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.

Whom shall we Serve?

(21st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Joshua 24:1-18; Eph. 5:21-32; John 6:60-69)

When Joshua challenged the people to decide which gods they would serve, they answered, “We will serve the Lord.” That generation did their best to be faithful to keep that pledge.

Jesus asked the Twelve: “Do you also want to leave?” Peter answered with a question of his own: “To whom shall we go?” His profession of faith, which followed immediately, did not prevent his later denial, but preserved him from despair and prepared him to devote his life to the Lord’s service.

St. Paul also speaks of service. The word in our translation is “subordinate,” which sound more like servitude than service. He says that reverence for Christ should make Christians “subordinate to one another,” in other words willing to serve each other.

The question of choosing whom we shall serve finds a different expression on the lips of the Beautiful Lady of La Salette, in her use of the conditional “If my people refuse to submit” is equivalent to “will you submit or not?” or, to paraphrase Joshua, “decide to whom you will submit.” Let’s look at the alternatives.

The pursuit of pleasure, power or wealth is easily confused with the pursuit of happiness, and yet none of those good things can ensure we will be happy.

Knowledge, wisdom, and the arts have the power to uplift us. Practical skills can bring satisfaction, especially when placed at the service of others. But even here a certain self-sufficient, self-serving arrogance can creep in, undermining the good we do. 

After Peter’s question, “To whom shall we go?” we read, “You have the words of eternal life.” This is more than a declaration, it is a commitment. 

We must not assume that the Twelve understood Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life, especially the part about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, any better than those other disciples who said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” and who no longer accompanied him.

And notice that Peter calls Jesus Master, a word indicating submission. That means Peter sees himself as both disciple and servant. 

Mary’s words at La Salette, even her hard sayings, call us to submit to him who has the words of eternal life.

Eating and Drinking

(20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58)

As often happens, there is a common theme in the first reading and the Gospel. Wisdom says, “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed!” Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

To us today, these texts might not appear so different. Jesus’ words do not shock us as they did the people to whom he spoke that day in Capernaum. The crowd could not have been expected to understand the sacramental meaning of this discourse. Their horrified reaction was perfectly appropriate.

There is much about La Salette also that is disturbing: “the arm of my son... a great famine is coming... children will die... I warned you... etc.” To this day many theologians take exception to parts of the message.

Mélanie and Maximin, on the other hand, once reassured by Mary’s invitation to come closer, seem not to have been bothered by the portions of the discourse spoken in their own dialect. In fact, I have often seen them quoted as saying, “We drank her words.”

This is something like St. Paul’s reference to drinking: “Do not get drunk on wine... but be filled with the Spirit.” I like to think the children drank in the Spirit along with Mary’s words.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ ... Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”

For people facing the prospect of famine, this attitude requires real faith.

That said, for Catholic Christians, seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness is intermingled with eating and drinking. Which brings us back to the Eucharist. In John’s Gospel today we read, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”

The Beautiful Lady wants her people to have life within them. Drinking her words, we are reminded of the life her Son offers us in Holy Communion.

Food for the Journey

(19th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 1 Kings 12:4-8; Eph. 4:30—5:2; John 6:41-51)

The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick used to be called Extreme Unction. Today, Catholics understand that the sacrament is in view of healing, not death. There are, however, certain rites to be observed when death is imminent.

Among these is Viaticum. The Latin word originally meant provisions (money, food, etc.) for a journey. In the Church, it refers to Holy Communion brought to a dying person. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it in these terms: “Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of ‘passing over’ to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’”

When Elijah was discouraged and wanted to die, God provided food for his journey, to strengthen him and help him continue his prophetic mission.

The message of Our Lady of La Salette was addressed to “her people” who, among other things, paid little importance to the Eucharist. Not only had the Church in general suffered from the persecutions of the French Revolution, but even before that, anticlericalism had entered deeply into French culture as a result of the Age of Enlightenment.

In that context, “Taste and see how good the Lord is” would find little resonance. “Only a few elderly women” took it seriously, it seems.

And yet, there is something about the Beautiful Lady and her message that has touched even the most hardened hearts. Maximin’s father, originally hostile to the Apparition, came to understand God’s love, and afterward went to Mass every day. His conversion was due to an episode in his life which involved bread, and of which Mary had reminded Maximin.

St. Paul writes: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Yes, the practice of faith has always faced challenges, but it is especially difficult in secular cultures.

So, we all need Christ’s food for the journey. It’s not just for the dying; it strengthens all of us to go on.

Futility of Mind

(18th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Exodus 16:2-15; Ephesians. 4:17-24; John 6:24-35)

St. Paul writes that the Gentiles live “in the futility of their minds.” His audience, the Christians of Ephesus, used to live this way but ought not to do so any more. He does not explain the term in detail but associates it with the “corruption of evil desires.”

Evil desires are expressed in the first reading: “Would that we had died at the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!” There’s nothing wrong with hungry people wanting food, but in this case the evil resides in their lack of trust, in their accusing Moses of making the whole community die of famine, in their ingratitude.

God had rescued them, with strong hand and outstretched arm, from their oppressors, and yet they failed to place their trust in him. Nonetheless, he saved them once again. But in the very next chapter of Exodus, the people fell back into the futility of their minds, complaining that Moses brought them out of Egypt only to have them die of thirst.

As one listens to the discourse of Our Lady of La Salette, one senses that she is addressing a similar situation. Her people have fallen into a kind of futility of mind, blaming God for their troubles. As St. Paul says in another place (Romans 1:21), “Although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.”

In the Gospel, Jesus sees the vain thinking of those who had witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. It was not out of faith that they were looking for him, but because they desired to be fed again. He tells them to work for food that endures for eternal life. The ‘work’ in this case is faith: believing in the one sent by God. He then goes on to proclaim himself the bread of life.

In the coming weeks we will have occasion to reflect on this more deeply. For the moment, let us rest with the importance of the ‘work’ of faith.

At La Salette, Mary speaks much of religious practice, not because it constitutes faith, but because its absence shows a lack of faith. Without this vital relationship with the Lord, even religion can be little more than futility of mind.

Moved with Pity

(16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jer. 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34)

The word “shepherd” in Church usage refers to priests, and Jeremiah’s “Woe to the shepherds” text may well make us think of the scandals continuing to rock the Church. But in the Old Testament, it was the rulers who were called shepherds, and it is they whom Jeremiah condemns.

God promises his sheep that he will “appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them,” and give them a king “who will reign and govern wisely.” We can easily see this prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, whose “heart was moved with pity for the crowd.”

Many centuries later, a Beautiful Lady’s heart was moved with pity for her people. And, like Jesus, she “taught them many things.”

St. Paul writes, “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.” Our Lady of La Salette sorrowfully reverses this saying in her message. Her people, who once had become near, were now far off from her Son.

Simply by speaking of her Son, who “is our peace,” she “preached peace” as he did. Just as St. Paul cannot seem to find enough ways to say how Jesus brought reconciliation to Jewish and Gentile Christians alike, so Mary finds abundant ways to describe how her people need that reconciliation. She also shows how they might encounter it, namely by honoring the Lord’s Name, respecting the Lord’s Day, turning to him in prayer, participating in the Eucharist.

All of these, and more, are expressions of the trust expressed in today’s Psalm. The God who spreads a table before us is the same God who saw Maximin’s anxious father give him a piece of bread. This is the compassionate God whose goodness and kindness follow us all the days of our life.

Instead of suffering famine, those who respond to Mary’s message shall not want. Instead of being like sheep without a shepherd, they will walk in right paths, their souls will be refreshed, they will fear no evil. This is not a dream. It is a prophetic vision.

Pity is not just a feeling. It leads to action. Jesus taught the people looking to him for hope. Mary came to renew that hope. Look around you. Whom do you pity? How will you act?

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