(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.