The apparition of Our Lady of La Salette, the first of the modern-day Marian apparitions, has some special qualities. It is the most biblical of Marian apparitions and, being an experience of faith, is centered on Mary’s Son, Jesus. Not only her words but her attitudes are noteworthy and show her interest not only in faith matters but also the concerns of our daily life.
There are three basic elements which stand out in her discourse with the two children that warrant our attention.
First: the Lady is concerned with the socalled “impractical” or faith-centered aspects of our life…
From a secular point of view, what could be more impractical than submission to the will of God; more “impractical” than going to Mass, saying one Our Father and one Hail Mary, doing penance and not going to the butcher shop. What could be more impractical than abstaining from taking the name of Christ and making sure to honor him on the Lord's Day?
This view of the Lady's message can also be taken as the discourse of pure praise. It is “impractical” inasmuch as it is pure praise, glory of God. Sunday, prayer, Mass, the Name of Christ – all of these point to the discourse as praise of the Lord himself. There is food for thought in all of this. We see ourselves as advancing in the spiritual life; making efforts at cancelling out or eliminating faults; improving our inner selves with a strong emphasis on spirituality that is psychologically aware.
We need to give the Lord the praise by our reverent presence to God, since Christ did not die for my sins, nor for my prayer, nor for my sacrifices, nor for my good works, but for me. Mary’s own attitude of being present to the two children mirrors God’s concern for each of us individually. After all, the end-purpose of submission is total presence to God in obedience. And, of course, obedience means to “ob-audire (to listen)”, as in “being present to”.
Second: she also is in touch with the “very practical” and challenging aspects of our life...
She used the greater part of her discourse to speak about famine, food and how best to acquire food. She said that if her people obeyed, the very stones would become mounds of wheat in the fields, and potatoes would be selfsown in the fields. She spoke specifically about rotting grapes and walnuts and wheat and potatoes. The Lady had done her "homework", and she came ready to face her people.
Third: the Beautiful Lady deals in a very personal way with us as “her people”…
Mary engaged specifically in relationships. Throughout she shows herself as one who understood well the people with whom she was speaking. She noted the fear of the children and quickly reassured them.
She sought them out, visiting their place of work, that remote mountaintop. She exercised initiative in their favor. And, remarkably, she did not hesitate to show herself vulnerable by weeping for “her children”. Insodoing she showed them exactly how she felt and she spoke to them clearly and directly.
Early on, she invited them to come nearer and allowed them – even pressed them – to come as close as within the circle of light that she herself inhabited.
She spoke to them in an engaging tone of voice, a voice that bespoke understanding and kindness as well as a deep love for them.
She did not hesitate to show confidence in them by confiding the "message to the world" to them. This is indeed a tremendous and unique show of confidence. She broke the cycle of "nobility of duty" with nobility of name by choosing the last and least of humans, as people would reckon them, veritable "cailloux" as Leon Bloy would label them in admiration.
She spoke to them in the incident of the Farm of Coin when she proved to them that she knew a lot about their lives as well as all of their detailed hardships.
In the period of one half-hour, she succeeded in establishing a good relationship with them, one of understanding and closeness – a real friendship that led them to a kind of endless longing for her. All of their lives they missed her. Whenever the topic of conversation reverted to that Saturday afternoon, they become other people. Their fidelity to her in keeping their secrets inviolate had much to do, if not all to do, with the intense love and respect that had acquired for her during that half-hour on the mountain.
She loved them enough to show endless patience toward them. During the entire apparition, Maximin played with his shepherd's staff. He played a kind of mindless hockey with pebbles while the Lady gave the message of the century and twirled his hat on it when he was tired of the stones. And yet she said nothing. This is the Lady's way of noting that people, even those chosen by God, will have faults and that we should not make too much of them, as long as they don't touch on essentials of the task.
She never harped on their past neglect of religion, only the briefest and the most delicate allusion to their lack of prayer. We must be patient with our own faults and those of others. We have to avoid pettiness. As reconcilers we can't afford the time of gazing at nitty-gritty details of a person's life, and we must concentrate on the general thrust and direction of his or her life.
The Lady did not wait for perfection before sending the children out on their mission. They were not perfect messengers but they were faithful to relaying it to the best of their gifts. And that was all she asked them to do.
The Lady gives us to believe also that willing service can be good – even excellent – without having to become canonized saints. Above all the saints of that century and area, the Lady chose Maximin and Melanie.
Finally, all this says to us is that perhaps we may have wanted to be with the two children to feel the Beautiful Lady’s warmth and tenderness, her support of our need to deepen our own faith, and her unflinching trust in us to make her message known in whatever ways we can.
Unfortunately we weren’t there, but we fortunately have her words and the response and memories of the two children, Maximin and Melanie, to convey to us their marvellous experience of her presence as well as the neccessity for us to take her final mandate seriously, like the two simple children who met the Beautiful Lady on that Saturday morning on a remote French mountaintop so long ago and so far away.
Her message and mission still have the power to renew and reconcile us back to God. They help stir up within us the believe that, through the power of faith in her Son, we can do the works Jesus did and, as he once proclaimed, even “do greater ones than (he did)” (John 14:12).