Humble Prayer

(22nd Ordinary Sunday: Sirach 3:17-29; Hebrews 12:18-24; Luke 14: 1, 7-14)

In today’s first reading we hear, “My child, conduct your affairs with humility.” In the gospel, Jesus says, “The one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

At La Salette, the Beautiful Lady asked, “Do you say your prayers well, my children?”

At first, this connection between La Salette and the readings may come as a surprise. But when you think about it, what is prayer if it does not come from a humble heart? Is there any other way to approach God? We are not the creator but the creation. If we happen to be blessed with talents or enjoy a certain prestige in our community, it is especially important for us to humble ourselves the more, as Sirach says.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor,” Jesus told his fellow guests at the pharisee’s home. This advice applies even more to prayer. When we come into God’s presence, any comparison we might make between ourselves and others is pure vanity. (Remember the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector? More on that in two months.)

When Mary was offered the honor of becoming the mother of the Messiah, she answered, in genuine humility, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” In her prayer of praise, the Magnificat, she acknowledges that God “ has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”

When, at La Salette, Mary speaks of her own prayer, we see that she humbles herself in two different ways. First, she comes before her Son in the attitude of a beggar. Second, she identifies herself with a people of sinners, “my people,” for whom she pleads constantly.

Many of us pray with our heads bowed. Isn’t this an act of humility, submitting ourselves before our Lord and Savior?

We may find joy in our ministry of reconciliation, but there is no place here for arrogance or superiority. Yes, we have a gift to share, but we need to set ourselves aside, so that Our Lady’s message may shine forth. We never take credit for what the Lord may accomplish in answer to our humble prayer.

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

Ingathering

(21st Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-13; Luke 12:22-30)

In recent weeks we have reflected on some challenging readings, and today seems to be no exception. In Hebrews we are told to accept trials as a form of discipline. In the gospel, Jesus tells us to enter by the narrow gate.

Fortunately, this is not the whole picture. Discipline “brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness,” and Jesus concludes, “People will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.”

The first reading reflects this more optimistic view. God declares, “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.”

This reminds us of an American hymn composed 40 years ago. Its title is Here in this Place, but it is also commonly called “Gather us in,” from a recurring phrase in the text. (We apologize for using a source unfamiliar to many. We hope it will remind the readers of our French, Spanish or Polish editions of similar hymns in your own language.)

“Gather us in, the lost and forsaken/Gather us in, the blind and the lame.” We may feel the weight of our sins, like the famous ghost of Marley in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, who dragged behind him a ponderous chain forged by selfish greed.

Still, we hope to be admitted to the grand assembly. The next two lines read: “Call to us now and we shall awaken/We shall arise at the sound of our name.”

The first pilgrim to La Salette was the Blessed Virgin. She called two children to herself. That was the beginning. Since then, many hundreds of thousands have walked the mountain paths or driven the steep and winding roads so as to stand where she stood, and hear her words in the very place where she spoke.

Here the words of the second reading take on a new resonance: “So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”

The first line of the hymn we have quoted is: “Here in this place new light is streaming.” How could we not think of the light emanating from the Beautiful Lady’s crucifix? La Salette Laity, Missionaries, and Sisters in all the world can reflect that light, gathering others in.

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

Radical Faith

(20th Ordinary Sunday: Jeremiah 38:4-10; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53)

Jeremiah, committed to his prophetic ministry, was deeply disliked. His enemies, in the first reading, accused him of demoralizing the people.

The message of La Salette has a strong prophetic character. It is not surprising, then, that La Salette is less well known, less popular than other Apparitions.

Jesus encountered opposition on many sides. One of his Apostles betrayed him. In today’s gospel he tells his disciples to expect the same, even from their own family.

The second reading does not minimize the struggle we face. The last verse even raises the prospect of shedding blood. But it reminds us that Jesus “endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart,” and exhorts us, “Let us persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.”

We cannot be expected to enjoy conflict. In fact, in many social situations it is considered bad form to discuss politics or religion; it is too unpleasant, too divisive; it causes too many arguments, too many hurt feelings.

It pains us, as people dedicated to the cause of reconciliation, to see so much dissension. It can be so overwhelming that we are tempted to look away. But then we would not be true to our vocation.

Every time we hear Jesus’ words, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division,” it comes as a shock. After all, at every Mass we hear his other saying, from John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Can both of these sayings be true? Yes. External conflict need not exclude inner peace.

We need to understand and accept just how radical it is to believe in God and to seek to do his will. Is our faith on fire? Is it blazing with love for God? Do we have that most precious of gifts from the Holy Spirit—a proper fear of the Lord?

We must not be lukewarm in our faith. Nor may we be belligerent. But imitating the Beautiful Lady’s gentle approach, “Come closer, don’t be afraid,” we may, like her, offer Christ’s peace to the world.

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

Ready for the Pilgrimage?

(19th Ordinary Sunday: Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48)

Brothers and sisters, are we ready?

Have you ever planned to leave home at a certain time for a special event, only to have last-minute delays? These can be due to unforeseen causes, or to our own procrastination.

As indicated in today’s first reading, the Hebrews in Egypt knew that their deliverance was at hand as they celebrated the first Passover meal. In Exodus 12, they were told to eat in haste, with staff in hand, sandals on their feet, and dressed for travel. They had to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. They were about to become a pilgrim people. Their hope was in God.

The Beautiful Lady of La Salette came to renew her people’s hope in the midst of a desperate situation. She didn’t just say, “Everything will be all right.” Rather, her message is that of today’s Psalm: “See, the eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for his kindness, to deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine.”

In the Gospel Jesus tells his disciples, “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” This is not about Christ’s second coming, but about our availability to respond when he calls.

This same spirit appears in our second reading. Abraham’s faith is presented as a model. At La Salette, Mary came to revive her people’s faith.

At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples: “Sell your belongings and give alms... For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” He is speaking of charity. This term has two meanings. In ordinary usage, it means kindness, especially to the poor. In theological language, however, it refers to holy love, the greatest of all virtues, poured into our hearts by God. It is our inexhaustible treasure.

Mary did not speak of charity in her Apparition. Rather, she demonstrated holy love in her words, in her tears, her tenderness toward the children.

We can join our efforts to hers. For example, when we recite the rosary, we can offer a portion of it for an increase of faith, hope and charity, in ourselves first, and in all with whom we walk our pilgrim way.

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

What Matters to God

(18th Ordinary Sunday: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21)

Ecclesiastes, from which the first reading is drawn, makes the famous statement, “Vanity of vanities!” In Hebrew this mode of expression is used as a superlative, as in Holy of Holies, and King of Kings.

The text continues, “All things are vanity!” The author insists on this thought. Jesus, In the Gospel, says much the same in his parable, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”

In a limited, more specific way, Mary at La Salette twice notes the futility of human efforts: “You will never be able to recompense the pains I have taken for you,” and “If you have wheat, you must not sow it.”

Paul writes to the Christians of Colossae, who seem to be struggling with their own vanities. “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another.”

He calls them to continued conversion: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” This parallels the conclusion of today’s Gospel, where Jesus warns us not to be like “all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Reflecting on all this, one could get discouraged. Don’t we have the right to work in view of improving our situation? Is everything we do meaningless?

That cannot be. In another letter, in fact, Paul reminded the Thessalonians: “We instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.”

So, we are not insinuating that one must not labor. But we have a responsibility to be prudent stewards, properly directing or redirecting our labors, our lives back to the one who created us and called us to his service.

Here let us remember the Beautiful Lady’s injunction to pray well. In the morning we can offer our day’s work to God, and at night give thanks for what we have been able to accomplish, and, during the day, say a prayer before we begin any work. All things are vanity only if we fail to do them for the glory of God.

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

Powerful Prayer

(17th Ordinary Sunday: Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13)

Today the obvious theme of the first reading and the Gospel is prayer. The Psalm, too, always a prayer in itself, acknowledges, “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.”

When we say God answers prayer, we usually mean that he gives us what we ask, as Jesus promises. But the parable in the Gospel shows that we may need to ask repeatedly. Abraham, in the first reading, understood this. He kept returning to the same subject. At La Salette, Mary said, “If I want my Son not to abandon you, I am obliged to plead with him constantly.”

God tells Abraham of the “outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah.” There is an echo here of Genesis 4:10, where God says to Cain: “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” God cannot ignore the gravity of the sin. The time has come to act.

When the Beautiful Lady speaks of the heavy arm of her Son, she implies a similar outcry. The situation warrants an urgent response.

What is the outcry today? What should be at the heart of our prayer? Where are we called to bring our charism to bear?

Abraham hoped his prayer would be heard because he had a special relationship with God. Even more so, the Blessed Virgin, as the “Queen Mother,” could rely on a favorable hearing from her Son, but she needed a response from her people as well: submission, conversion, trust.

Jesus encourages us to pray with confidence. This does not mean we are entitled to everything we ask the Lord for. God, whom Jesus compares to a caring parent, knows what is best for us.

That said, God takes the initiative, as St. Paul writes: “Even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us.”

In fact, through the trials of life, God may actually be guiding us to prayer, whether we are immediately aware of it or not, so that he may communicate with us and direct us toward his plan for our lives. Let us therefore persist in prayer and in living out our faith.

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

Hospitality

(16th Ordinary Sunday: Genesis 18:1-10; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42)

In the spirit of Mary’s words, “Come closer, children, don’t be afraid,” we welcome you once again to our weekly reflection. Make yourself at home.

Abraham, in the first reading, is a model of hospitality. He ran to meet the Lord and his companions, made them comfortable, and provided a festive meal. In our experience, aren’t food and drink almost always part of special events?

In Matthew 25, Jesus stressed the importance of meeting the needs of others, starting with food for the hungry and drink for the thirsty. And remember that he washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, and gave them precious food and drink which we gratefully continue to receive to this day.

As reconcilers, we are also aware of the spiritual works of mercy, as we strive to help people understand the truth of God’s mercy and love, and his desire to draw us to himself. This requires a welcoming spirit on our part, patiently guiding, instructing, comforting, admonishing, etc. It helps if we can put ourselves in the place of the persons we reach out to.

As St. Paul describes himself in the second reading, we too are ministers, stewards of a grace which we are eager to share. We do so together at times, in a common effort. But as each of us is unique, we need to adapt our service to our own personality and gifts.

Here, Martha and Mary in the gospel are excellent examples. According to the gospel of John, Jesus was a regular guest in their home. We mustn’t think that Martha never listened to Jesus or Mary never helped with the serving. On this occasion, however, they demonstrated equal hospitality in different ways.

Someone had to make sure a meal was prepared. Martha assumed that responsibility.

Someone had to make Jesus feel welcome by being attentive to him in another way. It is unlikely that Mary was the only person sitting there and listening to him speak, but Jesus acknowledged that her presence was the right choice. It mattered to him.

The Beautiful Lady addressed the spiritual and material needs of her beloved people. But first she had to invite the children to come to her. To accomplish our ministry, we need to do the same.

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

The Obvious Answer

(15th Ordinary Sunday: Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37)

In the first reading, Moses states that the Law is not beyond his people’s ability to know it or carry it out. Mary at La Salette touches on some of the simplest and most obvious requirements of Christian and Catholic life. Both seem to be stating the obvious.

In today’s Gospel, a legal scholar is challenged by Jesus to find his own answer to the question about attaining eternal life. He doesn’t hesitate. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Pretty obvious, really.

Moses speaks of “this command that I enjoin on you today.” To enjoin means to prescribe, to encourage, to admonish, to prompt, etc. It implies an expectation of compliance. Mary hopes for the same, not only from Mélanie and Maximin, but from all those who will someday hear her words.

Observance of the law carries with it certain rewards. Today’s text from Deuteronomy follows upon a passage reminding the people of the blessings that come to those who heed the commandments. Jesus, in the Gospel, says, “Do this and you will live.” At La Salette, the Beautiful Lady promises an end to famine for those who submit to her Son.

Acting in view of a reward, however, is not an adequate fulfillment of the great commandment. The more perfectly we love God, the more natural it will be for us to live by his will.

Consider Jesus in his passion. He loved his Father with all his heart, pierced for our sins as blood and water poured forth; with all his being, as he entered fully into his Father’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane; with all his strength as he carried his cross; with all his mind as he prayed even for his enemies.

Mary, at the foot of the cross, united her love to his. At La Salette, she asked nothing for herself. It was natural for her to respond to the needs of her people, the obvious thing for her to do.

What must we do to inherit eternal life? Love the Lord, our God... Love our neighbor... Go and do likewise. Is that too mysterious, is that too remote?

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

The Joy and Boast of Missionaries

(14th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 66:10-14; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20)

[NOTE: The following is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Bishop Donald Pelletier, M.S., 90, lifelong missionary to Madagascar, who died when struck by a car on June 4, 2022, even as this reflection was being prepared.]

In today’s gospel Jesus commissioned seventy-two disciples to precede him to towns and villages he intended to visit. He provided them with specific, rather daunting instructions as to the how, what, where, etc. of their mission. They had already spent significant time in his company, they were ready, off they went.

Their mission was a success, as we read: “The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.’" La Salette Missionaries and Sisters and Laity are not strangers to this experience. Whether in unfamiliar lands and languages, or in our own little worlds, we know the joy of bearing a message of peace and promise, especially when it is well received.

But Jesus saw the possibility of failure, too, and told the disciples what to do in that case. St. Paul provides further guidance in the second reading: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Here it is good for us to remember once again that all the glorious light of the apparition of Our Lady of La Salette emanated from the crucifix resting over her heart. When we experience failure or rejection in our mission of reconciliation, we may imagine ourselves bathed in that same light.

That said, the dominant theme of today’s liturgy is joy. The first reading sets the tone. Isaiah has a vision of the exiles returning to Jerusalem, and compares them to an infant nursing exuberantly at its mother’s breast—an image of perfect happiness!

The Psalmist takes up the theme: “Shout joyfully to God, all the earth,” and then finds as many ways as possible to say it again.

Naturally we are delighted when our missionary efforts bear fruit. But let us not forget Jesus’ words, “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” An added comfort for us, if needed, is that our names are inscribed in the heart of a Beautiful Lady.

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

Which Yoke?

(13th Ordinary Sunday: 1 Kings 19:16-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62)

Anyone who has seen traditional farming knows what a yoke is: a wooden structure placed over the neck of animals, for plowing or pulling heavy loads. Often two animals are yoked together, sharing the burden. This is part of the setting of the first reading.

St. Paul, however, uses the term in a figurative sense. “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” He goes on to say that if we abuse our freedom, we are not free.

Does this remind you of a saying of Jesus? It is not in today’s Gospel, but rather in Matthew 11:30: “My yoke is easy, and my burden light.” This is usually understood as a yoke that Jesus places on our shoulders. But another possible reading is that he is inviting us to bear his yoke with him, to share in carrying his burden.

Either way, a right submission is required, a willingness to know his will and a desire to carry it out. This means, in a sense, exchanging one yoke for another. At La Salette, Mary offers a choice: submit humbly to the simple requirements of faith, or submit grudgingly to sufferings over which we have no control.

In today’s Gospel, three different persons decide to follow Christ. In the third case Jesus uses a farming image, close to that of the first reading: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

St. Paul also reminds of another dimension of conversion: “The whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is close to what he writes in the next chapter of this letter: “Bear one another’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

It is hard for us to change, and we often bear the burden of sin. The Church offers us the sacrament of Reconciliation to remove that weight, and to restore us to our freedom in Christ. The Beautiful Lady did not speak of this, but she had the same result in mind.

There is another striking image in the first reading that we do not wish to omit, that of Elijah’s mantle, symbolizing the passing on of the prophetic role. Has not Mary spread her mantle over us?

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

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