Cf. 1 John 4:18-19
(Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 8:5-17; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21)
Our Gospel text begins with, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments;” and ends with, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
We are accustomed to the comforting message of God’s unconditional love. But here it seems Jesus is placing a condition on his love, namely, the keeping of his commandments. This might trouble us, especially when we are particularly conscious of our sinfulness. Could we ever be completely cut off from God’s love? The answer, of course, is an emphatic No.
But a similar concern arises when people first hear the message of La Salette. After calling the children to her, Our Lady said: “If my people refuse to submit, I shall be forced to let go the arm of my Son. It is so strong and so heavy, I can no longer hold it back.”
What to make of this? It is unthinkable that Mary is trying to prevent an angry Jesus from inflicting punishment on us. He is the Savior; he took our guilt and punishment on himself.
Many attempts have been made to explain away the obvious meaning of Our Lady’s words. Early accounts of the Apparition sometimes have “hand” instead of “arm,’ and “hold up” instead of “hold back,” but that seems to make little difference.
Isaiah 5:25 has this: “Therefore the wrath of the Lord blazes against his people, he stretches out his hand to strike them... For all this, his wrath is not turned back, his hand is still outstretched.”
Like the prophet, the Beautiful Lady uses an image familiar to her “audience.” Unfortunately that was a time and a world when harsh physical discipline and domestic violence were common. Had she appeared in our time and world, no doubt she would have used a different image.
It would be interesting to speculate what that image might be. It would have to be striking enough to get our attention and strong enough to convince today’s “audience” of the urgency of turning back to God.
Once that goal is achieved, there is no fear. “Perfect love casts out fear,” leaving “great joy.”
Sadness and Joy
(Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:12-14; 1 Peter 4:13-16; John 17:1-11. NOTE: The Ascension readings are different.)
Jesus’ last extended discourse in John’s Gospel ends with a long prayer, which includes these words: "I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”
Over time, alas! the situation deteriorated. Some scholars claim that when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, it lost its fervor. Many became Christians because there was now a material advantage in doing so—like being a card-carrying member of the Party in Communist countries.
Be that as it may, Christianity in France in 1846 had certainly lost its fervor. A Beautiful Lady appeared on a mountain in hopes of restoring it. She used the words, “my people,” reminiscent of Jesus’ words, “those whom you gave me.” She, too, prayed for them, as she said, “without ceasing.”
In those days there was little material advantage in being a Christian. Observing the Day of Rest, for example, seemed counter-productive in a world where there was much poverty, complicated by the prospect of famine. There certainly was none of the rejoicing “to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ,” recommended by St. Peter.
We can wring our hands and bemoan the state of religion in today’s world, but that is not helpful. We can join Mary in praying “without ceasing” for a discovery of faith, or a return to faith, or a deepening of faith.
The list of names in the Acts of the Apostles gives us hope, especially as Mary was among those gathered in prayer. There is a very long unwritten list of those who have been and continue to be faithful disciples. Our Lady came to La Salette to draw others back to discipleship.
In a recent homily, Pope Francis said: “Whenever Mary puts Jesus in the midst of his people, they encounter joy.”
Mary appeared in tears in that isolated spot in the Alps. But she retains her title, “Cause of our Joy.” And think of herjoy when her people welcome her Son back in their midst!
(Pentecost: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-13; John 20:19-23)
Jesus had told his disciples to “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) This is why they were “all in one place together,” but they cannot have known what to expect. Then, suddenly, many things happened all at once—wind! fire! the ability to speak in new tongues!
We speak of the “gift” of tongues. It is not so much a gift to the person who receives it, but it is “for some benefit” to the Church. In theology, this kind of gift is called a charism.
Apparitions and miracles are referred to as “charismatic events,” because they are a gift to believers. They serve to reinforce our faith, or increase our devotion and commitment, and thus they benefit the whole Church.
The charism of La Salette was carefully studied in the 1970’s, and came to be identified with Reconciliation. This gift is not unique to La Salette, but is given through La Salette in a unique way.
Today’s Gospel provides an excellent illustration. Jesus breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
At La Salette Shrines and in La Salette ministry generally, people are reminded of the importance and the value of the gift that is the Sacrament of Penance, as well as the gift of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation with our neighbor. Reconciliation is thus a focal point.
But Reconciliation is not unique to La Salette. The Missionaries of the Precious Blood, for example, see it as their charism also, but it doesn’t “belong” to them either. It belongs to the Church, which received it when Jesus reconciled the world to the Father, “making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:20).
The uniqueness comes from the different perspective, the prism through which the charism is received and reflected. This, too, is a gift of the Spirit.
In our case the gift and charism of Reconciliation is filtered through the event, the message and the Beautiful Lady of La Salette.