The Lord will Provide

(28th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 25:6-10; Philippians 4:12-20; Matthew 22:1-14)

Just look at all things that God promises, in our first reading, to provide for his people! The image of rich food and choice wines is so enticing, it might almost distract us from all the rest. 

There is so much more: he will destroy death forever, wipe away tears from every face, remove his people’s reproach from the whole earth. See how in each case God’s intervention is definitive, complete.

So too in today’s Psalm, which sums up the reality from our perspective: “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”

And yet, it seems that today these images have lost their appeal. It is like the wedding guests who not only refuse to come to the feast, but abuse the messengers. How discouraging this can be for believers, as they see their numbers decrease.

In 1846, the anticlerical legacy of the French Revolution was still strong. This was the context of Mary’s Apparition at La Salette. Reproaching her people, she hoped to remove their reproach; speaking of the death of small children, she hoped they would turn in trust to the One who has destroyed death forever.

It is one thing, like St. Paul, to know how to live in humble circumstances and with abundance, materially speaking. Many people manage that. But it is quite another thing to deprive ourselves of what the Lord offers us. Paul makes a promise every bit as wonderful as Isaiah’s: “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

This requires chiefly one thing: the wedding garment, which is faith. And the living faith that the Beautiful Lady wishes to reawaken will enable us to do the three things she asks of us: to convert, to pray well, and to make her message known.

Conversion includes but is not restricted to returning to the Sacraments. If we remember the seven “Capital” sins, we can ask the Lord to “enlighten the eyes of our hearts,” so as to discern what virtues and behaviors we personally will need to cultivate, and “so that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call.”

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

Anxiety, with Trust

(27th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43)

St. Paul writes, “Have no anxiety at all.” Surely this is unrealistic. In fact, the same Apostle wrote to the Corinthians, “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3).

The world we live in has always provided every generation ample cause for worry. Natural disasters, disease, social unrest, economic uncertainty are all around us. We also deal with personal loss, conflicts and self-doubt, etc. How is it possible to be without anxiety?

For some it is even hard to find time to pray, or have a proper frame of mind for prayer, so as to live in the peace of Christ.

Strangely, Isaiah’s song about his friend’s vineyard was, in fact, meant to heighten his people’s stress. The things the Lord will do to his vineyard are listed in order to get his people’s attention. He would rather not punish them, but how else can he persuade them to change their ways?

At La Salette, Mary used the same approach as Isaiah, and for the same purpose. If her people refuse to submit, the causes of their anxiety will only get worse, and it will be their own fault for, in their own way, like the chief priests and the elders in the Gospel, they have rejected her Son.

It certainly is appropriate for us to apply Isaiah’s message, and Mary’s, to ourselves. The vineyard lovingly planted in each of us by God at our baptism, needs to be watered and pruned, so that we can produce sweet grapes to make fine wine. The Beautiful Lady provides us with an examination of conscience, in view of our ongoing conversion.

St. Paul further says, “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” When thanksgiving is at the heart of our prayer, trust is reinforced. This is part of praying well.

In this context, I highly recommend the Book of Tobit as a marvelous example. Two unhappy persons, in separate scenes, pray for death. In each case the prayer begins with praise of God! 

Are anxiety and trust incompatible? No, but Mary’s love and tears will inspire trust and relieve anxiety.

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

Seeing Signs, Being Signs

(26th Ordinary Sunday: Ezekiel 18:25-28; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32)

“As for you, you pay no heed!” says the Beautiful Lady, speaking of her efforts on our behalf. A little later, in reference to the poor harvests: “I warned you last year with the potatoes. You paid no heed.”

The attitude she describes might be mere heedlessness, a failure to notice. After all, how could Christians of such weak faith be expected to recognize signs coming from heaven? But that is no excuse, because they did not even care to see.

In the Gospel, Jesus says to the chief priests and the elders: “When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did.” The chief priests and the elders were aware of this, but they did not see it as a sign, least of all intended for them. This is what St. Paul calls vainglory.

The Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette state in their Rule, “Attentive to the signs of the times and after prayer and discernment, we generously undertake those apostolic tasks to which we believe Providence is calling us.” The La Salette Sisters are “mindful of the urgent needs of people contingent upon the milieux, countries and times.”

La Salette Laity, too, must be aware that times change. The charism of reconciliation is one, but its expression is infinitely variable. We need to pay heed to the circumstances where it is needed, and find the appropriate way to bring it to bear.

This requires a certain death to self, i.e., the acknowledgement that we are not all-knowing and the willingness to work together. This is the point St. Paul makes to the community of Philippi, and he gives the example of Jesus, who “emptied himself,” so as to be truly one with us.

The psalmist often humbles himself by admitting his sins, but today he asks God, as it were, not to notice them, as he prays: “The sins of my youth and my frailties remember not.” In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we trust that “He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.”

When we are open to receiving and sharing God’s mercy, who knows? We may ourselves become a sign.

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

Worthy of the Gospel

(25th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20-27; Matthew 20:1-16)

There are many individual verses in Scripture that can be said to summarize the Message of La Salette. We find such a verse in today’s second reading: “Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Since in many places the Anniversary of the Apparition is being celebrated this month, let us see how La Salette helps us respond to Paul’s exhortation.

Respect for the Lord’s Name and the things of God is not simply the opposite of disdain. Yes, disrespect is to be avoided; as Isaiah says, “Let the scoundrel forsake his way.” But if our respect does not lead to a deep abiding love for the Lord, it is not yet “worthy.”

Praying well naturally includes the avoidance of distractions—though sometimes distractions are the real prayer. But Isaiah also says, “Let the wicked forsake his thoughts.” A genuinely prayerful life is, as it were, so filled with prayer as to leave no room for wicked thoughts. As today’s Psalm says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.”

The evangelical spirit, inherent in Paul’s vision of Christian life and in the example he sets, reminds us that the following of Christ is not a private devotion. If we are to make Mary’s message known, all the more we must live to attract others to the Gospel. There must be no selfish thinking, no comparing our achievements (like the workers in the vineyard) to those of others.

Submission is much more than doing as we are told. Isaiah reminds us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Those who want a God suited to their own thoughts and ways are inclined to blame him in hard times.

It is in such moments that we need to remember that “The Lord is just in all his ways and holy in all his works,” not in a way to inspire fear, but drawing us to “turn to him for mercy” to quote again the psalmist and Isaiah.

In Philippians 1:6, St. Paul expresses his confidence “that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” It is he who gives worth to what we do.

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

The Mystery of Forgiveness

(24th Ordinary Sunday: Sirach 27:30—28:7; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35)

Today we begin with statistics. How often, I wondered, did God forgive his people, as compared to the times he punished them. It took little research to show that, in the vast majority of cases, forgiveness is either given or promised.

One of the classic texts is found in today’s Psalm: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.” 

In the first reading and the Gospel, it is clear that our starting point or, if you prefer, our default position, ought to be a readiness—dare we say eagerness?—to forgive.

During my research, however, I was struck also by the number of times forgiveness is paired with atonement. A typical example is in Leviticus 5:13: “The priest shall make atonement on the person’s behalf for the wrong committed, so that the individual may be forgiven.”

Herein lies the connection to the reading from Romans. Paul writes: “For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living,” The context for this saying is made clear in the very next sentence: “Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.”

We are not lords of one another. That title belongs exclusively to Jesus. It was bestowed on him when he offered himself on the cross as atonement for our sins. As his disciples, we do not have the option to withhold forgiveness.

Part of the submission to which the Beautiful Lady of La Salette calls us is that we accept the mercy won for us by her Son. Once we do so, it will be a joy for us to honor him as he deserves.

Novelist Terry Goodkind writes, “There is magic in sincere forgiveness; in the forgiveness you give, but more so in the forgiveness you receive” (Temple of the Winds, p. 318).

Substitute the word “grace” for “magic,” and see how the text is transformed: no longer words of wisdom, but an invitation to enter into one of the great mysteries of our faith.

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

Maternal Correction

(23rd Ordinary Sunday: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus foresees that conflicts will inevitably arise between members of his Church.

His first concern is that the matter be resolved peacefully. It must not be allowed to fester, leading to serious divisions that might spread into the community.

It is equally important, however, that the issue be kept within the Church. In 1 Corinthians 6, St. Paul complains about believers bringing cases to civil courts: “Can it be that there is not one among you wise enough to be able to settle a case between brothers? But rather brother goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers?”

Many religious communities have (or had) an exercise called “fraternal correction.” In pairs or small groups, members point out one another’s failings. Ideally, each would take the comments  to heart with gratitude and strive to improve oneself.

Some might even be called to a more prophetic stance, especially if they believe that the community itself is in danger of going astray. Like Ezekiel, they feel a personal responsibility to challenge others.

The hard thing in all this is to be faithful to the commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We ought to behave towards one another without giving or taking offense, and with no hardening of the heart. Then the issue of reconciliation does not arise.

However, since the Church is made up of real persons, occasional conflict will arise, ranging anywhere from strong differences of opinion to serious accusations of wrongdoing. The first condition for reconciliation that it be genuinely desired by both parties. 

What does any of this have to do with La Salette, one might ask? A great deal. Mary addressed herself to a people absorbed with their own troubles and blaming God. They had so lost sight of Christ, that reconciliation did not even occur to them.

It took a Beautiful Lady, speaking in prophetic terms, to make them see that reconciliation was desirable and achievable. Through her tears, she offered maternal correction, giving us a model of the truly reconciling heart.

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

God’s Urging

(22nd Ordinary Sunday: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20)

Most legal systems grant an accused person the right to remain silent. A prophet, on the other hand—as Jeremiah learned—has no such right. God’s word within him burned with such intensity that it could not be silenced.

Our Lady of La Salette likewise had to speak. She felt obliged to speak on our behalf, in constant prayer to her Son; and she came with urgency to speak to her people, with a message longer and more complex, one might even say more intense, than in many other Marian Apparitions.

She places only one choice before her people: refuse to submit, or be converted. Or, to use St. Paul’s terminology, she is telling them, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Discernment of God’s will is not an academic exercise. It serves one purpose only: to enable us to live in harmony with God by doing what he asks of us.

Perhaps you had a major conversion experience? In that moment, you knew, at least in a general way, where God was leading you. Did you know what you were getting into? Were you able to foresee the cross you would carry, the ways in which you would have to lose your life for Jesus’ sake? 

If not immediately, you discovered in due time the specific way in which you would carry out God’s will. Ideally, this grew into a passion, and you reached a point where you could not hold back, even if you wanted to. Today’s Psalm expresses this intensity: “O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.”

Even if one has a Spiritual Director, discernment remains deeply personal. This explains the difference between St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Theresa of Avila. We all build differently on the same foundation.

It is wonderful to know how many people have discovered a passion for La Salette. Even then, the possibilities are so many, as each of us responds to a different aspect of the Apparition and/or the message.

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

The Key

(21st Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20)

As usual, there is a clear connection between the first reading and the Gospel. It lies in the symbolism of keys. Eliakim will be given Shebna’s keys; Jesus entrusts the keys to the kingdom of heaven to Peter.

At first glance this might appear to be a prize which Peter won by coming up with the correct answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is the Father who has revealed this to him. 

As the same question is raised from generation to generation, we need to answer it also for ourselves. Peter’s response is not self-evident. What is one to do in circumstances where one feels surrounded by people who make a mockery of our religion? Perhaps this is part of what St. Paul calls God’s “inscrutable judgments and unsearchable ways.” But what is the key to maintaining our peace of soul?

At La Salette, Our Lady spoke about just such a situation. The faithful few were becoming fewer and fewer, in an aggressively anticlerical world. The key Mary offered is the one she wore around her neck: the image of her crucified Son.

She emphasized the importance of our relationship to Jesus, and to the cross on which he died for us. Far from reviling his name, we are called to proclaim in word and action, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That means living as faithful and, yes, happy disciples.

Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” While a fortress mentality is not necessarily to be encouraged, this promise is a source of comfort.

There is another encouragement in today’s Psalm: “The Lord is exalted, yet the lowly he sees.” As with Maximin and his father on their way home from the field of Coin, his watchful eye is upon us. 

With Mary we can pray without ceasing. We can make ours the words of the psalm response: “Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.” Even if nothing changes, we can be what Isaiah calls “a peg in a sure spot,” unshaken in our faith.

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

A Universal Message

(20th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 56:1-7; Romans 11:13-32; Matthew 15:21-28)

For reasons that are not immediately clear, Jesus’ mission did not include the gentiles, though he did respond to the prayer of a Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13) and, in today’s Gospel, a Canaanite woman.

Earlier, when he sent the Twelve on their first missionary experience, he instructed them, “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Only at the end of Matthew’s Gospel did he give them the command: “Go, make disciples of all nations.”

Over time, and after many persecutions, the Psalmist’s prayer, “May all the peoples praise you,” was heard. In every nation today, there are at least some persons who fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy, “Them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer.”

Universality (being inclusive) is a challenge, however. There is a tendency in every group toward a certain exclusivity. In today’s Gospel the disciples want Jesus to do whatever it takes to make the Canaanite woman go away, not only, perhaps, because she is a gentile but also because she is a nuisance.

Have you ever found yourself trying to avoid uncomfortable situations, difficult people, unwanted appeals from someone in need, etc., etc.? It can be hard to maintain the inclusive spirit that is inherent in our mission of Reconciliation. 

St. Paul had in his day tried to exclude Christians from Judaism. Then, some early Jewish Christians wanted to exclude gentiles. Now Paul longs to bring the salvation of Christ to the Jews as he has to the gentiles.

This vision is echoed in the closing words of Mary’s message at La Salette, “You will make this known to all my people.” Today there are La Salette missions in 27 countries (and we continue to discover small La Salette shrines in other places), but that leaves us with well over 150 countries where La Salette is unknown. Compared to the spread of the Gospel, we have a long way to go!

The message has many elements, attracting different persons in different ways. This is true also of us messengers, individually unique but, together, universal.

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

I will Hear

(19th Ordinary Sunday: 1 Kings 19:9-13; Romans 9:1-5;  Matthew 14:22-33)

The story of Elijah in the cave almost gives the impression that it came as a surprise that God would come to him in “a tiny whispering sound.” After all, in other episodes of the prophet’s life, his relationship to the Lord had plenty to do with fire, and God took him up in a whirlwind.

There is no way to predict when or how God will speak to us. But Elijah stood before the Lord, attuned to his presence, ready to hear and serve.

St. Paul’s conversion is another instance of an unexpected encounter with the Lord. Eighteen hundred years later, no one could have anticipated that Mélanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud, with no religious training to speak of, would hear the word of God through the words of a Beautiful Lady.

Today’s Psalm describes a surprising encounter: “Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.“ See how these are all intertwined, as they sum up the purpose of God’s interventions, and of Mary’s as well.

We live in a world where peace seems a lost cause, truth is no longer truth. Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?” is all around us. Sadly, kindness sometimes seems opposed to truth, especially when truth is hard to bear. At La Salette, however, Mary was able to combine the truth of her message with the kindness of her voice and her tears.

Kindness, truth, justice, peace: these lie at the heart of our desire to be in harmony with God, and to live reconciling lives. But how do we achieve that goal? 

First, we must recognize and accept that there is no guarantee of success. Even St. Paul, faithful servant that he was, regretted his own failure. Sometimes there is a flicker of hope but, like Peter walking on the water, we can panic and hear Jesus saying to us, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Jesus went up on the mountain to pray. Elijah’s cave was at the mountain of God, Horeb. La Salette is in the Alps. Intense “God moments” are often described as peak experiences. But who are we to decide when, where or how the Lord will speak to us?

It is mostly in hindsight that we recognize God’s voice. When did you last hear it?

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

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