Editor: This article was originally presented at the First International Encounter of La Salette Laity, held on the Holy Mountain of La Salette from Sept. 1-10, 2011. It was translated from Portuguese to English by Fr. Norman Butler, M.S. This is the first of three articles.
Symbols and Questions
In the La Salette event, two apparently contradictory questions challenge us human beings: "Do you say your prayers well my children?" and "Have you never seen ruined wheat?” These questions that Mary posed to Maximin and Melanie and that she poses to us today call our attention to two essential realities of human life: our relationship to God, cultivated in prayer, and our relation to the material world with its socio-economic and political dimensions implied in the need for daily bread to sustain the life of every human being.
The two questions Mary poses in her apparition remind us of two fundamental dimensions of Christian spirituality: a) contemplation of the loving presence of the Lord and b) transforming human action based on justice and solidarity. Mary shows us that these are two intertwined realities. The modern mind tends to contrast spirit with matter. In biblical Hebrew there are two complementary expressions: "ruah (the breath of life)” and "shekinah (the loving presence of the Lord)".
The term spirituality comes from 'spirit' and, in a common understanding, 'spirit' is opposed to matter. However in biblical language, 'spirit' is not opposed to matter or the body. It is opposed to the 'flesh' (that is, the fragility which is destined for death); it is opposed to the law (that is, imposition, fear and punishment). So in this semantic context, spirit means life, construction, strength, action and freedom.
The spirit of a person is basically the best part of the person. The spirit is the deepest self, where we find root motivations, ideals, utopias, passion and the mystique with which a person lives and struggles and transmits enthusiasm to others (Casaldaliga, Pedro e Vigil, José Maria, Espiritualidade da Libertação (Liberation Spirituality), Vozes, 1993).
Biblical Parallels to the La Salette Message
Mary's message at La Salette, following the bible usage, is built around these two pillars: spirit as divine breath in our life and in creation, and therefore in bread. Here are a few expressions from the apparition that have biblical resonance:
Mary said: “Draw near, my children.”
Scripture says: “Come and see for yourselves” (John 1:39).
Mary said: “Don't be afraid.”
Scripture says: “It's me. Don't be afraid” (John 6:20).
Mary said: “I've come to tell you great news.”
Scripture says: “I announce to you great news which will bring joy to all the people” (Luke 2:10).
Mary said: “If my people will not submit…”
Scripture says: “When all things have been made subject to him, then the Son himself will submit himself to the One who submitted all to him, so that God may be all in all” (2 Cor 15:28).
Mary said: The arm of my Son…”
Scripture says: He has shone might with his arm” (Luke 1:51).
Mary said: “The name of my Son…”
Scripture says: “Mary gave birth to a Son” (Matt 1:25).
Mary said: “I gave you six days to work, I have kept the seventh for myself, and no one will give it to me.”
Scripture says: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work” (Gen 2:2).
Mary said: “If they are converted...”
Scripture says: “Your salvation is in conversion and confidence, and your strength consists in trust and calm” (Isa 30:15).
Mary said: “During Lent, they go to the meat market like dogs.”
Scripture says: “Don't give holy things to dogs nor pearls to swine; after trampling them they will turn on you” (Matt 7:6).
Mary said: “Do you say your prayers well?”
Scripture says: “Jesus went to the mountain to pray. He spent the whole night praying to God” (Luke 6:12).
Mary said: “Here, my son, eat bread.”
Scripture says: “Jesus took the five loaves and two fish” (Mark 6:40).
Mary said: “Well, my children, you will make this known to all my people.”
Scripture says: “Go through the entire world and announce Good News to all humanity” (Mark 16:15).
These comparisons make it clear that spirit and body are interrelated and inseparable in the human person. The human being is a whole which is totally unique. Therefore, our spirituality and our charism must take this into account.
Mary at La Salette knows how to read the signs of the times as she did in Palestine. She knows how to speak of "God's things" in the details of the life of her people. In both she urges us to live a spirituality attentive to the signs of the times, inviting us to be immersed in the events and the daily routine of our lives so as to discern in the world "the seeds of the Word" and the whisperings of the Spirit.
This spirituality permits us to have an experience of God's fidelity, the God who continues to do wonders in spite of our human fragility. It teaches us to listen and pay attention to what happens around us, perceiving with the eyes of the heart where the spirit is trying to lead us as we journey on the path of her Son.