Fr. Isidro Perin MS
France - 1 to 10 September, 2011

La Salette: an event, a message, an ecclesial movement.
By Fr. Isidro Perin, MS
Translated from the Portuguese to English by Norman Butler, MS

1 - La Salette: event, symbols and questions.

In the La Salette event, two apparently contradictory questions challenge us human beings:
"Do you say your prayers well my children?"
"Have you never seen ruined wheat?"

These questions that Mary posed to Maximin and Melanie and that she poses to us today call our attention to two essential realities of human life: our relationship to God, cultivated in prayer, and our relation to the material world with its socio-economic and political dimensions implied in the need for daily bread to sustain the life of every human being.

The two questions Mary poses in her apparition remind us of two fundamental dimensions of Christian spirituality: contemplation of the loving presence of the Lord and transforming human action based on justice and solidarity. Mary shows us that these are two intertwined realities. The modern mind tends to contrast spirit with matter. In biblical Hebrew there are two complementary expressions: "RUAH = breath of life" and "SHEKINAH = loving presence of the Lord".

The term spirituality comes from 'spirit' and in a common understanding, 'spirit' is opposed to matter. However, in biblical language 'spirit' is not opposed to matter or the body. It is opposed to the 'flesh' (that is, the fragility which is destined for death); it is opposed to the law (that is, imposition, fear and punishment). So in this semantic context, spirit means life, construction, strength, action and freedom. The spirit of a person is basically the best of the person. The spirit is the deepest self, where we find root motivations, ideals, utopias, passion and the mystique with which a person lives and struggles and transmits enthusiasm to others.(1)

Mary's message at La Salette, following the bible usage, is built around these two pillars: spirit as divine breath in our life and in creation, and therefore in bread. Here are a few expressions from the apparition that have biblical resonance:

Draw near my children. Come and see for yourselves (Jn 1, 39)
Don't be afraid. It's me. Don't be afraid (Jn 6, 20)
I've come to tell you great news. I announce to you great news which will bring joy to al the people. (Lc 2, 10)
If my people will not submit When all things have been made subject to him, then the Son himself will submit himself to the One who submitted all to Him, so that God may be all in all. (2 Cor 15, 28)
The arm of my Son He has done wonders with his arm. (Lk 1, 51)
The name of my Son Mary gave birth to a Son (Mt 1, 25)
I gave you six days to work, I have kept the seventh for myself, and no one will give it to me. On the seventh day God rested from all his work. (Gn 2, 2)
If they are converted... Your salvation is in conversion and confidence, and your strength consists in trust and calm. (Is 30, 15)
During Lent, they go to the meat market like dogs. Don't give holy things to dogs nor pearls to swine; after trampling them they will turn on you. (Mt 7, 6)
Do you say your prayers well? Jesus went to the mountain to pray. He spent the whole night praying to God. (Lk 6, 12)
Here my son, eat bread. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish (Mk 6, 40)
Well my children, you will make this known to all my people. Go through the entire world and announce Good News to all humanity. (Mk 6, 15)

These comparisons make it clear that spirit and body are interrelated and inseparable in the human person. The human being is a whole which is totally unique. Therefore, our spirituality and our charism must take this into account.

Concluding this first part I'd say that Mary at Ls knows how to read the signs of the times as she did in Palestine. She knows how to speak "God's things" in the details of the life of her people. In both she convokes us to live a spirituality attentive to the signs of the times, inviting us to be immersed in the events and the daily routine of our lives so as to discern in the world "the seeds of the Word" and the whisperings of the spirit. This spirituality permits us to have an experience of God's fidelity, the God who continues to do wonders in spite of our human fragility. It teaches us to listen and pay attention to what happens around us, perceiving with the eyes of the heart where the spirit is tying to lead.

2 - Rich in symbols, La Salette leads us into mystery and challenges us to develop an incarnate spirituality:

La Salette is an event and a message full of symbols.

a. The globe of light that surrounds Mary and the children
b. The tears that constantly flow from the eyes of the Beautiful Lady and vanish as they fall into the intense light radiating from the crucifix she wears.
c. The chains that form a border to her shawl, symbols of oppression and of rejection of the fraternity and solidarity offered by her Son Jesus.
d. There are roses that accompany the chains of her shawl, and surround her head and her shoes, symbols of love, of new life so that creation no longer needs to suffer birth pangs but can become a paradise of brothers and sisters.
e. She is dressed like the country women of that area who struggle to feed their families in times of scarcity.
f. The fountain of water has never ceased to flow since that day of the apparition, reminding us of the "living spring that rises up for eternal life".
g. The mountain is a symbol of human limitations and of God's presence.
h. There are three moments of the apparition:

Mary is found seated on a stone and weeping. She is the compassionate mother. Like a mother who has no more to say, she cries.

In a second moment, Mary is standing and conversing intimately with the two children. She continues to cry. She says that her people is insensitive to the tragic realities of the period, "and you take no account of it". Her people is indifferent to God's loving presence in their lives, they "swear throwing in my son's name." She proposes a radical change of life "if they are converted, rocks and stones will turn into heaps of wheat and potatoes will be self-sown in the fields." A different world is possible.

In a third and final moment, Mary floats into the air and vanishes in the light, returning to heaven, that definitive place of light for reconciled and reconciling human existence.

The event and the message of La Salette, rich in symbols that go beyond rational analysis and introduce us into the mystery beyond appearances and help us identify what is essential: God is a loving presence in our midst and always at our side, taking us as we are, as the event at Coin reminds us.

Mary at La Salette invites us to develop a spirituality attentive to the signs of the times so that in those signs we can enter into the mystery of unconditional Love. This is no easy task in our post-modern culture where most everything is relative and society throws things away. Mary suggests the following spirituality:

a) value Beauty (Maximin and Melanie call her the Beautiful Lady) and silence, contemplation and adoration.
b) Recover in our celebrations and preaching the value of symbols that bear within them rich spiritual significance.
c) Challenge the trivialization of life and death, the loss of gospel values of justice and solidarity, fraternity and peace.

We can conclude this second part affirming that the La Salette event with its rich symbology is a bearer of a solid spirituality centered on Christ present in the life of all who travel their land of Coin or travel the road to Emmaus. This spirituality should guide the life and mission of all La Salette religious and all Lay La Salettes. This spirituality requires constant deepening and up-dating so as to respond to the signs of the times. From this rich spiritual itinerary born of the apparition, we can bring out the best of the old and the new.

3 - La Salette: from a message centered on Christ to a rereading of the charism of reconciliation.

The general context of the apparition, which takes into account the attitudes of the Beautiful Lady, her message her symbols her call to conversion, the situation of the people of that time and their response of Christian life, the plain and courageous presence of the first missionaries on the mountain, the devotions that were born there... lead the pilgrims to underscore this dimension of the faith: reconciliation. The Marian, saletine invocation, proclaimed by anonymous pilgrims of those early days, expresses the theological dimension most typical of the apparition: "Our Lady of La Salette, Reconciler of Sinners, pray without ceasing for us who have recourse to you". The expression "Reconciler" as attributed to Mary, though restricted in its use, was known to theologians of the middle ages. Pope Leo XIII, en 1879, ordered that the statue of the Beautiful Lady be solemnly crowned as "Our Lady Reconciler". This is the statue over the main altar in the basilica. Later on, the Holy See approved the text of the La Salette Mass and the Office for "Our Lady of La Salette, Reconciler of sinners."

The La Salette Missionaries immediately latched onto the dynamic of reconciliation as flowing from the apparition and its message, contemplated and announced in light of the Gospel and the theological reflection of the time. The first version of the Rule of Life of the Congregation in 1852 asks the La Salette Missionaries to be:

a) Men of prayer, in union with the "divine advocate of sinners".
b) Men of zeal, charged with the mission of shaking sinners out of their lethargy.
c) Men of expiation, permanently asking Mary for grace and mercy for sinners.

These Men will define themselves in the first Rule of Life of 1858 as "Men of prayer, of penance and zeal. These three elements of penance, prayer and zeal capture three fundamental relationships in our life:

a) The relationship with God through prayer, as openness to God's will in union with the example of the Beautiful Lady.
b) The relationship with others, cultivated in zeal, as an expression of love for our brothers and sisters.
c) The relationship with oneself, lived in penance as the expression of a longing to overcome the egocentric tendencies of the human heart.

This trilogy was understood and lived in the "theology of expiation" and the practices of "reparation" common to the Confraternity of Our Lady of La Salette and/or the movements of "Reparation to God for blasphemies" which were typical of the period. Simplifying, penance, prayer and zeal were privileged ways of "expiating" sin, of "repairing" the evils caused to God and assuaging God's wrath. Expressive of this is Fr. Giraud's comment to the novices: Consider me your clay, mold me as you see fit". Self denial, sacrifice, the offering of one's life to others for the glory of God... the Host and victim of expiation through sacrifice, prayer and love were the theological-ascetical pillars of the spirituality that guided our founders. (6) It did have a biblical basis: "If the grain of wheat sown does not die it can't bear fruit". Undeniably this lead to certain exaggerations and an often intimistic, individualistic and sacramentalistic view of reconciliation and the practice of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as a way of expiation and victimhood (rescue/ repayment for the sacrifice of a victim).

For a long time Mary's call to conversion found these expressions: "Reconciler of sinners, prayer, penance and zeal" which later were reread and reinterpreted in the light of the theological-pastoral evolution of thought in the church, especially around the time of Vatican II. Conversion is seen as metanoia, a change of mentality, of spirit, of attitudes; this change implies self denial, passion for the kingdom, the gift of self. Conversion and reconciliation are not two separate acts but inseparable parts of a permanent and life-giving process.

The evangelical values of penance, prayer and zeal (the gift of self) ( 2) which are inherent in our charism and spirituality become "the way of personal and community conversion and of our mission in the world. We live them in the spirit of compassion, mercy, communion and solidarity, especially in relation to the poor for whom we are called to be a sign of the compassionate love of God and of the maternal gentleness of the Virgin of La Salette for her people." (3)

We can conclude this third part in the following way:

a) The charism of reconciliation reread in light of the La Salette event "engenders a style of fraternal life a manner of being and a structure appropriate for a community that is reconciled and reconciling and at the service of the mission of the church." (4) that we, La Salette Missionaries, want to share with the other Congregations born from the inspiration of the presence of Mary at La Salette, and especially, with the Sisters of Our Lady of La Salette, with our lay associates, and with all persons we are called to serve. Herein lies a great richness for the spiritual and charismatic patrimony of the Congregation, overcoming the intimistic and individualistic and even sacramentalistic concept of reconciliation. The horizon of the spirituality and the charism of reconciliation open up to the whole world.

b) In the face of the demands of today's world the La Salette Missionaries, the La Salette sisters and lay associates are "called to bring the La Salette charism up to date in a personal and community commitment in favor of peace4, justice and the true development, respect for ecology and ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. We are passionate about the Kingdom of God so we give ourselves up to the task of freeing our brothers and sisters from every kind of oppression and from personal and social sin, helping them to be reconciled with themselves, with others and with God. (5)

c) "La Salette is a message of hope! (7) I hope this encounter awakens in us a new passion for the charism of reconciliation and for a saletine spirituality and a renewed passion for God's Kingdom as John Paul II recommended to us La Salette Missionaries: "I ardently desire that your General chapter stimulate the members of the Institute to achieve a renewed awareness of participation in the reconciling mission of the Church which is at the heart of your missionary vocation, tirelessly helping Christians to welcome the divine pardon of which you are witnesses in all the world." (8)

1)- Casaldaliga, Pedro e Vigil, José Maria, Espiritualidade da Libertação, Vozes, 1993.
2)- João Paulo II, Carta ao Capítulo Geral, Maio de 2000.
3)- Capítulo Geral, Roma, 2000, Decisão II.
4)- Capítulo Geral, Roma, 2000, Decisão II
5)- Capítulo Geral, Roma, 2000, Decisão II.
6)- Jaouen, Jean, La Salette au regard de l'Église, 1981, p.284-287.
7)- João Paulo II, Carta ao Bispo de Grenoble, no sesquicentenário da Aparição.
8)- João Paulo II, Carta ao Capítulo Geral, Maio de 2000.

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