the first two parables, the concept of sin cannot be directly applied to a sheep or a coin; but Jesus equates being a sinner with being lost.
The third, on the other hand, perhaps the most beloved of all the parables, describes the sin of the younger son in detail, and the depths of despair into which he falls. Another important difference is that the father does not search for the son, but in his mercy watches and waits.
The Blessed Virgin of La Salette could wait no longer. The urgency of her message is clear. Her people were lost. She came to find them, so that they could in turn find her Son and be welcomed back by him in joy.
(23rd Ordinary Sunday: Wisdom 9:13-18; Philemon 9-17; Luke 14:25-33)
Usually the first reading is selected because it has some connection with the Gospel of the day. But it is hard today to see what that might be.
When Jesus tells us to hate our parents, siblings and ourselves, we quite naturally think that he can’t mean literally what he is saying. Isn’t it Jesus who preached love of enemies? Surely this must be just one of his enigmatic sayings.
That may be, but it is not quite so strange as it appears. The two short parables about building a tower and preparing for battle make the same point. It would not make sense to start building without being sure of the means to complete the work. It would be foolish to call up the militia if there is little hope of victory. It’s a question of elementary human wisdom.
Herein lies the connection with the reading from Wisdom, which is part of a very long prayer attributed to Solomon. “The deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans,” he says. Without God’s gift of wisdom, Solomon could not hope to govern well; but he trusted that the Lord would guide him.
All the great cultures have had teachers of wisdom. Some philosophers have had a profound influence on their societies; many of the ancient thinkers are still studied and analyzed in our own time, while new philosophies strive to find their place in the history of thought.
Jesus was also a wise teacher, but he was more. He insisted that his followers must rely on him alone; they must be ready to give him their all, even if that means carrying a cross. This is not abstract philosophy, but wisdom of a very practical kind.
We see this also in the discourse of Our Lady of La Salette. She uses concrete examples—her people’s violation of the commandments, the consequences of disobedience, the hope of abundance, God’s constant caring presence in our lives—to teach the lessons of true discipleship.
In today’s psalm we pray: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” In taking us to task, the Beautiful Lady did not intend to frighten us but rather to help us envision a careful plan to live out our Christian commitment.
(22ndOrdinary Sunday: Sirach 3: 17-29; Hebrews 12:18-24; Luke 14:7-14)
Appearing in the French Alps, Mary abided by the injunction of the first reading: “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are.” She did not choose the “lowest place,” geographically speaking. She did, however, associate herself with lowly people—not just two ignorant children, but generally speaking with the people of the locality.
Life in the mountains has never been easy. That year, 1846, had been harder than usual. With both the wheat and potato harvests blighted, the locals were rightly alarmed. Meanwhile, farmers in other areas with good crops began to hoard them, raising the prices beyond the means of the poor. Even Mr. Giraud, Maximin’s father, who was slightly better off than some of his neighbors, was worried.
Our standard of living is important to us. As much as we admire St. Francis of Assisi or other saints for deliberately embracing poverty as a way of life, few of us are drawn to imitate them.
We might, under certain circumstances, be willing to accept a certain decline in our fortunes. But we would not spontaneously “take the lowest place.” Even people who decide to live more simply are usually in a position to guarantee that their desires and needs will be met.
Mélanie came from a desperately poor family. Her parents really had no choice when they sent her out. from the age of eight, to work on the farms in the region of Corps, making for one less mouth to feed, at least in the summer. Their house was at the far end of the poorest street in town, the lowest place. In a bigger city, it would have been a slum.
By choosing her, the Blessed Virgin in a sense lifted her out of that world, bestowed a dignity upon her that should could never have achieved otherwise. Who could have expected that her name would be remembered over 100 years after her death?
Mélanie did not become rich. She relied on the kindness of others throughout her life. She could apply to herself the words of the Magnificat: ”He has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” Had she not been so lowly, she might never have been chosen.
(21st Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-13; Luke 13:22-30)
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews displays common sense when he writes, “All discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain.” Who among us has not had this experience? Parents, teachers, bosses, and others have the responsibility to point out our mistakes and faults, and to do what it takes to correct them.
The Blessed Virgin found herself in that position. Her people were in need of correction on many counts. The specific sins that she enumerated, far from being a complete list, were a list of symptoms, pointing to an underlying spiritual illness.
Her purpose was to present a diagnosis and a cure. The disease was severe, so the treatment had to be aggressive, beginning with a bitter pill: submission.
In the time of the prophets, this had taken the form of exile. Isaiah, however, saw the silver lining in that cloud. “I will set a sign among them; from them I will send fugitives to the nations that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.” As a result, people of many nations would turn to the Lord.
In the time of exile, then, God’s people had returned to their faith. Unfortunately, as we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus foresaw a time when peoples from all parts of the earth would enter the kingdom of God, while his own people would be cast out; they would not be recognized when they sought admission.
The Beautiful Lady tells us that a better outcome is possible for those who take her message to heart. The discipline she proposes, like that mentioned in Hebrews, brings “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”
Isaiah prophesied the return of the exiles to God’s Holy Mountain. The phrase “Holy Mountain” occurs some twenty times in the Old Testament. For La Salette Missionaries, Sisters and Laity, the “Holy Mountain” invariable refers to the place in the French Alps where Mary appeared.
On her Holy Mountain she invites a different sort of exiles to return, not to any particular place but to the Lord himself, who makes holy any place of his choosing, where they may find peaceful fruit.
(20thOrdinary Sunday: Jeremiah 38:4-10; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53)
There is no such thing as an isaiad, or a hosead, or an ezekielad. A jeremiad, on the other hand, means a keen lament, of the kind typically found in Jeremiah. Not only is the book of Lamentations traditionally attributed to him, but no other prophet was so opposed in his mission or so unhappy in his vocation as he.
Parts of the message of Our Lady of La Salette have the character of a Jeremiad. She complains of the seeming futility of her efforts on her people’s behalf: “As for you, you pay no heed.”
In Jeremiah 14:17 we read: “Let my eyes stream with tears night and day, without rest, over the great destruction which overwhelms the virgin daughter of my people, over her incurable wound.” The Beautiful Lady likewise weeps over her people—but also over her crucified Son, whose image she wears over her heart.
The cross was an instrument not only of torture but of shame, as the letter to the Hebrews acknowledges very clearly: “Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame.”
Crucified with real criminals near an entrance to the city, helpless, mocked, naked to the eyes of every passerby, Jesus suffered humiliations we can scarcely imagine. This was part of the “baptism with which I must be baptized,” of which we read in the gospel.
The image of Jesus crucified is the most powerful symbol of God’s love for us. But Jesus himself recognized that many would reject him, and that faith in him would lead to division. This is no less true today than it was then.
Maybe this is one of the reasons why many Christians wear a cross, “the emblem of suffering and shame,” as the song goes. We know we are not worthy of the great gift Jesus won for us. He endured the cross “for the sake of the joy that lay before him,” a joy that surely includes us. There is no shame in being a disciple of Jesus.
Maximin said his first thought on seeing the Lady was that she had been beaten and fled to the mountain to “weep her eyes out.” Yes, Mary’s eyes streamed with tears at La Salette. Let us so live as to console her afflicted heart.