Written by Fr. Donald Paradis, M.S.
The La Salette place, with its breathtaking surroundings, contain the basic building blocks of human reality and faith as well: people (her wayward people) and God's creation (the field of Coin, wheat rotting and grapes decaying). Add to this Mary's visit, her words of warning and promises of blessing. Mary recounts the basics of our faith life: an active faith in her Son, daily prayer, Eucharist and Lenten habits of faith. It's almost a catechism of evangelization, calling us back to the basics.
Mary, of course, echoes the message of the scriptures, the message of her Son. The book of Genesis begins with the story of God's creation (1:11-13) with its plants, trees, seed-bearing plants, crops, and harvest. The last book of the bible, Revelation (14:14-16) describes the denouement of earth's history, the final judgment also described in terms of the reaping of the earth's harvest.
The Cycle of Life: Birth, Death, and New Life
It was 1846. In an obscure hamlet there lived desperate, rebellious, profoundly saddened peasants. How they labored at tilling their stony and ungrateful soil. Adding to the challenge now, relentless rain fall all Spring, all Summer and part of Autumn. Grapes, walnuts, wheat, and potatoes rotted. In a population nourished daily by little more than potatoes, they saw them rotting on the vine or under the soil.
Untitled-2Systems break down. If they are not repaired, they are discarded. Things break down, if they are not fixed, they are fit only to be thrown away.
Does the Creator know breakdown? Indeed. Would God repair the damage? In God's eyes, the earth, which God once saw as good, was now corrupt and full of lawlessness (Genesis 6:11). The earth would have to be purged by a flood of cosmic proportions. However a merciful surprise followed this devastation. In a sense, God underwent a conversion, a defining change of heart: I will never again curse the ground because of humankind. While the earth remains seedtime and harvest shall not cease (Genesis 8:21-22).
God once again promised the birth of a people set apart for God's purpose, to be the People of God. Once the Promised Land, the land of Canaan began to yield its first crops, the manna from heaven ceased. The building blocks were in place: the land, seedtime, harvest, the people, civilization, cultivation of the mind, of the spirit, collaboration in everything by bountiful Creator and acquiescent creature.
In the fullness of time, a new creation, the rebirth of God's people, would remedy the human heart's insubordination : If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new. All this is from God who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). As our crucified healer, Christ carried out God's change of heart, and is carrying it out still empowering us by his self-emptying to die and rise with him.
Untitled-3I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24). You did not choose me; no, I chose you, and commissioned you to go out and bear much fruit, fruit that will last (John 15:16). When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. When the child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world (John 16:21).
The birthpangs and the groanings of all creation are echoed in these warmly familiar, yet incisively challenging, words: "IF my people refuse to submit, I will be forced to let go the arm of my Son. How long a time I have suffered for you. IF I want my Son not to abandon you, I am compelled to plead with him unceasingly. . . . IF they are converted, rocks and stones will turn into mounds of wheat; the potatoes will be self-sown in the fields."
Mary's Wishes vs. the World's Intent
After his Ascension it was the mother of Jesus who called the first of her Son's disciples to regain their spiritual composure, who summoned them to that upper room, there to await in holy hope and expectation the fulfillment of their Lord's promised gift of the Spirit. Christ's preeminent disciple, mysteriously and wondrously chose, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, to carry out anew on the mountain of La Salette this essential mission.
A Revolution whose fallout is felt to this day in subtle and not so subtle ways. The goal of those 18th-century Republican revolutionaries was to break the Church's grip on the culture and people of France, to reorganize humanity without reference to king or God, to set the people free from the shackles of superstition and of submission to prince and priest.
However the Beautiful Lady's goal was to prepare for the Lord of the Ages a reconstituted People, to urge God's chosen People to tend the creation well, to tend this world well, to tend their relationships well, to attend in faith – with hope and love – to seedtime and harvest. She mentions:Untitled-4
the earth potatoes
the fields wheat
the vines grapes
the trees walnuts
the love of man and woman children.
It is no exaggeration to consider our own day and age to be a time of crisis, a pregnant period in both secular history and salvation history; a time of breakdown, of chaos, a time when the old is passing away. And as such, a time of re-creation, of new birth.
Mary's Ever-Contemporary Message of Hope
"The strong and simple words Mary spoke give her message a real relevance in a world locked still in the throes of famine and war, and so many other blights that are the sign, and often the consequences of sin. Today still, she would lead all who suffer the trials of these times to a joy born of the peace-filled accomplishment of the mission assigned to the people of God." In Pope John Paul II,'s letter of May 6, 1996, marking the 150th Anniversary of Mary's Apparition at La Salette, he says:
"In this regard, the Apostle Paul offers a dose of timely counsel, advice Our Lady Reconciler fully endorses: Don't delude yourself into thinking God can be cheated; where you sow, there you reap. If you sow in the field of self-indulgence you will get a harvest of corruption out of it; if you sow in the field of the Spirit you will get from it a harvest of eternal life. We must never grow weary of doing good because if we don't give up the struggle, we shall get our harvest at the proper time. (Galatians 6:7-9).
"It's still about the earth: soil, fields, vineyards, trees, children, life, every individual's as yet unfulfilled potential. It's about freedom. Not the freedom to do the least one can, but the graced freedom that strives to be and achieve all that the Creator has lovingly crafted each of us to be and do. "I am here," the Beautiful Lady said. In her graced freedom, the full freedom from which, in the name of us all, she spoke, those truly freeing words: Let it be done to me as you have said (Luke 1:38)."
Our Blessed Mother Calls Us to Freedom in Faith
Untitled-5Yes, being free means being free for the other. There is no "free from" without being "free for". There is no dominion except in the service of God and of our sisters and brothers. Freedom is utter obedience to God because that is total obedience to our own truest self. "My people... my people," she proudly said at La Salette. "Allow yourselves to be shaped into a new people of God. God, the source of life, calls all of you to live your life to the full."
God, the source of love, calls all of you to love wastefully. God, the ground of all Being, calls all of you to have the courage to be yourselves, your God-given selves. That once-dry brook at La Salette, which has not once ceased flowing since September 19, 1846, is a mysterious but eye-opening sign of abundance beyond imagining.
A human being totally empty of self and thus filled with the infinite love of God, Mary is Mother of the new Humanity in Jesus her Son. The La Salette event culminates in him. Mary is entirely centered on Christ. She speaks of him, she speaks for him, she leads the young seers on their way to him. At La Salette she focuses primarily on the work of Christ – a cross-centered work.
Her Son is faceless, as it were, explicitly presented through his arm, which evokes radical self-giving for our sake. His arm brings to mind the creativity, the giving, the guidance, the protection, the embrace which God's power, love, and wisdom never fail to offer. His arm is the absolute sign that, in Jesus, God made himself a captive of love. The arm nailed to the cross shows Christ's helplessness.
"...the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified. (Mt 26:2)" Yes, he puts himself into the hands of the likes of us. He lovingly agrees to rely each day on our human hands to set his might and mercy free to work wonders in human lives. The system had broken down; so many things were broken. And so, he fixed them. Alleluia!