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.