The Christ of Glory
On the Beautiful Lady's breast, Christ on the cross is the heart of the living light that shapes the entire Apparition and envelops even the two children, Maximin and Melanie. He is the Christ of glory (John 19), the Crucified, who already speaks as the Risen One, the Lord who entrusts to Mary her mission as mother of the believers and calls the disciple he loves to contemplate and imitate her, "taking into his home (Jn 19:25)" the first and perfect disciple. " Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,* take up his cross, and follow me. (Mt 16:24)" And Mary stands at the foot of the cross: her presence is a “yes” carried out in faithfulness, in watchfulness and in the silence of a gift so complete that it no longer has need of words.
All the baptized are called to give such a response. Even more so are the religious, whose sole reason for being is to "follow after Jesus." The letter to the Hebrews (Heb 3:1-6; 12:1-4) presents Christ to everyone as the source, the growth and the fullness of our faith.
In a striking summary La Salettes are called to affirm in their Rule: "Christ is the rule of our life." A dynamic view of the faith and of the religious life, the continual unfolding of a pedagogy St. Paul described so well: I was grasped by Christ, but how far do I remain from personally grasping him (Phil 3:12)?
People on the Move
And so, we are people in motion, people on the move. Nothing could be more unchristian than to settle in behind the walls of one's certitudes and habits. On page after page, the Gospel tells us that God's tenderness is made manifest for our sake through the humanity of Jesus. This Jesus of Nazareth in no way seeks to distinguish himself from the people of his day. He is ever on the move: “the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head. (Mt 8:20b)” And the intensity of his love is revealed in his every gesture, his every word.
Grasped by Christ, do we manage to devise deeds and words each day by which our contemporaries might come to know that they are truly loved, loved, even unto suffering and death, loved to the point where they are enabled to share in the life of God, who is love, passionate love, consuming love, exacting love – the only love that can satisfy the famished people we all are? "I am the way (Jn 14:6)," Jesus tells us once again. Do we follow him?
In this dynamic and pedagogy, the other elements of the Apparition yield their meaning. We can do no more here than evoke the paths to be pursued, the conversions to be experienced, the convictions to be "made known" – in our own lives to begin with, then to others... "to all my people."
The Beautiful Lady "displays" symbols (and this word is to be taken in its strongest sense: the very expression of reality). Her tears, first of all, tears of light and glory, but still the real tears of the One who never ceases to pray and intervene "for the (children) of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers… until they are led into the happiness of their true home. (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, #62)”
In our worship we sing: "Who then is this God who mourns our woes like a mother?" This should be enough to move us, not merely with sentimental and fleeting emotion, but in a way that gets us moving. These tears of Mary tell us how powerless God is when confronted by our refusals. "Without him our lives fall into ruin!" as one of the liturgical prayers describes it. Should we wonder that a cry of distress is sent our way? God is love. He will not save us despite ourselves.
Symbols offer the advantage of evoking the manifold riches of a reality so intense that we could not otherwise grasp its total content all at once. They lend themselves, therefore, to several interpretations. But since we are concerned here with "the flow," why not ask ourselves how to go from the hammer that crucifies to the pincers that set us free; from the chains of injustice to the roses of love.
The Council tells us that human beings are aware of their own powerlessness in the struggle against evil and feel as though "bound by chains. (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, #13)” It reminds us too that Christ put hatred to death on the cross, bringing forth the human person according to God's own heart, the pattern of the new humanity in which all peoples are found, united and reconciled (Eph 2:15 ff).
The Beautiful Lady presents herself in the attire of a peasant woman or Dauphine housewife. "We thought she was a lady from Valjoufrey, a mother who had been beaten by her children and who had run off into the mountains to cry," Maximin and Melanie would say later on. This Lady, close and neglected at the same time, is Christ's mother and ours, weeping over her unappreciated Son and her undeserving children.
How well they understood this – those early pilgrims who named the tearful Virgin “the Reconciler.” Thanks to the Apparition, the area residents went from the notion of a faraway God, easily dismissed, to the experience of a familiar presence: the presence of this mother who cares about their faults, their anxieties, their children, their conversion and their faith life (John 19:25).
Here again let us focus solely on the dynamic aspect of the Beautiful Lady's discourse, Maximin and Melanie stand stock-still, stunned, on their guard. Mary sets them moving: "Come near, my children; don't be afraid..." "Come, and you will see. (Jn 1: 39)," Jesus had said. The children responded: “And we were no longer afraid, and we went down towards her; we were so close to her that no one could have passed between her and us." May our first move also be towards Jesus and Mary in search of them.
The opening sentences of the La Salette discourse disclose to us a whole pedagogy of conversion. On first hearing, they sound harsh; we hear and interpret them according to our own mindset and the hardness of our hearts, and, of course, we probably apply them to other people.
Submission means the obedience of the slave to the master. Arm means the arm that strikes. Abandonment means that God might lost interest in us. And we forget that each section of the discourse begins with "and IF" or with a question, which means that we are directly challenged, either collectively – my people – or personally as were Maximin and Melanie – my children, my child.
She who weeps over our misconduct and our misfortune comes to tell us once again: "In Christ's name, we beg you, be reconciled to God. (1 Cor 5:20)" Her language is the language of faith and she wishes to "have us see", to "move us" from our human vantage point to God's design. It is up to us to learn that submission means the submission of the heart, the surrender of communion, that of the Son to the Father: “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. (Jn 4:34)”
The Psalmist reminds us that the Lord is saving his people "…with mighty hand and outstretched arm… (Ps 135:12)” Unhappy are they who set themselves at cross-purposes with or outside that love. And when the prophet announces that the Lord will abandon his people, it is because this people for too long a time has abandoned its God (Jer. 7:21-31; 9:1; 14:19-22).
Mary speaks no other language than that of her Son. The language of love is demanding. It is no laughing matter. There can be no cheating where love is concerned. At a time — but it is not ours — when people were putting their faith in progress without regression and human labor was becoming a new form of slavery.
Mary reminds us that it is on the seventh day that we assert our dignity as free beings and return to the Lord like children to their Father. At a time — but is it not our own in another guise — when blasphemy was an anti-profession of faith, a stand against Christ and his Church, Mary reminds us that “There is no salvation through …any other name” except that of her Son… (Acts 4:12)"
Without this constant re-centering of our life on Christ, how can his arm be deployed for our salvation, how can Mary's intercession be efficacious? Even God cannot save us in spite of ourselves. At stake here are the dignity and the prerogative of the freedom God has given us as well as our responsibility. It is up to us to exercise it.
The harvest is spoiling. The potatoes have been rotting for the past year. And now the wheat is crumbling into dust. "Eat some bread while we still have it this year," concludes Mr. Giraud speaking to Maximin, "I don't know who will eat any next year if the wheat goes on like this!" A sad realization, a desperate gesture of a father who hands his child one last piece of bread. There is no future, hope is dead; that raw fact blocks out every horizon (Amos 4:9; 8:10).
Mary sees a father; she sees that a ruined autumn will jeopardize the grape and walnut harvests. She sees that people's sparse reserves will soon be depleted; she is aware that small children will be the first victims. Above all she "calls attention" to reality and unveils a future. She points out that this world is passing away and that what we consider to be our wealth is short-lived. Are not our very years numbered? "You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? (Lk 12:20)”
Mary invites us to "move on" from a short-sighted, narrow, exclusively materialistic view of world events and of our lives to the infinite horizons of God's design; in the midst of this passing world a new self can be born in us and a new world is in the making. A long inner journey, if we accept its challenge, leads to such a self and to such a world. It is up to us, once again, to see and to see to it. "If they are converted!"
How well we know that the mounds of wheat and the self-sowing by the fields are a way of expressing the inexpressible: what the eye has never seen, what the ear has never heard, what one's mind cannot conceive (Is 64:3); the future that God holds in store for those he loves and who welcome his will with trust (1 Cor 2:9). "If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him? (Lk 11:13)" And the Spirit of God is life, life in the here and now and life that extends beyond death. Yet we must remain in contact with him; we must be plugged in on the same wave length and respond each time he calls.
Her Simple and Effective Means
"I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. (Lk 10:21)" Jesus' thanksgiving comes to our lips as we realize the simplicity and effectiveness of the means proposed by Mary at La Salette. They are so basic, yet so easily forgotten or neglected. Faith is a gift from God, his flame burning within us, and it is up to us to keep it alive by burning there even in the seemingly insignificant events of our lives.
Here again Mary shows us the way. She brings us back to the basics, the indispensable minimum: "an Our Father, a Hail Mary, morning and evening"; participation in the Sunday Eucharist "without mocking religion"; the season of Lent not "lived like dogs." But then she immediately urges us to personal greater and community endeavor – "when you can, do more."
More, she says – there's the word, the sign, and the rule of love. Its simplicity is attainable, an effort within the means of everyone but a demand that cannot be circumvented. "If anyone loves me... Do you love me?" The logic of love is contained in the word – more. And discovering God in daily, weekly, annual contacts is to introduce God into our lives and sharing in his. "God so loved the world... (Jn 3:16)"
When we discover God at the heart of our prayer, he is asking: "Do you love me? All the way to the cross?" "In your fight against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood..." "…whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.... (Mt 25:40)”
We've already mentioned the episode of the spoiled wheat at the "terre du Coin." Well, each of us has his own piece of turf where we feel alone, where we feel abandoned. Mr. Giraud walked with Maximin; they were going home, but for this man it was a dead end. Neither Maximin nor his father knew that on this road of despair, someone was walking with them, just as the mysterious companion with the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). Mr. Giraud's words and, the piece of bread they disparingly shared, were forgotten by Maximin and his father.
But many months later, this gesture and these words were still echoing in Mary's mind and heart. This revelation sparked the memory and heart of Maximin and of his father. "It is really true. Madame, ...I had forgotten about it," the boy responded. A few days later he blurted out, "Papa, she spoke about you!" The one and the other, each in his own space and time, would become conscious of this invisible presence; they were not alone (Heb 13:5). From that moment on they knew it.
We are not alone either. Do we know it? And what are the conclusions we can draw?
The Walk and the Missioning
Preceding then, Mary began to walk. She climbed a zigzag path to the crest where the horizon opened (Jn 12:26). "We followed closely," Maximin said. Then she rose high above the ground. Already, when she walked, her feet barely touched the top of the grass. Isn't this the way we should walk on this earth: in touch with but already detached? In touch with, while raising ourselves always to the point of discovering the horizons of God. "She looked towards heaven, then towards the earth; and then she began to melt into the light."
The first pilgrims planted crosses on the sight of the apparition – Melanie with her shepherd's staff, then Maximin with a cross made by his father. Others imitated them. In the spring of 1847, people were already making the Way of the Cross: this is the road for all Christians – in the footsteps of Christ, in the battle against evil, the evil within each Christian, the evil in the world (Mk 8:34; Gal 6:14).This is the very same Way of the Cross which is the way of reconciliation, of love, of forgiveness, with light at its end, a light already there at each step, a light radiating from God's horizon.
"Come near... go... make it known to all my people." The road is open and we are not alone!