THE MEANING OF THE LA SALETTE MESSAGE
An apparition does not form part of the deposit of Faith. Rather it is a supernatural sign needing to be discerned. We are free to accept or reject it but in any case what is needed is sufficient information on which to base a sound judgment and an enlightened faith.
Such is the end which the Church has in view when a bishop affirms that an apparition reported to have taken place within the confines of his diocese ” bears within itself all the characteristics of truth and that the faithful have grounds for believing it indubitable and certain.” One cannot grasp the purpose and dynamism of such an event except in the light of the Holy Spirit’s action in our day and in the perspectives of the sources of our Faith.
It is time then to ask ourselves what is the meaning and import of the grace accorded to mankind on September 19, 1846. What are the aspects of the Word of God to which this message from Heaven recalls us? And to what kind of conversion does it summon us?
TO SEE AND UNDERSTAND
Even before speaking, Our Lady presents herself to the children and to us. Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother, radiates the light of the resurrection: she is nothing else but light. The brightness of her face is such that Maximin is unable to bear it and it dazzles Melanie. Her garments, like those of Christ on the mount of the Transfiguration, are likewise resplendent with light: her headdress, robe, long apron and peasant woman’s shawl.
“The only knowledge I claim to have is about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ” (cf. 1 Cor. 2:2)
All the light comes from the large crucifix she bears on her breast. In appearing at La Salette Mary continues to fulfill the mission she received at the foot of the cross: to ” take pains” for us in order to give birth to us in the Faith.
On each side of the crucifix are placed the hammer and pincers, the instruments of the Passion. The shoulders of the beautiful lady are weighed down by a large chain, the biblical symbol of sin and the injustices committed by us towards our brothers and sisters. ” We therefore are divided in ourselves. As a result, our whole life, both individual and social, shows itself to be a struggle, and a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness. We find that we are unable of ourselves to overcome the assaults of evil successfully, so that everyone feels as though bound by chains” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 13).
Paralleling the chain, along edges of the beautiful lady’s shawl, were roses of all colors; roses likewise crowned her head, edging her diadem of light; again there were roses around her feet. A veritable rosary: from our human roots to the cross, and from the cross to glory and the feast without end!
“I have taken root in a people of glory, in the Lord’s domain… I have grown as the rose bushes of Jericho” (Sir. 24:12 f.)
For those who are particularly sensible to symbols, everything has already been said: Christ crucified and risen, Mary’s role with regard to believers, our combats and our refusals, and our day-to-day lives needing to be transfigured.
That is indeed what the beautiful lady comes to recall to us in her message. Let us take note in particular of the fact that, through the young shepherds, it is “her people” that she is addressing, recalling to us at the same time the collective dimension of our Faith: we are called indeed, each one of us, but within the bosom of the people of God.
“She wept all the time that she spoke to us…I clearly saw her tears, they flowed and flowed unceasingly” . The tears of Mary at La Salette recall those she shed on Mount Calvary and are a sign of her unceasing tenderness in our regard: they teach us the gravity of our refusals and indifference, and the urgency of our conversion. The tears of the Mother of God and our Mother show us the importance we must attach to her message.
” Taken up to heaven Mary did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession she continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 62).
LISTEN AND PUT INTO PRACTICE
(Luke 6:46 f; 8:21; 11:28; James 1:21-25)
When first heard, the message of La Salette is disconcerting. At the same time it arouses our attention.
· The Blessed Virgin speaks the language of her people.
She speaks the language of the peasants of Dauphiny in 1846. Her love renders her attentive to their religious indifference and their sins, but also to their worries and hopes. She urgently calls them to conversion.
· The Blessed Virgin is a “daughter of Israel”.
Now there is profound consonance between the concerns and the language of the rural populations of the mid-nineteenth century and the fact that, in the Bible, the Word of God always manifests itself in the concrete history of the people of God. Mary, as the daughter of Israel, teaches us to discover through the events and affairs of life the discreet presence of the God who “does marvellous things” and who ” remembers his love for his people” . “Daughter of Sion, rejoice: your God is in you, the Savior”.
· The Virgin situates herself in the tradition of the Prophets.
A prophet is one to whom God confides the mission to speak IN HIS NAME to his people, to reveal to his people in the events of this passing world a summons to a greater love. At La Salette Mary begins her mission by taking account of the actual situation of the harvests: wheat, potatoes, grapes and nuts. She starts out by taking note of the farmers’ own pessimistic forecasts: famine and infant deaths “if the wheat continues like that!” She provokes a taking of stock: “You take no heed!” and lays down her challenge: “If they are converted…” Is it not the same summons of him who IS the Word of God: “The kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:15). And again: “Do not worry… Seek FIRST the kingdom of God and its righteousness” (Mt. 6:33).
For indeed it is a question of the Gospel – that Gospel which we had forgotten. Mary brings it home to us once again: let us follow her discourse step by step.
IN THE NAME OF CHRIST WE BESEECH YOU…
(John 20:31; Acts 4:12)
· “Be not afraid!”
Modeling herself on the risen Jesus, Mary comes to us as a messenger of peace – that peace which the “great news” brings, for it is none other than the Good News of the Gospel. At the outset of her discourse Mary clearly designates the purpose of her intervention. At the close of her discourse she will ask us to be, in union with her, its messengers: for does not news need to be proclaimed, heard and passed on?
· “If my people will not submit…”
This is a hard saying for modern ears. Perhaps, rather, we should say that is a demanding word: it is not a question of alienating our freedom, but of placing us under Christ’s leadership, of communing with his will. When Christ will say that ‘everything is subjected’, this clearly cannot include the One who subjected it to him. And when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subject in his turn to the One who subjected all things to him, SO THAT GOD MAY BE ALL IN ALL” (I Cor. 15:27-28).
This submission which is COMMUNION is the one which Mary, the humble servant of the Lord, lived from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion and Pentecost. “And henceforth all generations will call me blessed!”
. ” You will never recompense the pains I have taken for you.”
This is an added reason for us to respond as generously as possible to such love. It is for us to pray in union with her who never ceases to pray for us. It is for us to “take pains” in union with Mary Reconciler: like her let us give our attention to “the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and trials” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 62).
Prayer and Action: the two are inseparable.
” Thus Mary, the daughter of Adam, consenting to the word of God, became the mother of Jesus. Committing herself wholeheartedly, and impeded by no sin, to God’s saving will, she devoted herself totally, as handmaid of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 56).
“Wherefore Mary is hailed as a pre-eminent and as a wholly unique member of the Church, and as its type and outstanding model of faith and charity. The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and devotion as a most beloved Mother” (Ibidem, 53).
The entire body of the faithful pours forth urgent supplications to the Mother of God and our Mother that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all the angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints… ” (Ibidem, 69).
LET YOURSELVES BE RECONCILED WITH GOD
(Mt. 5:23 f.; Mk. 11:24 f.; 2 Cor. 5:18 f.; Ephes. 2:15)
Our Lady specifies two refusals of her people: “the two things which make the arm of my Son so heavy”.
· The Seventh Day. The disrespect for the seventh day sends us back to the two first books of the Bible, Genesis and Exodus. How do we honor “the day which God has reserved for Himself”, the day when one stands face to face with God? Is it really for us a DAY OF REPOSE befitting free people, the DAY OF THE LORD, befitting us as children of God, the DAY OF ASSEMBLY for brothers and sisters in need of reconciliation?
Christ inaugurated, by his resurrection, the first day of the new creation: we are called to live as children of God. And this life, which passes beyond death, causes us to enter already the Day of the Lord – a day without sunset.
· The Name of My Son. The cart drivers of times past took the name of Christ at the least swerving of their horses. At the slightest misfortune do we not tend to impute to God responsibility for our adversities, forgetting our own responsibilities: when confronted with a trial, do we not egoistically close in on ourselves in a revolt without hope? The Virgin comes to tell us again ” HOLY IS HIS NAME”. “There is no other Name under heaven given to men which is necessary for our salvation” (Acts 4:12). “Never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (Col. 3:17), that is, after the manner of Christ and according to his Spirit.
It is indeed a question therefore of this ” submission” , this will to live with and in Christ. “Often refusing to acknowledge God as our source, we have upset as well the relationship which should link us to our last end; and at the same time we have broken the right order that should reign within ourselves as well as between ourselves and other people and all creatures” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 13).
THE THINGS THAT ARE SPOILING
(Matt. 6:19; Luke 12 & 13; James 5:3)
This rebellion against God, this “death of God”, inevitably entails our death and the rupture of our harmony with the universe. Yet because of this death and rupture Christ Jesus came to open the road to salvation. At La Salette the Virgin does not turn us away from reality; on the contrary she urges us to look squarely at what is happening around us: ruined crops, potatoes that are rotting, wheat turning into dust, empty nutshells, grapes decaying on the vine, famine and epidemics. Our precarious situations, the restricted duration of our lives have, however, a reverse positive side: they are so many motives calling for our conversion, summoning us to take up the following of Christ, to live even now that new life which he lived until Calvary and whose resurrection is both a guarantee and a coming to full bloom of that life. This is the source of our confidence. On this earth where two-thirds of humankind today suffer hunger and malnutrition, where the rights of man are scoffed at, where injustices are found at our very door, where each day the risk of total destruction increases, will we know how to be attentive to what Pope John XXIII lately called ‘the signs of the times”? May they become for us so many “signs of God”: may the very uncertainty of our created existence cause us to ” return to Him” and to prove ourselves true brothers and sisters towards all the less fortunate we encounter!
IF THEY ARE CONVERTED…
(Ezeckiel 18:30 f; 1 Kings 8:35; Mk. 1:15; Lk. 15; Acts 2:38; 3:19)
The call to conversion is at the heart of the message of La Salette. Everything converges towards that end: the tears and the crucifix, the light and the roses, the attitudes of the beautiful lady, the walk from the ravine to the summit, but above all the discourse of the Virgin. “Return to God with all your heart”, he alone is the source of life. The biblical and evangelical consonances of this discourse are many.
· “If they are converted…” they will be blessed by God. And as in the Bible, stones and rocks will become mounds of wheat for ” nothing is impossible with God”.
· “If they are converted…” Jesus declared: ” Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all else will be added unto you.”
· “If they are converted…” And the apostle Paul gives us a glimpse of the happy issue: ” All creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God…it retains its hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God” (Rom. 8:19).
THE ROAD TO CONVERSION: THREE POINTS
(Mt. 6:5 f; Mk. 14:32 f; Luke 18:1 f; John 17)
· “Do you say your prayers well, my children?” “Not very well, Madam”, they replied. Should not that also be our reply? She exhorts them to pray EACH DAY, morning and evening. “Watch and pray”. The Virgin indicates only a minimum, an Our Father and a Hail Mary, BUT she urges them to do more when they can. This is also the teaching of the Council: ” Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God, should present themselves as a sacrifice, living, holy and pleasing to God. They should everywhere on earth bear witness to Christ and give an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope of an eternal life which is theirs” (L. G. 10 and 1 Peter 3:15).
· “During the summer only a few aged women go to Mass…”
The coming together of Christians EACH WEEK for Sunday Mass is a “vital need”: the Word of God nourishes their faith; the contact with Christ, bread broken for a new world, is a source of dynamism; the communion of his Body GIVEN UP for us and of his Blood once SHED for us reminds us to be ready to give our lives in behalf of others and makes us sharers in the strength of Christ’s Spirit. “At the heart of the former world with which we are still linked by our blindness and inertia, the Church, in the celebration of the Eucharist, understands and announces that the new world, inaugurated by the risen Christ, is in fact already present in our midst and it is incumbent on us to be its witnesses in our daily lives through our conduct, both individual and as members of society”. This eucharistic requirement thus becomes a source of hope and joy which no one can take from us (Lk. 21:14 f.; John 13:1 f.; 20:19-26).
· “During Lent they go to the meat market like dogs…”
Far from scandalizing us, Our Lady’s strongly worded reproach should prick our consciences. In the Bible, when people are compared to dogs, it means that they have lost all sense of dignity (Phil. 3:2; Mt. 7:6, etc.) What are we doing with our dignity as children of God when we waste food and other things, when we squander goods which others desperately need? To find our dignity anew, must we not realize that we do not live by bread alone and that the necessary efforts we must make to share our blessings with others is a communion with the Son of God, from whom precisely we derive our dignity? “What you do to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do to Me!” (Mt. 25).
EACH YEAR, during Lent, is made present to us the ” beautiful witness” given by Jesus during his Passion (1 Tim. 6), and it is a reminder that we must never ” sell” our dignity. The power of the resurrection is already at work in our midst, making of us children of God: there must then be no compromise with falsehood, injustice, money or power. Let us not live like dogs; rather let our food be the carrying out of the Father’s will! Cost what it may! (Gospel accounts of the Passion).
THE FARM AT COINS
(Jer. 23:24; Hosea 6:1 f.; Mt. 28:20; Lk. 24:29; 2 Cor. 6:16)
The Beautiful Lady recalled to Maximin an event apparently unimportant: a small deed and passing observation of his father. For a long time M. Giraud no longer attended church and was indifferent towards religion. When on September 20th he listened for the first time to Maximin’s account of the Apparition, his reaction was to forbid the boy to tell such nonsensical tales again. A few days later, annoyed at all the comings and goings of people wanting to question the boy, he threatened the child with severe punishment to make him shut up. “But, papa, she spoke to me about you!”, Maximin exclaimed. And he recalled to him the episode of the spoiled wheat at the Coin farm and the piece of bread he gave his son as they walked back to Corps. All this M. Giraud, just like his thoughtless son, had forgotten. He was now astonished: he who thought he had exiled God from his life discovers that not for an instant did God cease to be aware of his hopes and anxieties, and of the particular fear that he would have no more bread to give to his child. This discovery will be for him the beginning of a genuine conversion, which will be intensified further the day he will be miraculously cured of his persistent asthma.
And what about us? Are we conscious of the presence of Him who follows us wherever we go? He is present whenever we share our bread with others, when it is distributed to hungry children…Wherever life is given, the Father, the source of life, is there.
AN URGENT MISSION
(Mt. 28:18; Lk. 10:1 f.; John 17:18; 20:21; Rom. 10:13 f.)
“Well, my children, you will make this known to all my people” .
The missionary dimension is essential to Christianity and Our Lady recalls this to us. “If Christ comes to create anew the conditions of a life reconciled with God and with each one of his children, we must in turn dedicate our lives to the realization of this reconciled life in the divided world in which we find ourselves…RECONCILIATION is a living force capable of opening up the future for individuals and people by renewing the bonds which either selfishness or fear have broken or weakened” (Jesus-Christ, pain rompu pour un monde nouveau, Centurion, 1981). In this world of ours where so many people work, build, suffer and hope, let us have that kind of missionary obsession.
“Well, my children, you will make this well known to all my people!”
AND WHAT OF US TODAY?
Already on the second day after the Apparition visitors and pilgrims began to climb the “holy mountain”. Since 1851 and the Church’s official recognition of the Apparition’s authenticity, the crowds coming to La Salette have grown continually in number and renew themselves spiritually…and the ” great news” has been made known everywhere in the world.
Here we are today, in turn, all together and each one personally, being summoned by the Beautiful Lady: Mary recalls to us that God, “rich in mercy” , is present in each of our lives.
How could we fail to “take heed” of such tenderness?
How could we resist the tears of Her who is ” compelled to pray without ceasing for us” , of Her who is so maternally attentive to every detail and happening in our lives: our struggles and our faults, our choices and our daily cares?
Faithful to the mission she received on Calvary, Mary never ceases to recall to us the means which have been given to us to return to her Son: for we cannot, without His aid, build our lives and our world. To reject His grace cannot fail to have most serious consequence. Mary, our Reconciler, came to La Salette to recall this truth to her people.
Can we recognize the forgotten truths of the Gospel as we contemplate her Apparition and ponder her words? Will we be willing to respond to ” the pains she has taken for us” by returning to God with all our hearts, through Christ who is the way, the truth and the life: the One who was crucified for our sins, rose from the dead for our salvation, Jesus, our peace and reconciliation?
This text was prepared successively by several Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, in particular Fathers Marcel Schlewer and Maurice Sublet. The final French text was edited by Father Roger Castel and translated into English by Father James P. O’Reilly. Father Normand Mailloux co-ordinated the publishing of the English edition.
The Association of Pilgrims of La Sallette, France
Sanctuaire de N-D de La Salette
38970 Corps France