Sacrifice

(32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 1 Kings 17:10-16; Heb. 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44)

The life of a widow was hard. 1 Timothy 5 offers a series of precepts for the care of widows; Exodus 22:21 reads, “You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.”

The poor widow of today’s Gospel, like many people of her day, was probably paid daily for whatever work she could find. But, instead of putting aside what little she could, she chose on this occasion to put all she had, a pittance compared to what others gave, into the temple treasury.

If she had not done so, her contribution would never have been missed. And yet it is famous, because it was noticed, praised by Jesus himself. He did not draw a moral, and so we are free to draw our own. At the very least it means that whatever we do out of a generous faith has meaning for God.

In our second reading we read that Jesus, by his sacrifice, took away the sins of many. Had it not been for the resurrection, his sacrifice on the cross might have gone unnoticed by history. Unfortunately, over time, in many parts of the Christian world, its importance came to be taken for granted, if not forgotten.

In 1846, she who had stood at the foot of the cross came to a mountain in France. Two innocent children were given a message to remind their people—her people—how far they had strayed, how little they understood the worth of what was accomplished for them by her Son, who was “offered once to take away the sins of many, [and] will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”

Recently I read one of the great Christian classics, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. A pilgrim named Christiana, on learning of Jesus’ sacrifice and the forgiveness it brings, exclaims: “Methinks it makes my heart bleed to think that he should bleed for me. O thou loving One! O thou blessed One! Thou deservest to have me; Thou hast bought me. Thou deservest to have me all; Thou hast paid for me ten thousand times more than I am worth.”

Indeed, we can never truly repay the price paid for us. Our first response may be regret, but then comes gratitude, and then the desire to give what we can in return, no matter how great, no matter how small. 

The Lord our God

(31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Deut. 6:2-6; Heb. 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34)

The Israelites, in Egypt and in Canaan, were surrounded by peoples that worshiped many gods. Moses and the prophets often had to remind them that they had one God only, the Lord.

In Christianity, there is one Savior, Jesus, in whom “all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20). So, why do we call Our Lady of La Salette Reconciler of Sinners?

She did not take this title to herself. It was given to her by the faithful. They were not theologians, nor were they heretics. They understood, as we do, that Mary is a reconciler by association with the One Reconciler. On the one hand she pleads with him constantly on our behalf; on the other she comes to draw us to him, bearing the supreme symbol of reconciliation on her breast, her crucified Son who, as the Letter to the Hebrews declares, “is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”

The Beautiful Lady ultimately invites us to make our own the words of the Psalmist: “I love you, O Lord, my strength, O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my God, my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!”

Notice in particular the use of the word ‘rock.’ It is often used as a metaphor for God as the firm foundation of our faith. Jesus used it at the end of the Sermon on the Mount to describe his teaching (Mt 7:24).

Notice also the insistence on the pronoun ‘my.’ God is not just strength, rock, fortress, etc., in some abstract way, but he is claimed in a personal way. In a similar manner, we call God ‘our’ Father, and Jesus ‘our’ Lord and, yes, the Blessed Virgin ‘our’ Lady.

The same insistence is seen in the ‘first of all the Commandments,’ cited in the Gospel and in Deuteronomy. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Faith is not pure theology, or academic knowledge of Scripture. Unless thefaith becomes our faith, myfaith, yours too, the most important element is missing.

I will Bring them Back

(30th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Heb. 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52)

We have no trouble connecting La Salette with images used in today’s responsorial Psalm: “Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves”—tears (Mary’s and her people’s) over blighted crops, followed by a promise of abundant harvests.

The context of the Psalm, as also of the first reading, is a vision of God’s people returning from exile. This is God’s doing. No one is excluded.

The context of La Salette is similar. Christians were living in exile from their own faith. In hard times they had only themselves to count on, and they had proven inadequate to the task. Through the Beautiful Lady, God was offering to bring them back.

The people of Israel were in exile some seventy years. They had ample time to reflect seriously on their apostasy and that of their ancestors. When they were finally allowed to return to their homeland, they were resolved to be faithful to God and worship him alone. They were ready to submit.

At La Salette, Mary says, “I warned you last year with the potatoes. You paid no heed.” Like Israel of old, her people failed to understand what was coming. They, too, were in danger of being abandoned. Jesus had been, in the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, “able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring,” but now the time had come when his Mother was “obliged to plead with him constantly.”

She spoke of submission, not of a slavish sort, but born of trust. Take the Blind Bartimaeus, for example. He knows he has no special claim on Jesus’ attention; he says nothing to those who try to silence him, but continues to cry, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Standing before Jesus, he calls him Master.

All of this bespeaks a rightly submissive spirit. He is powerless to change his situation, but believes that Jesus can lead him out of darkness into light. 

Our Lady reminds us that we can be brought back from whatever darkness or slavery or exile we may be experiencing. What is required on our part is to recognize our need, and to turn to the Lord with unwavering hope. Then our tongue will be filled with rejoicing.

Christian Ambition

(29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 53:10-11; Heb. 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45)

Imagine the disappointment of James and John! After they declared their readiness to drink from the same cup and share the same baptism as Jesus, and were assured by Jesus that they would indeed do so, their ambitious request was then denied.

Ambition is not evil in itself, but it lends itself to selfishness. That is why St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians, when he urges the Christians to strive for the greater gifts, immediately goes on to tell them, with many examples, that the greatest of all the gifts is love.

Maybe this is why Our Lady of La Salette chooses as witnesses simple children who would be less likely to understand the nature of the gift they have received and so less inclined to indulge in vainglory.

Our ambition should be to do our very best in God’s service and leave the judgment of our efforts up to him. Mary’s visit to La Salette was a sort of “evaluation” of her people. They had come up short. They were far from ambitious for the things of God, and she wanted them to understand the danger they were putting themselves in.

At the same time, she did not wish to discourage them. Her message bids us, in the words of our reading from Hebrews, to “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”

Jesus teaches his apostles that they must not claim any personal merit in their call. Yes, they have received authority from him, but it is to be exercised in service. Any good they are able to accomplish is no achievement of their own but is God’s work.

Whatever hardships we endure are in imitation of our Lord, who came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many,” who, as God’s servant, “was tested in every way, yet without sin,” and “through his suffering shall justify many.”

Psalm 116 contains the lovely verse, “How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me?” The next time you stand before a crucifix, remember what the Lord Jesus has done for you. Compare that to what you have done for him. Then answer the Psalmist’s question. Be ambitious!

Accounting

(28th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wisdom 7:7-11; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30)

The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us: “Everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.” Yes, we know there will be a time of judgment, just as we know we will die some day, but we prefer not to dwell on these things.

In finance, accounting includes a report on income and expenses. But how is that report to be evaluated? By comparing it to the budget. That is the criterion for determining fiscal health.

Our brief text from Hebrews sums up the “budget” with the expression, “the word of God.” We will be judged by our lived response to God’s word.

Our Lady of La Salette points to the “budget” by her allusions to the commandments, which most Christians think of as the first criteria for the account we must render to God. Most of us memorized them as children; I still remember a sung version I learned in elementary school in the 1950’s!

But the word of God is much more than the Ten Commandments. Wisdom is preached as the ultimate goal in much of the Old Testament, the highest expression of God’s word, the best teacher in God’s ways. Her praises are sung in our first reading.

In the New Testament, the criteria for our account are too numerous to count. The sermon on the Mount comes immediately to mind, especially the beatitudes. Today’s Gospel teaches about the danger of being overly attached to material wealth.

Solomon states: “I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” In 1 Kings 3: 11-12, God congratulates him for not asking for long life, riches, etc., but for discernment to know what is right. So God gives him what he asked for.

Underlying all these texts is a desire to know God’s will so as to carry it out. It was the lack of this desire that our Mother Mary observed among her people, and she came to La Salette in the hope of opening their ears to God’s word, their eyes to God’s work, and their hearts to God’s will.

Only in this way can we commit ourselves to living a Christian life and be ready to plan our “budget” in view of the final accounting.

A Collaborative Effort

(26th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Num. 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-48)

Jealousy has two forms. Either we resent not having what someone else has, or we are overly protective of what we do have. The latter case appears in both the first reading and the Gospel

Joshua, jealous for Moses’ sake, wanted to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying. John wanted to reserve to a select group, of which he was a member, the power to cast out demons. Neither Moses nor Jesus takes that restrictive approach. The one says, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!” The other says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

It is hard to imagine two New Testament writers more different than Paul and James. As forceful as Paul can sometimes be in chastising errant Christians, you will find in his letters nothing quite as ferocious as today’s text from James.

Is one more “for Christ,” or more inspired, than the other? By no means. God is not held to account for the choices he makes in the distribution of his gifts.

We see the same thing at La Salette. Mary chose Mélanie and Maximin. We don’t know why. She chose a place that was, and still is, not easily accessible. She said things that no one would have expected from the Mother of God. The choices were hers to make.

But it doesn’t stop there. The Missionaries who were founded to spread her message and serve her pilgrims struggled to find their way and their place in the Church. They were not, and still are not, chosen for their perfections. The same may be safely said of La Salette Sisters, and La Salette Laity. 

The preaching of the Gospel is a collaborative effort. In 1 Corinthians, Paul uses the analogy of the body for the Church, where each member needs all the others.

There is a Polish hymn for children with the words: “Tall ones, short ones, fat ones, thin ones—they can all be saints—just like me and just like you.” We can expand the list to include every personality type, culture, level of education, and so on. Together we make up the whole Church, and it as Church that we are able, through the variety of our members, to be, in Christ, with no jealousy, all things to all people.

Wisdom from Above

(25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Wisdom 2:12-20; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37)

St. James writes: “The wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.” How aptly this description applies to the message of Our Lady of La Salette.

It is pure, coming from a heart full of unalloyed love and at the same time speaking the truth “without inconstancy or insincerity.”

It is peaceable and gentle: “Come closer, my children, don’t be afraid”—and compliant: “Don't you understand, my children? Let me find another way to say it.”

It is full of mercy, not only in the words spoken and the tenderness shown to the children, but in the very fact of Mary’s coming to us. When in 1851 the Bishop of Grenoble decided to erect a Shrine at La Salette and to found the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, he intended that both would be “a perpetual remembrance, of Mary's merciful apparition."

And history has shown that it is full of good fruits, sometimes in the spectacular form of miraculous healings, more often in the privacy of the confessional. The shrine attracts pilgrims and volunteers from around the world. The La Salette Laity movement has seen ample growth in recent decades.

Note also the wisdom saying of Jesus to his disciples, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Here we see yet another quality that we can attribute also to the Beautiful Lady. 

The Queen of Heaven came to us in all simplicity, not to impose her authority but to serve her people by drawing them to be their best Christian selves and become once again a people of faith and fidelity.

A few weeks ago we read the words of Moses, encouraging the people to observe the law carefully, “for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’” Mary at La Salette desires that her people be truly wise in the ways of God.

The more time we spend with her, the more we are enabled to absorb and live her wisdom from above. 

Take up your Cross

(24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 50:5-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35)

I have often wondered how the crowd took Jesus’ saying that his disciples must ‘take up their cross.’ After long searches for this expression outside its five occurrences in the Gospels, I must conclude it does not exist elsewhere.

Christians understand those words in the light of the crucifixion of Christ. Suffering is part of every life; that is our share in his cross.

At La Salette Mary says, “How long a time I have suffered for you.” In the context of the Apparition, this means the trouble she has taken to protect us from the consequences of sin. But in the Memorareto Our Lady of La Salette, we look farther back: “Remember the tears you shed for me on Calvary.”

The sufferings of the Blessed Virgin were uniquely hers. We may say the same for all of us. Jesus is specific. Each disciple must take up his or her own cross.

Looking at the lives of saints, we find many examples. A few have literally shared the sufferings of the crucified Christ, through physical wounds in the hands and feet, or around their head. Besides the pain, they endured sometimes humiliation from those who considered them imposters.

Some were ridiculed or persecuted or killed for their faith. Others experienced periods of excruciating spiritual dryness. Or they deprived themselves of even the simplest pleasures in order to have some share in the Cross of Christ.

Still others, like Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus to carry his cross, gave themselves completely to the service of the sick, the homeless, the “brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,” as we read in the Letter of James. 

Sometimes another person can be a cross. I am reminded of what Dorothy Day wrote about a troublesome resident at a Catholic Worker house: “He is our cross, specially sent by God, and so we cherish him.”

The saying of Jesus about taking up our cross is so familiar that we may forget that is really is a hard saying. The Beautiful Lady, bearing the crucifix on her breast—on her heart—invites us to accept lovingly whatever uniquely personal cross we are called to take up as disciples of her Son.

Saved

(23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 35:4-7; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37)

If you are familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous, you know that the second step reads: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. This comes close to what we read in Isaiah: “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.”

When we talk of salvation, often we mean getting to heaven. That is the ultimate goal, of course, but between now and then, can we not be saved? The answer is obvious: yes, we can.

Isaiah gives concrete illustrations of God’s saving power: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” The responsorial Psalm evokes the same theme. And the friends of the deaf man were inspired by that same tradition of seeing salvation in healing.

The Greek word for save, can be translated as heal, or make whole. It implies preservation (in advance) or deliverance (after the fact) from evil in any form. Thus, St. James’s insistence on not showing partiality within the Christian community is well within the prophetic proclamation of freedom from oppression.

The Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette stands squarely within this tradition. We need to be saved not only from external evils, but from our own sinfulness. We cannot do this alone, but Mary reminds us of the great news that salvation is ours for the asking.

Evangelical Christians speak of accepting the Lord Jesus as our personal savior. The Beautiful Lady uses different language but calls us to that same reality. The purpose of her visitation is that we might (again in the words of AA) make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.

Miraculous cures, in the Gospels especially, are a sign of the salvation Jesus offers. More wondrous, however, is the conversion of heart, such as has been experienced since 1846 by countless pilgrims to the Holy Mountain of La Salette.

Sin makes our lives unmanageable. The saving grace of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ is our best hope, our only hope.

Walking Blamelessly

(22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Deuteronomy 4:1-8; James 1:17-21; Mark 7:1-23)

After their return from exile around 539 BC, the Jewish people adopted an attitude of strict observance of the Law of Moses. They had learned their lesson. They began, we might say, to protect the Law by surrounding it with practices making it less likely one would break the law.

For example, if you do not want to take the name of the Lord in vain, you never pronounce his name at all. Problem solved. Our responsorial psalm takes largely a similar approach, focusing on what not to do in order to be blameless.

The discussion in today’s Gospel revolves around a practice that we could summarize as “cleanliness is next to godliness.” The commandments about “clean and unclean” were reinforced by the traditional ritual washings we see described. Jesus opposes giving traditions the same weight as the Law. He condemns not ritual but ritualism.

In her message at La Salette Our Lady focuses on commandments, not traditions: honoring the Lord’s Name and observing the Sabbath rest are in the Ten Commandments; Lent and Sunday Mass are among the Commandments of the Church, based on very ancient Christian practice. This is not ritualism.

St. James writes, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” He adopts both a positive and a negative approach.

Blamelessness doesn’t lie merely in “getting it right.” It is a far cry from obsessive perfectionism.

The Eucharist, for example, is a celebration composed of many prescribed elements. It is a ritual. But if our participation is purely ritualistic, i.e., not accompanied by our mind and heart, its capacity to nourish our faith is seriously undermined.

Psalm 119, 9 asks, “How can the young keep his way without fault?” and answers, “Only by observing your words.” In verse 16 the psalmist exclaims, “In your statutes I take delight; I will never forget your word.”

Mary, who is utterly blameless, wept at La Salette, but one way we can dry her tears is to carry out God’s commands in joy.

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