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.

Share the Wealth

(17th Ordinary Sunday: 1 Kings 3:5-12; Romans 8:28-30;  Matthew 13:44-52)

When we say we love something—a favorite food or sport or music—it is simply a way of saying we take special delight in it.

It is not quite the same, however, when, in today’s Psalm, we say to the Lord, “I love your command more than gold, however fine.” How is this different? The answer lies in the possessive ‘your.’ The psalmist is not a lawyer who loves working out all the intricacies (and finding the loopholes) in the Law. The context here is his prayer, addressed to the God whom he loves.

In the Gospel, the first two parables make the point that the kingdom of heaven is of such surpassing value, that one should be willing “to sell all that he has” in order to acquire it. 

There is, however, an important difference between the treasure buried in the field and the kingdom of heaven. In the first case, the person who finds the treasure presumably keeps it to himself, or uses it to get even richer. 

But when it comes to the kingdom, whoever has acquired it and loves it, is drawn to share it.

The Bible is a veritable treasure-trove given to us by God. Do we love it? It provides a wealth of Wisdom, Knowledge, Commands and Precepts to lead us wisely. Do we love them? Along with all this, we have the Sacraments. Do we love these pearls of great price, held in possession by  the Community of Believers?

These weekly reflections are dedicated to those who love La Salette. Here, too, it is first and foremost our love for a certain Beautiful Lady, whom we call our Weeping Mother, and who came to remind us of the treasures that the Lord has placed at our disposal.

In the long version of today’s Gospel, Jesus asks, “Do you understand all these things?” It would be wonderful if we, like his disciples, could answer, “Yes.” We don’t need to be theologians and Scripture scholars.  The psalmist reminds us: “The revelation of your words sheds light, giving understanding to the simple.”

As with the kingdom of heaven, La Salette is not something we keep to ourselves. We are charged to make the message known to all her people.

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

Come, Listen, Live

(18th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 55:1-3; Romans 8:35-39;  Matthew 14:13-21)

“Come, without paying and without cost,” says Isaiah as he promises an abundance of food and drink. What could be more appealing? 

At La Salette, abundance is also promised—heaps of wheat and self-sown potatoes—on one condition: conversion. We prefer Isaiah.

But they are not different at all. Reading a few lines further in Isaiah, we find: “Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.” The prophet envisions a people that lives by God’s word. He is issuing a call to conversion, and states it more explicitly just a few verses after this reading: “Let the wicked forsake their way, and sinners their thoughts; let them turn to the Lord to find mercy.”

In the Gospel we find Isaiah’s vision fulfilled. People from many towns came to listen to Jesus. When his disciples suggested that the crowd be dismissed so they could buy food, he fed them without paying and without cost.

Jesus took the bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples to distribute. This is not yet the Last Supper, but the connection is obvious.

It is not surprising, therefore, that we find the Sunday Eucharist mentioned by Our Lady at La Salette. It is where her people can encounter her Son, be fed by him, and find strength for their journey.

As individuals, communities and nations, it is inevitable that we will encounter crises and tragedies such as those listed by St. Paul in the second reading. 

Today’s entrance antiphon reflects such a time of trouble: “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me! You are my rescuer, my help; O Lord, do not delay” (Ps. 70). The Beautiful Lady found no such attitude among her people. Instead of crying out to God, they blasphemed his name.

When we pray to the Lord from our heart, “You are my rescuer,” we trust that no force outside of ourselves will be able to separate us from the love of Christ. May he preserve us from ever turning away from him.

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

Back to the Basics

(16th Ordinary Sunday: Wisdom 12:13-19; Romans 8:26-27;  Matthew 13:24-43)

People learning about La Salette are puzzled when they read the words of the Beautiful Lady : “I gave you six days to work; I kept the seventh for myself, and they will not give it to me.” They rightly insist: it’s the Lord’s Day, not Mary’s. 

This is true, but the problem is resolved by remembering the biblical nature and tone of her message. In the prophets and the psalms especially, we sometimes need to intuit who is speaking, to insert mentally, “Thus says the Lord.” This is also true, here, of Mary’s message. 

Keeping holy the Lord’s Day is the Third Commandment. Our Lady alludes also to the Second, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” when she speaks of “the Name of my Son.”

Both find their foundation in the First Commandment: “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me.”

This has always been a struggle. We are easily enslaved by other gods.

This is why the author of Wisdom and the psalmist both celebrate God’s mercy and forgiveness. God “permits repentance,” because he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity.”

The parables we read today all indicate that we are, individually and as Church, a work in progress. St. Paul urges us not to be discouraged. “The Spirit,” he writes, “comes to the aid of our weakness... And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” In other words, he knows what is best for us.

The event and message of La Salette dovetail perfectly with this. We are challenged, in our weakness, to let the Spirit shine on our inmost hearts and do what he must to make God’s good seed take root and grow, like the mustard seed, to be large and fruitful.

Conversion, worship of our One True God, abiding trust in him—these are the ways La Salette teaches us to get back to the basics.

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

Abundance

(15th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23;  Matthew 13:1-23)

Fr. Paul Belhumeur, M.S. is passionate about nature and creation. He is also an avid gardener, and understands the importance of good soil, and even has his own all-natural recipe for it.

I asked him, therefore, to offer some thoughts on today’s readings.

In the first reading, he noted the image of God speaking through nature and comparing the word “that goes forth from my mouth” to the rain that makes the earth fertile and fruitful.

In the Psalm, God has greatly enriched the land, producing unimaginable abundance: “You have crowned the year with your bounty, and your paths overflow with a rich harvest; the untilled meadows overflow with it, and rejoicing clothes the hills.” In the Gospel, the seed is good, but needs the right soil.

Making the connection to La Salette, Fr. Paul sees God’s image in nature spoiled by sin; there is no abundance. But the image of Jesus shines on Mary’s breast, offering hope.

The long version of today’s Gospel includes a quotation from Isaiah: “Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them.”

The message of La Salette is a response to that hardness of heart. To use the image of the garden, we may say that Our Lady is reminding her people of tools available for tending to the garden of the soul. 

We have the sacraments. Baptism waters the soil, Eucharist provides nutrients to enrich it, Reconciliation removes stones, thorns and other obstacles. 

Holy Mother Church provides additional  tools: Adoration, the Rosary, a great variety of devotions. Among them, let us not forget our La Salette novenas and prayers (at least an Our Father and a Hail Mary).

None of which will guarantee a bountiful harvest, literally or spiritually. That is the Lord’s work. But by his grace we can prepare our soil, so that the seed (the Word) may take root in our souls, making them fertile and fruitful, as we make Mary’s message known.

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

True Praise

(14th Ordinary Sunday: Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9-13; Matthew 11:25-30)

Matthew, Mark and Luke all report—twice each—that Jesus made it a condition of discipleship that we must take up our cross and follow him. We heard one of those speeches in last week’s Gospel.

Only Matthew records the invitation we receive today, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest... For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” 

We prefer this passage, naturally, if only because it reminds us of Mary’s words to Mélanie and Maximin. But there is no contradiction between the two sayings. If we follow the Lord with all our heart, no cross will be too heavy or too bitter, even if it is our own fallen and disordered nature.

The beginning of today’s Gospel provides the context for the invitation quoted above. Jesus says, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.”

The Father, through Jesus, invites the humble to enter into communion with him.

Notice how Jesus begins, “I give praise to you.” We find much praising today, especially in the  first reading and psalm: rejoice, shout for joy, extol, bless, praise God’s name—along with reasons: the King of peace is coming; “The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.”

The Beautiful Lady of La Salette, in praying ceaselessly for her people, is asking her Son to show us compassion and, in coming to us, is asking us to turn our lives over to him, with all our burdens, and worship him.

St. Paul reminds us that we are “in the Spirit.” That is why we can live in sure and certain hope of being heard by the Lord. It is the Spirit also that prompts us, whom Jesus calls “little ones,” to give praise that is truly acceptable to God as we recognize the blessings great and small that he bestows on us.

Praise is more than a matter of words. The wonder and gratitude that inspire it will lead us to seek God’s will for us, and to carry it out with open and full hearts, minds and souls. 

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

Children of Light

(13th Ordinary Sunday: 2 Kings 4:8-16; Romans 6:3-11;  Matthew 10: 37-42)

I wonder if Jesus was thinking of the story of Elisha and the woman of Shunem when he said, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”

He himself makes several promises in today’s Gospel, and he confirms the last one with the words, “Amen, I say to you.” In the New Testament, this expression occurs almost eighty times, always on the lips of Jesus.

The Psalmist also makes a promise: “Through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.” Can we make the same claim?

A Beautiful Lady came to a place called La Salette because God’s faithfulness was, in fact, not being proclaimed by her people. It had been largely forgotten. She proclaimed it by her words, which included warnings and promises, and more effectively by the crucifix that she wore.

You have heard many times that the shining crucifix seemed to be the source of the light in which Mary appeared and which enfolded the children as they stood close to her. It is as if she came to “announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (Gospel acclamation).

The great La Salette scholar Fr. Jean Stern, M.S. writes: “Everything this Lady is, including her compassion, goodness and power, comes from elsewhere, from her Son, from the crucified one who is truly her Son, but who is, first, God from true God.”

Jesus is the source of light. Mary draws us to him. Like St. Paul, she does not want us to be unaware of the relationship we have with Christ Jesus as a result of our baptism.

Walking “in the light of his countenance,” we receive the gift of knowledge to help interpret our age, and the gift of understanding and wisdom, to conduct ourselves in right action, which might be “credited” to us as righteousness (see Romans 4:22). 

Or, in the words of today’s opening prayer: “O God, who through the grace of adoption chose us to be children of light, grant, we pray, that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth.”

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

Enemies no More

(12th Ordinary Sunday:  Jeremiah 20:10-13; Rom. 5:12-15;  Matthew 10: 26-33) 

Do you have enemies? We all know persons who dislike us, who may bear a resentment against us. But enemies seek our harm and rejoice in our downfall. It is easy to wish the same upon them, as Jeremiah does.

He prays, “O Lord of hosts, you who test the just, who probe mind and heart, let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause.” It is a prayer for justice, but the vindication he seeks involves the punishment of his enemies.

Today’s responsorial consists of eight verses selected from Psalm 69. If you read all thirty-seven verses, you will find a series of curses. Here is just one: “Make their eyes so dim they cannot see; keep their backs ever feeble.”

As human beings, we can understand such a reaction on the part of victims of injustice. As Christians, however, we cannot forget Jesus’ commandment: “Love your enemies.” In today’s Gospel, speaking of persecutions to come, he gently encourages us: “You are worth more than many sparrows.” Trust, not vengeance.

As members of the La Salette Family worldwide, we try to live by these principles, with a special concern for Reconciliation. Fighting the evils of the day means looking for ways to put a stop to enmity wherever it exists.

However, the cessation of hostilities is not enough. Reconciliation calls for healing. Our prayer should be “that enemies may speak to each other again, adversaries may join hands, and peoples seek to meet together” (Second Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation).

Today’s text from St. Paul states this powerfully: “But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”

He is referring to what he calls, earlier in this chapter, “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That was the purpose of Mary’s Apparition at La Salette. The transformation brought about by Reconciliation is infinitely greater than the offense that made Reconciliation necessary. 

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

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