Prophets All

(26th Ordinary Sunday: Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-48)

In the rite of baptism we are anointed with chrism, a perfumed oil which symbolizes that we are one with Christ who was anointed Priest, Prophet and King.

The priesthood of the faithful means that we have been made worthy to offer true worship. But how are we prophets? Can you see yourself as a prophet today? Are you eager, like Isaiah, or, like Jonah, will you run away?

In the first reading we are told, “Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, the Lord bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.” What exactly did they do? We do not know; but whatever it was, it was the work of the same spirit that God had given to Moses.

If they spoke, it was surely a message for the benefit of others, proclaiming God’s will or his wonders. Mary, full of grace from the moment of her conception, was present with the Apostles at Pentecost. Who could have been more open than she to the indwelling of the Spirit?

She was prompted by the Spirit—can we doubt it?—to come to La Salette in a prophetic role. She gave a share of her spirit to two children unsuited to the mission she entrusted to them, so that they could make known her challenging and encouraging message of reconciliation and conversion, and all her people could turn back to her Crucified Son.

In the Gospel, Jesus does not claim an exclusive patent on his powers. His attitude, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” is similar to that of Moses in the first reading: “Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

The Psalmist prays, “From wanton sin especially, restrain your servant; let it not rule over me.” In baptism we renounced Satan and all his works. But, for a prophet, it is not enough to be blameless. We have to live the message we proclaim. We must be faithful to the share of the spirit that is given to us.

As La Salette Laity, Sisters and Missionaries, we have received the spirit of the Beautiful Lady. We prophesy in a great variety of ways. May we be so bold as to suggest that the writing of these humble weekly reflections might have a share in that mission?

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

Where Blessings Flow

(Feast of La Salette: Genesis 9:8-17; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20; John 19:25-27)

Dear La Salette sisters and brothers, you are reading this on or about September 19, 2021, the 175th anniversary of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette. Unfortunately, the space we have is too small for us to say all that is in our hearts, but we do wish you an abundant share in the blessings flowing down from that Holy Mountain.

Those blessings find their source at Mount Calvary, the scene of the Gospel. There, Mary surely wept at the finger-pointing vindictiveness of Jesus’ enemies, whereas at La Salette her tears were caused by the abuse of his Name and the mockery of his Sacrament by her people. Which was worse?

Only one of Jesus’s disciples stood by her side. The rest fled in fear or, perhaps, disappointment. What ambitions of theirs were dashed that day? And yet it was he who had told them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). The Blessed Virgin, who at the dawn of our salvation had called herself the handmaid of the Lord, now spoke of the pains she was taking on our behalf.

In the second reading, St. Paul writes, “We implore you, in Christ's name: be reconciled to God!” There is perhaps no other Scripture that echoes so powerfully at La Salette. Mary speaks of certain sins committed by her people, but these are examples. It was the evil inclination of the human heart that moved God first to destroy all mortals, but then to take pity and make a covenant of peace with them, in the first reading.

We all struggle at one time or another against pride, wrath, greed, and the rest of the deadly sins. If we are responsible for children, we try to form them, while they are still innocent, in the virtues of humility, patience, generosity, etc.; but we also know how important—and hard—it is to teach by example.

Reconciliation has a starting point in our life but it does not end there. Many times it needs to be renewed, by praying well and through the sacraments. We need never be discouraged, for there is a Beautiful Lady who joins her tears to her Son’s blood flowing down from Calvary, bringing the blessings of hope and mercy into the midst of our sinfulness.

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

Think Again

(24th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 50:5-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35)

If you have already seen today’s readings, we have a quiz question for you. How many parts of the body can you remember that are mentioned in the first reading and the Psalm? We will return to this later.

In the Gospel, after listening to the rumors circulating about him, Jesus asks his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers for all, “You are the Christ,” i.e., the Anointed One, the Messiah. This is a pivotal moment in their life. Jesus now has to prepare them for what lies ahead. He is about to begin his final journey to Jerusalem, and he tells them to rethink their messianic ideas.

Peter is shocked! His reaction, misguided though it is, is understandable. Words like “suffer... be rejected... be killed” do not belong in the same sentence with “Messiah.” Jesus might as well have added: “I will give my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pluck my beard; my face I will not shield from buffets and spitting,” to paraphrase Isaiah.

Mary at La Salette provides her tearful answer to Jesus’ question. He is her Son, who is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah. Her large crucifix, however, accompanied by hammer and pincers, shows him not in the majesty of power but in the beaten, bruised image of redeeming love.

Today’s text from Isaiah invites us to revise our understanding of suffering and humiliation. No matter what we face as Christians, we too can say, “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.”

Returning to the quiz question that opened this reflection, the answer is six: ear, back, cheeks, face, eyes and feet. In the Bible, parts of the body are often a poetic way of saying “I,” e.g., “my eyes have seen.”

St. James tells his readers to take a new look at the meaning of faith. It is internal and external. “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works,” he writes. A poem attributed to St. Teresa of Avila puts it this way: “Christ has no body but yours... Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.” Let us use them with courageous faith, that through our works others may come to know Christ and rejoice in his boundless mercy.

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

Be Opened!

(23rd Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 35:4-7; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37)

The texts the Church puts before us today might at first appear somewhat less challenging or stimulating than usual. On the other hand the La Salette connections to these readings are abundant and fertile.

In Isaiah: “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! ... Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe.” We hear the Beautiful Lady’s first words to Mélanie and Maximin. We see the miraculous fountain.

In the Psalm: “The God of Jacob... gives food to the hungry...; the way of the wicked he thwarts.” We recall Mary’s promise of abundance if her people take her words to heart... and her fear of further calamities if they do not.

In James: “Show no partiality... Did not God choose those who are poor in the world?” Maximin’s family was far from rich; and Mélanie’s was desperately poor.

In the Gospel, the opening of the deaf man’s ears may be seen in Mary’s speaking to the children in their own dialect when she observed that they did not understand French; and the loosening of the man’s tongue is reflected in the surprising responses these uneducated children gave under interrogation.

In fact, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” is central to the La Salette message. The Blessed Virgin came to open people’s eyes to the reality of sin and suffering, their ears to the Word of God, their minds and imagination to new possibilities.

Above all, she wanted to open their hearts to the love of God manifested in the crucified Christ and the Eucharist. This reflects the first line of the Responsorial Psalm: “The God of Jacob keeps faith forever.”

La Salette is an invitation to keep faith with the Lord who “comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” We respond with prayer and respect. Inevitably this will also mean keeping faith with others, whether through reconciliation as needed, or by reaching out to others in their need, whether physical or spiritual.

Mary’s message about keeping faith is timeless and relevant to all ages, groups, and to all her people..

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

That you may Live

(22nd Ordinary Sunday: Deuteronomy 4:1-8; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-23)

When is the last time someone said to you, “You Catholics are truly a wise and intelligent people. Who else has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which you have?” Probably never.

In the first reading, however, Moses anticipates that other nations will be impressed with the laws and statutes God gave them. He calls on his people to “hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live.” In other words, the Law, far from being a burden, is a wondrous gift. It will enable them, in the words of today’s Psalm, to walk blamelessly and do justice.

Why, then, in today’s Gospel, is Jesus so critical of the law-abiding Pharisees and scribes? Because they had become the fulfillment of a prophecy: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13).

Of those whom Mary called “my people” at La Salette, many did not even pay lip service to the demands of their faith. She told them, in tears, how much she had to plead with her Son on their behalf. She pleaded with them to observe the Law, not out of a spirit of legalism, but for their own sake. She did not want Jesus to abandon them to famine and death. She came that they might live.

Most people are willing to obey the laws of their country. And yet, when it comes to Christian morality and dogma, it is surprisingly easy to “disregard God’s commandment and cling to human tradition.” We forget the injunction, “You shall not add to what I command you (like the Pharisees) nor subtract from it (as we are inclined to do).”

The Israelites did not observe the Law perfectly. Neither have we. We often fall short of God’s plan for us. Relying on his mercy, we try again. This is essential to the message of reconciliation, the call to return to the spirit and practice of our Catholic faith.

St. James writes, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” Humility is essential in our relationship to the Lord’s will.

God knows what gives life. So does the Beautiful Lady.

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

How to Serve the Lord, and Why

(21st Ordinary Sunday: Joshua 24:1-18; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69)

Warning! This week’s readings will challenge all of us in different ways.

The last time we encountered these readings (three years ago), the title of the reflection was Whom shall we Serve?Everything pointed to the obvious answer— we serve the Lord. For us, the decision is made! We, like Joshua, choose to serve the Lord. Great! Now what? Next comes the how.

What does it actually mean to serve the Lord? What can we do? Our Lady of La Salette gives a partial list: daily prayer, weekly Eucharist, the annual discipline of Lent, respect for the name of the Lord.

The full list comes to us from the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church, which also place before us the importance of love of neighbor, through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

So we are called to prayer, love, mercy. But the how of service does not end with the performance of these things. All of these presuppose two fundamental attitudes: submission and conversion, which we always experience as challenging.

Joshua gave the people options. He said, “Decide today whom you will serve.” This was their moment of truth. They gave the right answer: “We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” Was that enough?

The real how of serving the Lord may be summed up as follows: if I faithfully, truly and honestly want to serve the Lord, I may do so only if my commitment to him is absolutely unconditional. But can I really be so sure?

The answer to that question brings us to the why. Simon Peter spoke for the Apostles and, we hope, for us, when he said, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

What a powerful statement of faith! Is it ours, too? Do we really believe that our life is nothing without Christ? Are we willing to accept his will, and even be subordinate to each other, out of reverence for him?

The challenges are many, but still we may hope to cry out with the psalmist, “Let my soul glory in the Lord!”

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

Ark of the Covenant

(Assumption: 1 Chron. 15:3-4,15-16 to 16:1-2; 1 Cor. 15:54-57; Luke 11:27-28. NOTE: These readings are for the Vigil Mass.)

It was a great and festive day in Jerusalem! The Ark of the Covenant was coming home, as the first reading tells us, “to the place which David had prepared for it.” Today we celebrate Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, as she is taken up to the place which the Father prepared for her in heaven.

Just as the Ark built by Moses was the great sign of God’s presence among his people, so the Virgin’s womb brought the Son of God among us. In today’s Gospel, a woman in the crowd called out to Jesus, saying, “Blessed is the womb that carried you!” She was perhaps the first to fulfill the Virgin’s own prophecy, uttered in her Magnificat: “All generations will call me blessed.”

It is because Mary was assumed into heaven that we have her apparition at La Salette (amongst others). Her radiance as the Queen of Heaven, is the light of Christ shining out from her. Everything in the apparition ultimately points to Christ. Here, too, she is the Ark, bringing her Son to her people yet again.

The Beautiful Lady echoes Jesus’ reply to the woman of the Gospel, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it,” with her own words, “If they are converted.” She promises all kinds of graces, and mercy in abundance.

The Assumption reflects St. Paul’s words in the second reading, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” La Salette shows the tragic connection between sin and death, but at the same time offers the means of triumphing over both. How do we partake of this victory? A good starting place is to observe the commandments preserved on stone tablets in the original Ark of the Covenant.

If you have been to La Salette and taken part in the candlelight procession at night, you have probably experienced the special enthusiasm that accompanies the singing of the La Salette Angelus and the end of the service. It is like David’s command to the musicians and singers “to make a loud sound of rejoicing.”

May our love for Our Lady of La Salette be always a source of joy in our hearts.

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

Life in Christ, Together

(19th Ordinary Sunday: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51)

Eiljah was a powerful and successful prophet. It is strange, then, to hear him, in the first reading, praying for death and saying, “This is enough, O Lord!”

Not many of us ask for death, but there are times when our prayer is, “Enough, Lord!” It may seem to us that the times we live in are harder than for earlier generations; we witness bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling and malice.

Does this list sound familiar? It should, because it is taken from today’s second reading, written over 1,950 years ago. There have always existed attitudes and behaviors that could prevent Christians from having a loving, faith-filled relationship with God.

It is bad enough when the negativity is directed against others, whom we perceive as enemies. We see this in the murmuring of those who disapproved of Jesus’ claim of having come down from heaven.

But it is worse when the bitterness is directed against God. Mary, at La Salette, spoke of the abuse of her Son’s name, and a general turning away from the practice of the faith. Even Maximin and Mélanie had to admit that they hardly ever prayed.

Prayer is the solution. God heard Elijah’s prayer, not by taking his life but by giving him strength. Private prayer is effective. That of the Christian community is even more so. In the Psalm today we hear, “Glorify the Lord with me, let us together extol his name.”

When we participate in the Eucharist together, and “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” not only do we escape, at least for a while, the reviling and malice in the world around us, but we seek healing for those same faults in ourselves. Then, like Elijah, “strengthened by that food,” we can hope to carry a community attitude into our everyday lives.

In this way, the La Salette message of conversion and reconciliation becomes an expression of St. Paul’s words: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God.”

An angel of God woke Elijah and provided food. The Beautiful Lady woke her people and directed them to the Bread of Life, the flesh of her Son, “given for the life of the world.” Without it we cannot truly live.

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

Signs and Wonders

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

In the three-year cycle of the Sunday Lectionary, we are currently in “Year B,” which highlights the Gospel of Mark on the Sundays in Ordinary Time. But there is always a four-week break, when the Church presents the “Bread of Life Discourse” from Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.

Today we have the opening, a curious exchange between Jesus and people who had been fed at the multiplication of loaves and fishes. “Rabbi, when did you get here?”—“Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”

They had seen what he did, of course, and they continued to seek him out because they wanted more—more of the same. But they had not seen the sign; they had missed the meaning of the event.

In the first reading, the Israelites in the desert longed for the fleshpots of Egypt, forgetting the signs and wonders by which they had been rescued from slavery, and murmuring not so much against Moses and Aaron as against the Lord their God.

At La Salette, Our Lady describes a similar behavior. Twice she mentions people swearing and throwing in her Son’s name.

There seems to have been a longing for the past among the Christians of Ephesus. St. Paul writes, “You should put away the old self of your former way of life.” At the very least, they needed to learn that a genuine relationship with the Lord was not compatible with gentile ways, a message echoed at La Salette.

La Salette also has signs and wonders: the light, the tears, the roses, the chains, and the crucifix, the simple peasant garb; and let us not forget the once seasonal spring that has never ceased flowing since September of 1846. Also, in her discourse, Mary makes a wondrous promise, biblical in its extravagance, of abundant harvests for those who will return to God.

What does it take for us to have a truly personal relationship with the Lord, not based only on obedience or on our needs? How can we be worthy tabernacles of God’s grace? We can begin by seeing the signs of his presence, and recognizing the wonders of his love, as shown by the Beautiful Lady.

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

Jesus and Human Need

(17th Ordinary Sunday: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34)

Among the many forms of human suffering is the one put before us in today’s Gospel: food insecurity. In this case the situation was of short duration. Jesus responded to an immediate need on a specific occasion.

But, like Jesus, we too can ask how it is possible to respond to the needs of so many. Some of us, like Philip and Andrew, may answer that it can’t be done. But the evangelist tells us, “Jesus himself knew what he was going to do.”

Some of you reading this have experienced food insecurity, perhaps combined with anxiety over lodging, work, etc. Many have not. In which set of circumstances is the grace of God more active?

At La Salette, Mary noted that people worked on Sundays all summer. But, with potatoes, wheat, grapes and even walnuts all showing signs of blight, farmers were desperate to save what little they could. It is hard to be open to spiritual realities when material needs demand our full attention.

On the other hand, if we are so taken up with what we possess that we are unable to respond to others’ needs, it is equally hard to live in the Spirit, to grow and work and learn in community. Compassion and empathy are gifts. Do we desire them?

Jesus fed the hungry multitude because he saw their need, and he saw their need because he wanted to see it. Mary was aware of her people’s food insecurity, and she offered hope, “if they are converted.” Conversion, too, is a gift. Do we desire it?

St. Paul writes, “I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.” He focuses especially on unity: “one body and one Spirit.” How is this possible if some members are in dire need and other members do not help them?

Can we dare to pray for the gifts of conversion and compassion in our lives, to ask the Lord to make us like himself, willing to recognize the needs around us?

At the beginning of the Gospel we read that Jesus “saw that a large crowd was coming to him.” With little, he met the need of many. When Christians respond to others’ needs, the goal is to help them come to Christ. That was Mary’s purpose at La Salette.

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

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