Editor: Fr. Ted Brown, M.S. delivered his talks at a National Gathering of La Salette Associates in Attleboro, MA on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. About 50 people attended including Associates from the Northeast (MA, and NH) and the Midwest (St. Louis, MO area).
Those of you who know me, know that I’m a story teller. I believe that the true meaning of life – the true meaning of the journey – comes through stories.
We often talk about the La Salette Story. The children were told to tell the story – to “make it known”. That’s what they did for the rest of their lives. Here we are, many years later, because they told the story and something came alive in many hearts and they, in turn, retold that story again and again until we heard it for the very first time.
We Walk by Faith, Not by Sight
We can reread how the bible summarizes the story of Abraham’s journey from Ur to Canaan: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).
How many of us can identify with this kind of journey? When we chose a college, spouse, job, vocation, or retirement, etc., how many of us truly have any sense of where it will lead us? Yet we step out in faith – perhaps with more questions than answers, with more doubts and fears than confidence and courage - but nevertheless we go.
We feel impelled, compelled, urged, pulled by something larger than ourselves to go beyond where we are now, even if we don’t know where that new place is.
I think most of us are still far from ultimate freedom and reconciliation, but we can still feel those strong urges to want to be made whole, healed and reconciled. This is the journey of life. We stumble along, trying to find our way with just a vague sense of how we will get there. But we know that we must strive for it; we have to go.
In Discovering Ourselves, We Discover God
There is an old axiom that “If we discover our true selves, we will also discover God”. And the reverse is also true: “if we discover God, we will discover our true selves.” Somehow our life’s journey folds into one – self and God become blended, contained mystically in each other.
Our ultimate journey is towards freedom, healing and reconciliation. We get there through this experience we call life. In God’s goodness we taste our future in this life in the privileged moments of mercy and reconciliation.
Isn’t this what the story of La Salette is all about? It really urges us to journey back home – like the prodigal son – where all the goodness of the Father will once again be lavished upon us. Our life is truly a story of reconciliation, God’s great desire to heal us and our world as well.
At La Salette Mary promises: If my people convert... there will abundance, healing and wholeness. La Salette is a story of relationships: “Come nearer, my children.” It’s a story of wonder and awe. The children stood in amazement of the brilliance of her light-surrounded presence, her beauty, and her constant tears.
Something Always Happens When We Eat Together
The children at La Salette headed up the mountain not knowing each other very well but nevertheless making the journey together to the upper pastures on the nearby Alpine peak.
The children knew the herding business. It was not easy and it had some challenges. So they appreciated having a companion on the climb up the mountain.
There is something about we humans – we enjoy having others around. We like to celebrate good things together, have people with whom we can wile away the hours, when life seems boring or tedious. We need someone to support us when the journey gets long, difficult or painful.
In this quite simple story of the La Salette Apparition, we hear that Maximin and Melanie were companions: they even broke bread together.
We all know that the old French word, compaignon, literally means “one who breaks bread with another,” based on the Latin com (or “cum”) meaning “together with” and “panis,” the word for “bread.”
My students in our Newman Ministry at LIU (Long Island University, Post) tell me that I often share a favorite saying: “Something always happens when we eat together.” I never realized that I repeat this phrase all the time, but they say, I often repeat it before many meals.
The Unforgettable Meal at Emmaus
At meals people can share themselves with us. In the bible story about the disciples travelling on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), the disciples remarked: “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”
Notice what Jesus does – and doesn’t do – on the road to Emmaus. Jesus begins by asking them about their lives, their journey: “What are you discussing as you walk along?” Luke then says that “They stopped, looking downcast.”
They quickly responds to Jesus saying: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” And then he, in turn, replies: “What sort of things?” They says to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene..” and anxiously recount what had happened to Jesus.
Jesus, being other-centered, is in a sense most willing to “suffer with them” as they tell their story of disappointment. As a true companion on a journey with his unaware disciples, he waits until they are ready to hear the bigger story. To be a companion on this journey toward self, freedom and God, we have to walk with people and let them unburden themselves.
Only when they have unloaded their burdens can they really listen. Then he shares how their story fits within his own bigger story and how everything ultimately fits into the plan of the Father.
As the rest of the story of Emmaus unfolds, they all go in and eat. The stranger then takes bread, blesses it and gives it to them. Only then do they recognize that it is actually Jesus who is breaking bread with them. As I’ve said before, “Something always happens when we eat together.”
When we are true companions, Jesus can be truly present at every meal, as we unburden our hearts with each other, when we become present to each other, when we live in the moment of the meal and lovingly break bread with each other.
Therefore, some good qualities we should have as companions on the journey are: openness to the journey of others, living in the present moment, and having compassion and giving others an opportunity to tell their own story.
Companionship and Compassion
There is a necessary connection between companionship and compassion. Breaking bread with others often invites us to suffer or empathize with another as they disclose their story to us. As we help them feel safe, their hurts and pains begin to emerge. If we are true companions, we will listen and then our own hearts may burn with compassion for them. Our hearts can even begin to break if we listen well to them.
Mary comes to La Salette to stretch our hearts, make us more human, and make us whole. She comes as a companion on our journey. Parts of her message are difficult to listen to and quite challenging. But if we listen well, her words can touch our hearts. Her primary desire is for us to change our ways, come back to her Son, and thereby become fully human.
Compassion is a strange emotion. It can make us more human, stretch our heart, and even enable us to love beyond what we initially thought we were capable of!
The Beautiful Lady’s Tears of Compassion
Like Jesus with his disciples at Emmaus, Mary comes to her children as a companion on their journey. She discusses with them the brokenness and hurts of their lives. She speaks of famine, spoiled wheat, and the struggles of life. He enters into their lives – all the while shedding tears of compassion for their struggles and sins. Mary cries with them as well as for them.
Mary asks the children to surrender or submit to God’s ways. And if they do, she promises that they will experience the wholeness that only faith can give. She also describes a picture of God’s abundant blessings; namely, that potatoes will be self-sown in the land and wheat will be piled up like rocks in the fields.
Mary speaks directly to us and asks, like any good true companion would, to leave behind those things that keep us from being human – selfishness, focusing solely on ourselves – and draws us into wholeness and relationship with God and others.
The Challenges of Companionship
Being a companion on the journey is not always pleasant. We can meet people whom we might not like. We may be asked to journey with people who call us to go far beyond our self-imposed limits, and call us, in love, to surrender to the deep mystery that is our life “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
Being a good companion, then, is allowing ourselves to be a person who truly listens to the brokenness of others, helps them stand in wonder and awe at the beauty of God and of life, and helps them appreciate the goodness of the present moment.
For it is in true companionship that we can discover not only others, but also ourselves and our loving God, in the broken and shared bread of our daily lives.