The Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette was not only an extraordinary event for the two witnesses and the world at large. It is also a wonderful school of how to develop an intimate relationship with others and with God.
In his masterful book, With An Everlasting Love: Developing An Intimate Relationship with God, the renowned spiritual director, Fr. William A. Barry, S.J., speaks of the central points of growth necessary to develop our relationship with God. As a La Salette Missionary, in reading his book, I was struck by the many parallels between our relationship with God and the content of the La Salette Apparition.
Fr. Barry states that, in any relationship, there are certain common basics:
• First: we have to be interested in the person, attracted to that person;
• Second: we must take some initiative to be with that person;
• Third: we will want to know about that person’s heart – his or her values and beliefs; and..
• Fourth: we must begin to trust in that person, becoming more transparent with each other. (1)
First: developing interest, being attracted to that person
The scriptures begin with a story of wondrous intimacy, the story of creation:
“Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:26-28, italics added).
Soon after their creation by God, Adam and Eve sin and then consequently are afraid of God:
“When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. The Lord God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you? He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid’” (Gen 3:8-10).
The renowned spiritual writer, Rudolph Otto in his classic, The Idea of the Holy, states that relating with God can be experienced by us not only as “the Wholly Other” (that is, making us awe-filled or amazed) but also can cause fascination (that is, getting caught up or enraptured by “the Other”).(2) Certainly both of these reactions were experienced by the two young unexpecting cowherds.
In Mary’s initial words to Maximin and Melanie, “Come near, my children; do not be afraid”, she was greeting and welcoming these two children who were afraid of the surprising globe of light surrounding the Weeping Mother. In the most sensitive and genuine concern for these children, she quickly overcame their fear by inviting them to come forward. As the children later attested, then “our fear seemed to melt away.” In short these three people in this remote Alpine valley were developing an initial warm relationship and trust.
Mary’s tears were also an attraction. Initially in their childhood imagination, the two children imagined that this unknown weeping woman was perhaps from a nearby town, having come to this lonely place to weep, possibly beaten by her husband.
Second: taking some initiative to be with that person
St. Augustine’s famous words in his Confessions capture our innate desire as humans to know and experience God, when he wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”(3)
Fr. Normand Theroux, M.S. reflects on Mary’s constant tears:
“At La Salette the tears of Our Lady are a sign. The tears flowing down Mary's face are also part of the message she brought to the world in 1846. The children said that she wept all the time she was giving her discourse. The tears are part of that discourse and they become the unspoken message of La Salette.
They are in a real sense the tears of God because the whole message of La Salette is from God. They express God's dissatisfaction, God's anger and sadness, especially God's concern for people… If the words she speaks are a message from her Son, then why wouldn't the tears themselves communicate something from the very Person of Christ. If her words are a reflection of his will then why shouldn't the tears mirror God's own care and affection? The Woman speaks the words of Christ. Why wouldn't she weep the tears of God?”(4)
In approaching Mary, the children state that in response to Mary’s gentle demeanor, the two children came forward and said that they were so close that no one could have passed between her and them.
Third: wanting to know about that person’s heart – values and beliefs
Yet the scripture captures similar feelings expressed by prophets of old, such as Isaiah:
“In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; But with enduring love I take pity on you, says the Lord, your redeemer. This is for me like the days of Noah: As I swore then that the waters of Noah should never again flood the earth, So I have sworn now not to be angry with you, or to rebuke you. Though the mountains fall away and the hills be shaken, My love shall never fall away from you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (Isaiah 54:8-10).
Don’t those words of the prophet Isaiah sound quite similar to the contrary parts of the La Salette message. First, Mary shares prophetic words of warning – “If my people refuse to submit… I gave you six days to work… If the harvest is ruined, it is only on account of yourselves… (The potatoes) are going to continue to spoil, and by Christmas this year there will be none left… If you have wheat, you must not sow it… A great famine is coming.”
However later she promises that “If (my people) are converted, rocks and stones will turn into heaps of wheat, and potatoes will be self-sown in the fields.” In other words, if you return to God, he will bless you with abundance.
Fr. William Barry, M.S., explains this apparent conundrum:
“The scriptures ascribe the emotions of anger, sadness, grief and tender love to God… (However) Julian of Norwich more than once asserts that in God there is no wrath or anger…. We can note, moreover, that in the scriptures the divine anger seems to intend our conversion, a return to the intimacy that has been disrupted by our sins.”(5)
Fr. Barry concludes by sharing a provocative story which seems to explain Mary’s tears at La Salette:
“I am reminded of a story told by a rabbi of the Middle Ages. It seems that when the Egyptians were destroyed at the Red Sea, there was great rejoicing in heaven. But they noticed that God was weeping. ‘Why are you weeping when you have one such a great victory for your people?’ asked on of the angels. ‘The Egyptians are also my people,’ he replied. The teller of the story discerned something very true of our God. If one of God’s beloved people does choose defiance and alienation irrevocably, I can imagine God weeping.”(6)
Fourth: beginning to trust, becoming more transparent with each other
Fr. Barry comments on a needed quality in our relationship with God:
“Intimacy requires for its continued development willingness to become totally transparent with the other, even about embarrassing and hurtful things. When we trust God enough to be so transparent we find that we have lost nothing but our chains and our loneliness.”(7)
This comment on the need for transparency seems to be expressed well in Mary’s specific concern for the ordinary experiences and concerns of Maximin’s father at the field of Coin:
But you, my child, surely you must have seen some once, at Coin, with your father. The owner of the field told your father to go and see his spoiled wheat. And then you went, and you took two or three ears of wheat in your hands, you rubbed them together, and it all crumbled into dust. While you were on your way back and you were no more than a half hour away from Corps, your father gave you a piece of bread and said to you: "Here, my child, eat some bread while we still have it this year; because I don't know who will eat any next year if the wheat keeps up like that."
Fr. Barry also warns us about the fact that:
“one of the pains of the passionate longing for God is that we cannot have what we want, complete union with God… We are made for intimate relationships and especially for union with God, but we cannot be as completely one with God and with those we love as the three persons who are the one God.”(8)
More positively he promises that:
“…the best entrée to an intimate relationship with Jesus is through our own experience. We trust that the Spirit will enlighten us as we pray to know Jesus more intimately in order to love him more ardently and to follow him more closely.”(9)
In speaking about Jesus, Fr. Barry suggests that “we need to look at the message (Jesus) proclaimed in word and deed… Jesus warnings came to a head when he rode down the Mount of Olives, burst into tears as he saw the beautiful city and said”(10):
“If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).
As with the destruction of the Egyptians so long before, Jesus on the Mount of Olives has expressed his love and heartfelt concern by his tears for another group of his people, the Israelites of his own day.
Mary’s parting words to Maximin and Melanie— “Very well, my children make this known to all my people” – expressed her concern that all her people hear her words, draw closer to her Son. Likewise St. Paul reminds us of our common call: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20).
The Medieval Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich (1342-1416 AD), in summing up her life’s quest for God concludes her book, Revelations, by bringing us back to the purpose of creation’s first moment:
“So it was that I learned that love was our Lord’s meaning. And I saw for certain, both here and elsewhere, that before ever he made us, God loved us; and that his love has never slackened, nor ever shall.”(11)
In the childrens’ response to Mary’s parting words and her disappearance, we realize that they had not only heard her words but experienced her gentle, loving presence and motherly concern, something they would never forget. In fact, Maximin, in a truly childlike response, attempted to grasp a flower around her feet as a keepsake while she gradually disappeared into her mountainous surroundings.
Fr. John Kennedy, in his book, Light on the Mountain: The Story of La Salette, he describes the moments following her disappearance:
“At length the children looked at each other, the one reading in the other’s eyes the evidence of glory seen, of wonders heard… Melanie sighed. ‘Perhaps, she said finally, dreamily, ‘perhaps she was a great saint… For some minutes the children were occupied with forcing the cows to leave off grazing and move toward the fountain of the beasts. ‘How beautiful she was,’ Maximin said as they fell in step behind the ambling cows. ‘Do you know what I thought the prettiest thing was about her? Her cross.’”(12)
Mary’s tearful message at La Salette was, in summary, centered on Jesus, and a call to recognize and live the message and ways of her Son.
Mary Draws Us to Her Son
Fr. Barry’s outline of the central points of growth necessary to develop our relationship with God parallel well what Mary taught us not only through her words at La Salette but also by the example of her personal qualities of warmth and her welcoming attitude; her straightforward warnings and her hope-filled promises; her invitation to renew our habits of faith and her concluding mandate to share her message and mission unhesitatingly with all her people. That these two witnesses did.
As we said at the outset, the La Salette Apparition is a wonderful school of how to develop an intimate relationship with others and with God. Of course, Mary’s message is Christ’s own message expressed so beautifully through his mother’s presence, words and witness at La Salette.
Indeed, in Mary we realize that “God has sent us his very best.”
(1) Fr. William A. Barry, With An Everlasting Love: Developing An Intimate Relationship with God (New York, Paulist Press, 1999, pg. 6)
(2) Idem, pg. 47.
(3) St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book 1:1
(4) Fr. Normand Theroux, M.S., The Face of the Reconciler: Sharing the La Salette Charism of Reconciliation (Attleboro, MA, La Salette Communications Center Publications, 2014, pgs. 90 & 92)
(5) William A. Barry, idem, pgs. 67-68
(6) Idem, pg. 70
(7) Idem, pg. 83
(8) Idem, pg. 109
(9) Idem, pg. 130
(10) Idem pg. 133
(11) Idem, pgs. 167-168
(12) John S. Kennedy, Light on the Mountain: The Story of La Salette (Attleboro, MA, La Salette Communications Center Publications, 2011, pgs. 30 & 32)