We do not approach La Salette with a “tabula rasa (blank tablet),” as it were. Our image of God precedes our hearing the message and helps determines how we hear that message. If we adopt the image of God the Father revealed by Jesus, …what do we hear when we listen to the message and event of La Salette?
A Father Concerned For His Poor Children
First of all, we hear the plea of a Father concerned for his children; a Father who wants what’s best for them. It is clear that the Beautiful Lady is in the position of a prophet, speaking on behalf of God, because it is God who has “given us six days to labor” and kept the seventh for himself. God’s love is being poured out on all alike: swearing cart-drivers and those who hold dying children in their arms; the elderly women who go to Mass and those who go only to mock; those who work on Sunday and those who bemoan the poor harvest.
A point to be made is that all these people are poor. This mountain and the surrounding area is not one of castles and mansions. The earth here is a tough mistress: sheep and goats vie for sustenance. And yet we are reminded by the Psalmist that God chose and watches over the poor: “This poor one cried out and the Lord heard, and from all his distress (the Lord) saved him…” (Ps 34:7). And also: “For I know the Lord will take up the cause of the needy, justice for the poor” (Ps 140:13).
This is a favorite theme of Pope Francis. “In all places and circumstances, Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor” (Evangelii Gaudium, #191). “We incarnate the duty of hearing the cry of the poor when we are deeply moved by the suffering of others" (Evangelii Gaudium, #193).
Our Lady appeared at La Salette as one “deeply moved” by the suffering of others. (I recall reading in Joseph Campbell about the image of a weeping god, whose tears watered the earth but also revealed the father-god’s reaction to the suffering of the people.)
It is interesting that the only story told by the Beautiful Lady that immediately concerned the children is that of Maximin and his father at Terre de Coin. When Maximin said to his father, “But, Papa, the Beautiful Lady spoke about you,” this was the story he told. He didn’t say, “Well, Our Lady spoke about you not going to Mass, or using Jesus’s name when you swear, or working on Sunday.”
The story related is one of a father concerned for the wellbeing of his son. “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him” (Mat 7:11). La Salette is not the story of God waiting to hit his wayward children with a stick, but that of a loving Father calling his children back home. The “wayward sheep” is always his concern. “It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” (Mat 18:10ff).
Are We Moved By The Suffering Of Others?
The question: do we allow ourselves to be moved by the suffering of others? Pope Francis says this is one of the ills of our age: that people’s sufferings no longer move us. We La Salettes, sons of the Weeping Mother, have this capacity as part of our patrimony. It is given to us with our call/vocation to La Salette. Let us not hide from it.
This is foremost in our mission, and precedes any program in our parishes, shrines or retreat houses. Let us cultivate this capacity personally and as a community: on the local, provincial and congregational levels.
Note the New Testament references to “the Father” when speaking about prayer:
• “When you pray, say, ‘Father, hallowed be your name…” (Luke 11:1-4).
• “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Mat 6:6).
• “Your Father knows what you need before you ask…” (Mat 6:8).
• “When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions” (Mark 11:25).
• Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, my heavenly Father grants their request
• “…if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father” (Mat 18:19).
Our Heavenly Father and Our Heavenly Mother
It is interesting to me that Our Lady at La Salette told the children to pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary. …It occurs to me that these are the two prayers addressed to Jesus’s Father and mother. We, as brothers of Jesus, are to approach his Father and mother as our own.
What is it like to pray to the Father, who knows what we need before we ask, and is eager to give “good things” to us? What is it like to know that the Father aches to grant us forgiveness that we might taste the Kingdom, and urges us to forgive so that we might do so? What is it like to be present to the One who loves us more than anyone else does or could?
Intercessory prayer is one of the calls of La Salette: “I am compelled to pray for you without ceasing – and you take no heed.” Here is where the two themes of God’s generous, forgiving love and the admonition to pray meet – in prayer on behalf of God’s people. This compassion for others prepares our hearts to do the works of justice.
As we pray for the poor, we may become aware of the call to serve them. As we pray for the oppressed, we may become aware of the oppressed close to us. Prayer has a way of opening us beyond ourselves; and there is an entire world in need of our prayer.