A Message Centered on Christ
The general context of the apparition, which takes into account the attitudes of the Beautiful Lady – her message, her symbols, her call to conversion, the situation of the people of that time, and their response of Christian life, the plain and courageous presence of the first missionaries on the mountain, the devotions that were born there – lead the pilgrims to underscore an important dimension of the faith; that is, reconciliation. The Marian, La Salette Invocation, proclaimed by anonymous pilgrims in those early days, expresses the theological dimension most typical of the apparition: "Our Lady of La Salette, Reconciler of Sinners, pray without ceasing for us who have recourse to you".
Mary, Reconciler of Sinners and our La Salette Rule
The expression, "Reconciler", as attributed to Mary, though restricted in its use, was known to theologians of the Middle Ages. Pope Leo XIII, in 1879, ordered that the statue of the Beautiful Lady be solemnly crowned as "Our Lady Reconciler". This is the same statue looking over the main altar in the Basilica on the Holy Mountain of La Salette. Later on, the Holy See approved the text of the La Salette Mass and the Office for "Our Lady of La Salette, Reconciler of Sinners."
The La Salette Missionaries immediately latched onto the dynamic of reconciliation as flowing from the apparition and its message, contemplated and announced in light of the Gospel and an apt theological reflection of the time. The first version of the Rule of Life of the Congregation in 1852 asks the La Salette Missionaries to be:
a) Men of prayer, in union with the "divine advocate of sinners".
b) Men of zeal, charged with the mission of shaking sinners out of their lethargy.
c) Men of expiation, permanently asking Mary for grace and mercy for sinners.
These men will define themselves in the first Rule of Life of 1858 as "Men of prayer, of penance and zeal.” These three elements of penance, prayer and zeal capture three fundamental relationships in our life:
a) The relationship with God through prayer, as openness to God's will in union with the example of the Beautiful Lady.
b) The relationship with others, cultivated in zeal, as an expression of love for our brothers and sisters.
c) The relationship with oneself, lived in penance as the expression of a longing to overcome the egocentric tendencies of the human heart.
This trilogy was understood and lived in the "theology of expiation" and the practices of "reparation" common to the Confraternity of Our Lady of La Salette and/or the movements of "Reparation to God for blasphemies" which were typical of the period. Simplifying, penance, prayer and zeal were privileged ways of "expiating" sin, of "repairing" the evils caused to God and assuaging God's wrath.
Expressive of this is Fr. Giraud's comment to the novices: “Consider me your clay, mold me as you see fit. Self denial, sacrifice, the offering of one's life to others for the glory of God... the Host and Victim of expiation through sacrifice, prayer and love were the theological-ascetical pillars of the spirituality that guided our founders.(5)
It did have a biblical basis: "…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (John 12:24). Undeniably this can lead to certain exaggerations and an often intimistic, individualistic and sacramentalistic view of reconciliation and the practice of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as a way of expiation and victimhood (rescue/ repayment for the sacrifice of a victim).
Mary’s Call to Conversion
For a long time Mary's call to conversion found these expressions: "Reconciler of Sinners, prayer, penance and zeal" which later was reread and reinterpreted in the light of the theological-pastoral evolution of thought in the Church, especially around the time of Vatican II.
Conversion is seen as metanoia, a change of our mentality, spirit, and attitudes. This change implies self denial, passion for the kingdom of God, attention to the gift of self. Conversion and reconciliation are not two separate acts but inseparable parts of a permanent and life-giving process.
The evangelical values of penance, prayer and zeal (the gift of self)(1) which are inherent in our charism and spirituality become "the way of personal and community conversion and of our mission in the world. We live them in the spirit of compassion, mercy, communion and solidarity, especially in relation to the poor for whom we are called to be a sign of the compassionate love of God and of the maternal gentleness of the Virgin of La Salette for her people."(2)
A Few Concluding Thoughts
The charism of reconciliation reread in light of the La Salette event "engenders a style of fraternal life, a manner of being and a structure appropriate for a community that is reconciled and reconciling and at the service of the mission of the church."(3) We La Salette Missionaries want to share with the other Congregations born from the inspiration of the presence of Mary at La Salette, and especially, with the Sisters of Our Lady of La Salette, with our La Salette Laity, and with all persons we are called to serve.
Herein lies a great richness for the spiritual and charismatic patrimony of our Congregation, hopefully overcoming any tendencies to the intimistic, individualistic and even sacramentalistic concept of reconciliation. The horizon of the spirituality and the charism of reconciliation opens us up to the whole world.
In the face of the demands of today's world the La Salette Missionaries, the La Salette Sisters and La Salette Laity are "called to bring the La Salette charism up to date in a personal and community commitment in favor of peace, justice and the true development, respect for ecology and ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. We are passionate about the Kingdom of God so we give ourselves up to the task of freeing our brothers and sisters from every kind of oppression and from personal and social sin, helping them to be reconciled with themselves, with others and with God.(4)
"La Salette is a message of hope!(5) I hope this encounter awakens in us a new passion for the charism of reconciliation and for a Salletine spirituality and a renewed passion for God's Kingdom as John Paul II recommended to us La Salette Missionaries, saying:
"I ardently desire that your General Chapter stimulate the members of the Institute to achieve a renewed awareness of participation in the reconciling mission of the Church which is at the heart of your missionary vocation, tirelessly helping Christians to welcome the divine pardon of which you are witnesses in all the world."(6)
1) Pope John Paul II, Letter to the La Salette General Chapter, May of 2000.
2) La Salette General Chapter, Rome, 2000, Decision II
5) Jaouen, Jean, La Salette au regard de l'Église, 1981, pgs. 284-287.
6) Pope John Paul II, 1996, Letter to the Bishop of Grenoble, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the La Salette Apparition.
7) Pope John Paul II, Letter to the La Salette General Chapter, May of 2000.