(23rd Ordinary Sunday: Wisdom 9:13-18; Philemon 9-17; Luke 14:25-33)
Usually the first reading is selected because it has some connection with the Gospel of the day. But it is hard today to see what that might be.
When Jesus tells us to hate our parents, siblings and ourselves, we quite naturally think that he can’t mean literally what he is saying. Isn’t it Jesus who preached love of enemies? Surely this must be just one of his enigmatic sayings.
That may be, but it is not quite so strange as it appears. The two short parables about building a tower and preparing for battle make the same point. It would not make sense to start building without being sure of the means to complete the work. It would be foolish to call up the militia if there is little hope of victory. It’s a question of elementary human wisdom.
Herein lies the connection with the reading from Wisdom, which is part of a very long prayer attributed to Solomon. “The deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans,” he says. Without God’s gift of wisdom, Solomon could not hope to govern well; but he trusted that the Lord would guide him.
All the great cultures have had teachers of wisdom. Some philosophers have had a profound influence on their societies; many of the ancient thinkers are still studied and analyzed in our own time, while new philosophies strive to find their place in the history of thought.
Jesus was also a wise teacher, but he was more. He insisted that his followers must rely on him alone; they must be ready to give him their all, even if that means carrying a cross. This is not abstract philosophy, but wisdom of a very practical kind.
We see this also in the discourse of Our Lady of La Salette. She uses concrete examples—her people’s violation of the commandments, the consequences of disobedience, the hope of abundance, God’s constant caring presence in our lives—to teach the lessons of true discipleship.
In today’s psalm we pray: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” In taking us to task, the Beautiful Lady did not intend to frighten us but rather to help us envision a careful plan to live out our Christian commitment.
(22ndOrdinary Sunday: Sirach 3: 17-29; Hebrews 12:18-24; Luke 14:7-14)
Appearing in the French Alps, Mary abided by the injunction of the first reading: “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are.” She did not choose the “lowest place,” geographically speaking. She did, however, associate herself with lowly people—not just two ignorant children, but generally speaking with the people of the locality.
Life in the mountains has never been easy. That year, 1846, had been harder than usual. With both the wheat and potato harvests blighted, the locals were rightly alarmed. Meanwhile, farmers in other areas with good crops began to hoard them, raising the prices beyond the means of the poor. Even Mr. Giraud, Maximin’s father, who was slightly better off than some of his neighbors, was worried.
Our standard of living is important to us. As much as we admire St. Francis of Assisi or other saints for deliberately embracing poverty as a way of life, few of us are drawn to imitate them.
We might, under certain circumstances, be willing to accept a certain decline in our fortunes. But we would not spontaneously “take the lowest place.” Even people who decide to live more simply are usually in a position to guarantee that their desires and needs will be met.
Mélanie came from a desperately poor family. Her parents really had no choice when they sent her out. from the age of eight, to work on the farms in the region of Corps, making for one less mouth to feed, at least in the summer. Their house was at the far end of the poorest street in town, the lowest place. In a bigger city, it would have been a slum.
By choosing her, the Blessed Virgin in a sense lifted her out of that world, bestowed a dignity upon her that should could never have achieved otherwise. Who could have expected that her name would be remembered over 100 years after her death?
Mélanie did not become rich. She relied on the kindness of others throughout her life. She could apply to herself the words of the Magnificat: ”He has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” Had she not been so lowly, she might never have been chosen.
(21st Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-13; Luke 13:22-30)
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews displays common sense when he writes, “All discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain.” Who among us has not had this experience? Parents, teachers, bosses, and others have the responsibility to point out our mistakes and faults, and to do what it takes to correct them.
The Blessed Virgin found herself in that position. Her people were in need of correction on many counts. The specific sins that she enumerated, far from being a complete list, were a list of symptoms, pointing to an underlying spiritual illness.
Her purpose was to present a diagnosis and a cure. The disease was severe, so the treatment had to be aggressive, beginning with a bitter pill: submission.
In the time of the prophets, this had taken the form of exile. Isaiah, however, saw the silver lining in that cloud. “I will set a sign among them; from them I will send fugitives to the nations that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.” As a result, people of many nations would turn to the Lord.
In the time of exile, then, God’s people had returned to their faith. Unfortunately, as we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus foresaw a time when peoples from all parts of the earth would enter the kingdom of God, while his own people would be cast out; they would not be recognized when they sought admission.
The Beautiful Lady tells us that a better outcome is possible for those who take her message to heart. The discipline she proposes, like that mentioned in Hebrews, brings “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”
Isaiah prophesied the return of the exiles to God’s Holy Mountain. The phrase “Holy Mountain” occurs some twenty times in the Old Testament. For La Salette Missionaries, Sisters and Laity, the “Holy Mountain” invariable refers to the place in the French Alps where Mary appeared.
On her Holy Mountain she invites a different sort of exiles to return, not to any particular place but to the Lord himself, who makes holy any place of his choosing, where they may find peaceful fruit.
(20thOrdinary Sunday: Jeremiah 38:4-10; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53)
There is no such thing as an isaiad, or a hosead, or an ezekielad. A jeremiad, on the other hand, means a keen lament, of the kind typically found in Jeremiah. Not only is the book of Lamentations traditionally attributed to him, but no other prophet was so opposed in his mission or so unhappy in his vocation as he.
Parts of the message of Our Lady of La Salette have the character of a Jeremiad. She complains of the seeming futility of her efforts on her people’s behalf: “As for you, you pay no heed.”
In Jeremiah 14:17 we read: “Let my eyes stream with tears night and day, without rest, over the great destruction which overwhelms the virgin daughter of my people, over her incurable wound.” The Beautiful Lady likewise weeps over her people—but also over her crucified Son, whose image she wears over her heart.
The cross was an instrument not only of torture but of shame, as the letter to the Hebrews acknowledges very clearly: “Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame.”
Crucified with real criminals near an entrance to the city, helpless, mocked, naked to the eyes of every passerby, Jesus suffered humiliations we can scarcely imagine. This was part of the “baptism with which I must be baptized,” of which we read in the gospel.
The image of Jesus crucified is the most powerful symbol of God’s love for us. But Jesus himself recognized that many would reject him, and that faith in him would lead to division. This is no less true today than it was then.
Maybe this is one of the reasons why many Christians wear a cross, “the emblem of suffering and shame,” as the song goes. We know we are not worthy of the great gift Jesus won for us. He endured the cross “for the sake of the joy that lay before him,” a joy that surely includes us. There is no shame in being a disciple of Jesus.
Maximin said his first thought on seeing the Lady was that she had been beaten and fled to the mountain to “weep her eyes out.” Yes, Mary’s eyes streamed with tears at La Salette. Let us so live as to console her afflicted heart.