Wakeful and Faithful
(First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 63:16-64:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37)
Every year on the First Sunday of Advent, the Gospel (whether Mark’s, Matthew’s or Luke’s) tells us to “watch,” “be vigilant,” “stay awake” for the Master’s return.
The Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette, like most apparitions, serves a similar purpose. It is as though the Blessed Virgin is saying to us, “Open your eyes! Look at what you are doing! Why do you pay no heed? Wake up!”
Just as the Master’s return cannot be predicted, no one could have anticipated such an event as an apparition in such a remote place. No one could have expected either Mélanie Calvat or Maximin Giraud, of all people, to have such an encounter and bring back such a surprising message.
Yet, when Mary says, “If the harvest is ruined, it is only on account of yourselves,” does not her voice resonate with the words of Isaiah: “You have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt”? What a dreadful prospect!
In both instances, God’s people were taking him for granted. They never expected that God would really abandon them. They were, after all, his people. He had a responsibility to them.
What they forgot, precisely, is that they were his people, that they had a responsibility also to him. Here again we see the prophetic character of La Salette, as the Beautiful Lady speaks of warnings given in the past, of the lack of fidelity in her people’s lives, of the need for submission.
The image of servants is one of submission. Their one responsibility is to carry out their master’s will faithfully, ideally out of love for the master, like the Christians of Corinth, to whom St. Paul writes: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Later in the same letter, he emphasizes that the gifts are meant to be put to use for the good of the community.
Let us be faithful, wakeful servants, lovingly submissive, waiting not in fear but in joyful anticipation and expectation that the Lord will indeed reveal himself to us in new ways in this new liturgical year.
Like King, Like Queen
(Solemnity of Christ the King: Ezekiel 34:11-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46)
Hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, sick, in prison. That’s the checklist Jesus uses in the famous judgment scene in Matthew’s gospel. There is another list, in today’s reading from Ezekiel, where the Lord catalogues all the things he will do for his sheep which, as we find in the preceding verses (not included), the official shepherds have failed to do.
But, as with other lists in the Scriptures, these are not exhaustive. They point us in a certain direction and allow us to see beyond the list, to draw up “new, improved” lists according to the world we live in. This is exactly how many Religious Orders came into existence. Some literally feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Some meet other, equally urgent, needs.
Interestingly, though hunger and sickness are specifically mentioned in the message of La Salette, the perspective is quite different. There they are seen as the consequence of sin.
When people bring misfortune on themselves, we can be “judgmental,” content to blame them. But we are not dispensed from reaching out to them in their need. Jesus identifies himself with “the least,” the lowest of the low, whom we might think of as “those people.” What we do or fail to do—even for them—we do or fail to do for him. Jesus says that none of us has the right to look the other way when confronted by the essential needs of others.
Our Lady, whom we also call the “Queen of La Salette,” not content to blame her people, saw beyond their sufferings. She came to “seek out the lost and bring back the strayed,” (cf. Ezekiel) promising abundance “if they are converted.”
She spoke of Lent. How can we adopt Lenten practices, and not be aware of the death of children and the famines that continue to occur in our world? If we are converted, we will not turn a blind eye.
In the Gospel, it is clear that the failure to respond to the needs of others reflects a failure to grasp the full implications of discipleship.
Once again, the message of Our Lady of La Salette is remarkably close to the message of Christ. King and Queen are in perfect accord.
Seat of Wisdom
(Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wisdom 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13)
Confucius says: By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
The foolish virgins of the parable suffered the bitter consequences of experience. Parents and teachers try to help children avoid just such situations. Ideally, youth will learn to reflect before they act. That is the goal of Wisdom, personified in the first reading.
Wisdom is described as resplendent; and “she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them.” How can I read these words without thinking of the Beautiful Lady?
One of the titles in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin is: Seat of Wisdom. Explanations differ, as does the iconography. Essentially, however, we are to understand that Jesus in his humanity learned some of his wisdom from his mother, who in turn acquired hers as she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
The refrain of the Responsorial Psalm, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God,” is similar to a wise concept that is popular today, namely that there is in each of us a God-shaped hole that only God can fill. As long as it remains empty, we thirst.
St. Paul addresses the question of death so that the Thessalonians will not be unaware of the hope that is theirs. If we see that in the light of Jesus’ words, “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour,” we encounter the deeper wisdom of the parable.
At La Salette, Mary comes not to impart knowledge, but wisdom, which is deeper, richer, more meaningful. She wants her people to learn from painful experience. She shows them what is happening (“I warned you last year with the potatoes. You paid no heed.”)
She also shows what might be (“If they are converted…”), and hints at the wisdom contained in the Church’s rhythm of prayer: daily (evening and morning), weekly (Mass), annually (Lent).
She wants us to “pay heed,” to imitate her, reflecting on all these things in our heart.