La Salette – Tears, a Famine and a Promise

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
“As Jesus drew near, he saw the city (of Jerusalem) and wept over it” (Luke 19:41)

Untitled-1Jesus Weeps Over JerusalemIts accents, inflections and rhythms vary widely from situation to situation, from person to person, but it remains a universal language, spoken and understood everywhere in the world. A truly international language, the disconcerting, heart-rending language of tears. It conveys what words are powerless to express: anger, betrayal, disappointment, exasperation, frustration, grief, helplessness, loss, misunderstanding, pain, sorrow and unrequited love.

A Flood of Rain, A Flood of Tears

The tears Our Lady shed at La Salette so many years ago, tears indelibly etched upon our spiritual awareness, entice us to the edge of a compelling mystery, the mystery of Christ weeping over the Chosen City (Luke 19:41-44). The tears Jesus shed there have hallowed all the tears all men and women have shed over the ages; they make holy the tears our brothers and sisters—near and far—are shedding now.

Happy those who mourn, blessed those who weep, they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4). The deepest, truest comfort, the consolation most reflective of God’s own infinite happiness, will follow upon our grieving over the losses sustained by our fellow human beings rather than our own. It is only natural that we should cry over our own disappointments, losses, misfortunes, trials and troubles. But we will truly share, even now, in that peace-filled comfort God alone can give only when we share in God’s own care, compassion, and concern for all.

When we begin to grieve because our social structures are hopelessly infected with sin, because the rich grow richer and the poor can only get poorer, because helpless children are abused and grain and other harvests were heavily damaged. Then, in the autumn of the mid-1840’s, heavy rains and flooding jeopardized the fortunes of farmers everywhere. The scarcity of wheat prompted commercial interests to remove most of it from the market. As the supply grew more critically short, higher prices would mean a handsome profit. The cost of bread skyrocketed; what meager resources they had, people spent on basic food items. Clothing manufacturers were forced to fire their work force, the unemployment rate soared. (Andre-Jean Tudesq, “La France romantique et bourgeoise 1815-1848” in Georges Duby’s Histoire de la France, Larousse,1978).

A Famine and then the Hoarding

Untitled-2The European potato crop failed in 1844 and food prices roseOur Lady’s extensive and easy-to-recognize paraphrase of Old Testament passages challenges the People of God at a new moment, at a crucial juncture in the annals of human development. In sharply prophetic terms, she urges us to give serious consideration to the Bible’s constant concern for the earth, for the land and its yield, for crops and harvests, for creation’s prodigious fruitfulness.

Such God-given fruitfulness must never be seen as a personal possession to be hoarded, private property to be selfishly exploited. Too much rain in the area around La Salette meant ruined crops, blighted vines, rotted grapes and potatoes, worm-eaten walnuts. What to do? Blame the weather? Blame nature? Blame God? The inevitable consequences of the food shortage could have been alleviated.

Untitled-3Early French holy card of the Weeping MotherWhat in fact followed was a failure in stewardship. Lest they themselves go without, people hoarded what they had and kept from sharing it. Given the scarcity, vendors put only half of the available produce on the market in the hope of selling the rest later at double the price. Decisions affecting the many, taken by the few, by the selfish few. Decisions driven by greed, taken more than a century and a half ago, resulted in an all-too-familiar pattern of exploitation and manipulation. An impersonal sin, a bureaucratic sin, a corporate sin. A hard-to-attribute-to-anyone-in-particular sin. Social sin. Systemic sin. The hallmark of our modern age.

We hold in trust the pledge God uttered of old through Isaiah in these straightforward terms: “On this mountain… the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:6a,8a). That we are to be agents and instruments of this solemn promise is a sobering realization. If asked, “What is the opposite of love?” most of us would tend to answer hate. Let us not forget, however, that indifference delivers deadly blows — it does so underhandedly, but no less fatally. The adage remains ever timely: What most effectively accounts for the success of evildoers is the indifference, the inertia of good people.

Hope Arose that Day

High up in the mountains of southeast France, arid, barren, desolate, alpine meadows soaked in the cleansing, gentle, refreshing, soothing rain of our Mother’s tears. Disaffected till then, local men and women flocked to the miraculous spring their Beautiful Lady had left behind, a memento of her compassionate September 19, 1846, visit.

Her encouraging words – “If they are converted… heaps of wheat… potatoes self-sown in the land” – most assuredly were signs of hope for so many of the region’s desperate and forsaken ones! The could be assured that better times would come if they heeded her words – the words of her Son.

Her words echoed those of the Book of Revelation about a hope-filled vision of a new heaven and a new earth: “(God) will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev 21:4a). She had come to comfort her children who had wept for their own families and their seemingly dark future. She personally showed them the light of God’s love, care and promise.

Untitled-4Fountain at apparition site: (from left) first photo of spring with first ex voto statue; pilgrims visit apparition site between 1864 and 1868 (note woman at spring to right of two kneeling women)

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