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.

Mind your Step

(5th Sunday of Easter: Acts 6:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12) 

St. Peter, in today’s second reading, combines three distinct Old Testament texts: Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14.

The first two are used to give force to his exhortation: “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”

The third, however, refers to “a stone that will make people stumble,” and he adds, “They stumble by disobeying the word.” 

This is an apt image for the people whom Mary complained about at La Salette. They were stumbling in many ways. Blighted wheat and potatoes, rotten grapes and worm-eaten walnuts, the prospect of famine—it is no wonder that they were anxious and demoralized.

Mary saw all this, but she also saw their blighted inner harvest—their indifference to and mockery of religion, their blasphemous disrespect for her Son’s name. These had brought them very low indeed.

Not all spiritual stumbling is sin. In our first reading, for example, we learn that dissension over the distribution of food was threatening the harmony of the early Christian community in Jerusalem. A solution was found before permanent harm could be done.

The same is true of our doubts and questioning. These are most often honest expressions of our inability to understand the ways of God. When we are tempted to go so far as to blame God for our troubles, we do well to remember St. Peter’s quotation of Isaiah 28:16, “Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion, a cornerstone, chosen and precious, and whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame.”

We must believe in the cornerstone and build a structure of hope upon it. It is one thing to stumble. It is quite another thing not to get up. 

Let us not forget the Gospel, in which Jesus says, “You have faith in God; have faith also in me,” and “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Along this Way no stumbling is fatal, before this Truth no doubt is permanent, and in this Life, death shall not have dominion.

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

Shepherd, Gate, Life

(4th Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:36-41; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10) 

“Faith is not a noun but a verb.” Grammatically this assertion is patently false, and yet its meaning is obvious.

Continuing last week’s theme of the path, we can say that faith is taking the first step. Here I mean the precise moment when our faith becomes a genuinely personal encounter, when we discover that our relationship with the Lord is essential to our existence.

In the first reading, Peter concludes his Pentecost speech: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” The Apostle is making the message known to all his people.

In his letter, Peter gives words of encouragement in a time of suffering: “Christ bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” The Beautiful Lady shows the image of her crucified Son even as she speaks of sin and conversion.

She is addressing those who, in the first reading, are called “this corrupt generation.” We need to separate ourselves from everything, within and without, that debases us in any way.

Her call to conversion expresses a hope that Peter states as fact: “You had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” Which leads us to our Gospel, where it seems John could have used a good editor. Distinct images are jumbled together.

First, Jesus is not a thief or a robber, but the shepherd who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out;” then he is “the gate,” then “All who came before me are thieves and robbers,” then he is the gate again, then once more not a thief, and finally he declares: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

This last sentence is what holds the rest together. Whichever image we prefer, abundance of life is what it is meant to convey. Mary’s discourse at La Salette lacks a certain logic in parts, but the message is clear: when we return to the Shepherd, we find life.

And he will lead us to that place which the Psalmist this week tells of.

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

La Salette Path

(3rd Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:14,22-33; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35) 

The notion of a path appears throughout today’s readings. The reading from Acts paraphrases today’s Psalm, including the words “You will show me the path to life.” The Gospel shows Jesus and two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

At this point I need to acknowledge Mr. Wayne Vanasse, a La Salette Associate, who has become a precious collaborator in these reflections. We study the readings independently, and then compare notes on what we perceive as “La Salette links.” On this occasion we were both struck by the image of the path of life.

There is no doubt that the Beautiful Lady came to show her people that path once again. Part of her message is, if you will, an echo of Peter’s words in the second reading: “Conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning,” that is, while staying in one place temporarily, on our way to another destination.

One of the distinctive features of La Salette is that Mary moved. She was seated when she first appeared, then she rose and took a few steps to the spot where the children joined her, and finally she stepped between them, crossed a little stream and climbed in the typical mountain zig-zag pattern to a level spot, where she disappeared.

Like Jesus for the disciples on the road, so for Mélanie and Maximin she took the initiative, she “drew near and walked with them.” Not only did they follow her movements, but she invited them to make her message known “to all my people.” This opened up a unique path for each of them.

In the path of our life, it happens all too easily that our eyes are prevented from recognizing Jesus as our companion along the way. It was in a Eucharistic moment shared by Jesus with the two disciples that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”

He had prepared them, however, by interpreting the Scriptures for them, setting their hearts to burning within them.

As we travel our path of life, what makes our hearts burn within us? How can we spread that fire?

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

Once upon a Time, Again

(2nd Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31) 

The life of the first believers, as described in Acts, seems almost too good to be true. Their enthusiasm for the teaching of the apostles, for common prayer, fellowship and the sharing of goods—it is no wonder that “Awe came upon everyone.”

In the Psalm we read: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes.” But in 1846 Mary wept because the Cornerstone was, tragically, being rejected again. And today?

St. Peter, in our second reading, lists the benefits of God’s “great mercy.” Our Lady of La Salette is our “Merciful Mother.” Let us consider the parallels.

First, God “gave us a new birth to a living hope.” At La Salette, this hope lies not only in future prosperity but, before that, in conversion to the things of God.

Next is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,” beyond our current needs and concerns. Peter says this is kept in heaven for us, but that does not mean we cannot draw on it even now. Prayer and especially the Eucharist give us access to it. These are essential to the message of La Salette.

Thirdly, salvation. This, above all, explains the enthusiasm of the earliest Christians, and the attractiveness of that community. “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” La Salette does not offer salvation independently, of course, but leads us to the Savior himself.

Then Peter writes, “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials.” Anyone who has truly experienced God’s mercy—as have many through La Salette—knows exactly what he means. Troubles will come and go, the joy remains.

The Apostle Thomas went through a time of darkness, and then experienced the Lord’s mercy. His first response was to acknowledge Jesus’ divinity: “My Lord and my God!”

Earlier, fear had confined the Apostles behind locked doors. Divine mercy changed all that. What it did for them, it can do for us and, through us, devoted to our Merciful Mother, for others.

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

The Greatest Promise

(Easter: Readings from the Easter Vigil and the Sunday are too many to list)

In the fourth reading of the Easter Vigil, God says through Isaiah: “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; but with enduring love I take pity on you.”

Here is contained all the message of La Salette. Is any further commentary needed?

The phrase “outburst of wrath” may make us think of Mary’s words about “the arm of my Son.” But this reading also helps us to remember that in many other places in Scripture, God’s hand or arm is, in fact, extended in order to save.

After the reading about the crossing of the Red Sea, for example, we recite, in the song of Moses: “Your right hand, O Lord, magnificent in power, your right hand, O Lord, has shattered the enemy.”

And, at both the Vigil and the Sunday Mass, we pray the words of Psalm 118: “The right hand of the Lord has struck with power; the right hand of the Lord is exalted. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”

While God’s hand and arm demonstrate his power to save, his great tenderness and enduring love express his Will to do so. Even when God uses his power to punish his people, his love always prevails.

In the Gospels the question is raised, “Which Commandment is the greatest?” Today I would like to suggest, from a La Salette perspective, a different question.

First, let me give the answer: “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you.” This quote from Isaiah is from the reading referenced at the beginning of this reflection.

Now, the question: Which Promise is the greatest?

Think about it. Is there any promise you would rather hear from God than this one? Is there anything about the Beautiful Lady and her message that is not founded on that promise? 

And what greater proof is there of God’s fidelity to his promise than the resurrection of Jesus? On this day that the Lord has made, may you rejoice and be glad! 

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

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