Passing on the Charism of Reconciliation

There are certainly many wonderful mysteries involved with the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette, including the countless miraculous cures of many people in the first years after the apparition. So many lives have been changed for the better and these miracles continue in the hearts and lives of Mary’s people all over the world.

Exploring Another Mystery

01 Bartolomeo Montagna Saint PaulThe Apostle Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna (1450-??)
In the life and ministry of the La Salette Missionaries – sisters, brothers and priests – we have other wondrous events. In particular, I’d like to explore with you the mystery of passing on our charism of reconciliation, which the Church has affirmed and others readily recognize in our work among the people of God.

When Fr. Roger Castel, M.S., gave a group of some thirty-five people a tour of the nearby town of Corps, we walked to the newly-repaired burial plot of Maximin Giraud, one of the La Salette witnesses. With much feeling, he shared that Maximin was one of the first La Salettes.

Now ordinarily we understand that La Salettes are all vowed religious; but without hesitation Fr. Castel, a renowned expert on the La Salette event, was also reminding all of us that Maximin and Melanie were the first people who listened to Mary’s message and responded, accepting her mandate to make her message known to all her people. Yes, they somehow had fully accepted the charism of reconciliation and faithfully carried her message to many people.

What is a Charism?

The ancient Greek word for charism, charisma, is rooted in a noun which means “‘to bestow a gift or favor,’ and means a free gift, a spiritual capacity resulting from God’s grace (charis).’” (1) In the New Testament, St. Paul saw charisms as an extraordinary – even miraculous – gifts. However, their extraordinary nature contributed to their infrequent use in later Church documents.

Noted scholar, Fr. John Futrell. S.J., summarizes some central points about the nature and qualities of charisms in religious communities:

“The charism of …any religious community is this charism as it is lived now. It does not exist in the air. It is not a myth or a pious ideal. It has no actual, lived existence… in… historical documents expressing a past reality. If this charism has any real being at all today, it is because the holy Spirit is still operative by his presence and power within certain persons, calling them to the service of the people of God and of the world to which he originally called the founder through this gifted vision and dynamism…

“…the dynamic movement of this charism, through the years of the life of the community and its 'successive' incarnations up to the present moment… is the only actual existence of the charism.

“The continuity of the dynamic movement of the (founding event’s) charism in a religious community depends… upon the conscious, free taking up again of the dynamic movement of the (founding event’s) charism by the persons who are the religious community today. (2)

Charisms as Ordinary Gifts

02 Isaiah Antonio BalestraThe Prophet Isaiah by Antonio Balestra  (1666–1740)Even in the Old Testament, a promise is mentioned that one day gifts will be given to everyone:

“Do not fear, …I will pour out water upon the thirsty ground, streams upon the dry land; I will pour out my spirit upon your offspring, my blessing upon your descendants” (Isaiah 44:2-3).

Many centuries later, even with the beginning of Vatican Council II and its extensive documents on the Church and Religious Life, the word charism is only used fourteen times! Yet the Vatican Council began to use those passages of Paul that state that:

“…one and the same Spirit produces all of these (spiritual gifts), distributing them individually to each person as (God) wishes” (1 Corinthians 1: 11).

Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J., further states that:

“The charismatic (gift) dimension is therefore as necessary and permanent a part of the life of the Church as are offices and sacraments. Charisms were not given simply to help the Church in its beginnings, but it is of the nature of charisms as an essential feature of the Church that they should appear in constantly new forms and therefore constantly have to be rediscovered… This characteristic of charisms is also the explicit teaching of the Church.” (3)

What “Charisms” are Not…

Charisms can easily be misunderstood. Here are some potent warnings about charisms:
  • A charism cannot be defined; it can only be described;
  • A charism cannot – and should not be reduced to one phrase or sentence or even a paragraph;
  • Charism and ministry are not the same;
  • Charism should not be simplistically equated with “exceptional personal qualities in a gifted individual which attracts others” (charisma) or “ecstatic phenomena at divine worship (charismata)”;
  • A charism could not be described through theology and history alone;
  • A charism is not the same as the “spirit of the congregation,” that is, “the manifestation in feeling and behavior of the congregational charism as it is operative… when members of a congregation come together in significant events.”
  • And the founder’s charism (or the charism of the founding event, such as at La Salette) is not the totality of the congregation’s charism. (4)

Charisms and La Salette Laity and Religious

03 Baptism of JesusIn attempting to understand how charisms are passed on to others, we must first appreciate fully the event of Pentecost and its results in the hearts of the disciples of Jesus. One view of this singular event in our Christian history describes Pentecost as a “charism event”; namely,

“…the transfer of the charismatic Spirit from Jesus to the disciples. In other words, having become the exclusive bearer of the Holy Spirit at his baptism, Jesus becomes the giver of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:33). By this transfer of the Spirit, the disciples become the heirs and successors to the earthly ministry of Jesus (the possessors of the charisms of the founder); that is, because Jesus has poured out the charismatic Spirit upon them, the disciples will continue to do and teach those things ‘that Jesus began to do and teach’ (Acts 1:1). They become a charismatic community, heirs to the earlier charismatic ministry of Jesus, possessing abilities to sustain the charism of the founder….” (5)

In a book by René Masson, La Salette ou les larmes de Marie (La Salette or the Tears of Mary), (6) he recalls a quote which he had heard from a La Salette Missionary on the Holy Mountain, explaining that “It is in the heart that miracles happen here.” We Catholics believe in healing, in miracles, and how they work – some we may have experienced personally. Yet with all our lingering questions, we put aside these questions, sit back and safely believe that these wondrous events are all God’s handiwork.

One approach to understanding or explaining the passing on of the charism of reconciliation to Mary’s followers is based on a profound appreciation for the Pentecost event as Jesus’s sharing of the Spirit with his disciples. With this in mind, this event of “passing on of the Spirit” also happens when people are touched to the heart by Mary’s apparition at La Salette and accept fully her message and mission as their own.

Where Can This “Change of Heart” Happen?

Fr. Ladouceur, M.S., comments on the children’s personal response to the voice of the Beautiful Lady and how they were deeply moved: 04 Hammer and pincers

“The words uttered by the Blessed Virgin were not merely harmonious sounds but rather an exquisitely delectable and comforting substance which invaded their heart more like a celestial aliment, which they promptly absorbed. In their childlike simplicity, they declared that her words were rather edible than audible. ‘It seemed as if we ate her words.’ Truly, her voice flowed into their ears and distilled into their hearts.” (7)

Clearly, after the Apparition, the two children were changed for life. They were able to repeat the formal French Mary used without their ability to understand it. They responded unhesitatingly to those who examined them, sometimes for hours. Each child possessed a confidence, wisdom and childlike purity that persisted amid the most arduous of situations – qualities they certainly did not have before the apparition.

As unique believers in the Lord Jesus, we also experience many different events which can lift us up and even change us for the better. For some of us, it happens in family life, for others in happens in Catholic religious circles, for still others, it can be a crisis of health, relationship or even of faith. But God promises to help us carry our crosses and continue on our daily pilgrimage back to the Father.

The Personal Effects of the La Salette Apparition on Us

For La Salette Religious: In their years of preparation for La Salette religious life, brothers, sisters and priests reflect on Mary’s message at La Salette and are – somehow and somewhere – gifted with the special charism of reconciliation, expressed eventually in their vows, community life, prayer, reflection and ministry. They are brought closer to the Lord; their hearts have been changed and their lives are oriented to fulfilling Mary’s final mandate.

For La Salette Laity: As in any faith situation, lay Christians are challenged, supported and often drawn to those who minister to them and /or with them. This has happened from the event of the apparition of our Weeping Mother at La Salette onward. Mary invited the two children to become her messengers and make her message known to all her people.

Being Touched and Readied for our Mission of Reconciliation: We, who have been somehow, somewhere been touched deeply by the message of La Salette and/or by the La Salette religious or laity whom we have met, are then drawn into her message and graced by God with the gift of reconciliation. As St. Paul reminds us, first we must “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). We thereby can become active sharers in her Son’s charism and motivated to complete Mary’s mission as best we can, by the grace of God. Only after our own moment of reconciliation can we begin our daily ministry of reconciliation, rooted in that tearful message.

Being Changed for the Better: This moment of a change of heart effects who we are and calls us to share this experience with others and make her message known. This moment of conversion somehow changes us for the better. This is the moment in which the charism of reconciliation was passed on to us. This grace is available to all her people – lay and religious alike –the gift of reconciliation.

We are Sent on Our Way with a Mission

05 La salette crossAs Fr. Futrell has reminded us: “The dynamic movement of the charism of a given religious community (or group) is… truly alive in living persons; it is a continuity of life originating from the (founding event)…” And, yes, this charism can be made known – but also shared – by all her people.

As long as we are alive, the charism mysteriously lives in us, urging us forward to do her work – the work of her Son – so that one day “God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28), the completion of God’s mission of universal reconciliation!

However we must always remember that the mystery of our charism continues because: “It is in the heart that miracles happen here.”

  1. Edward J. Malatesta, S.J., “Charism” by in The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, Liturgical Press, 1993, pgs. 140-143, pg. 141.
  2. John Carroll Futrell, S.J., Discovering the Founder's Charism in The Way, Supplement 14 (Autumn 1971), pg. 62-70
  3. Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J., “Charism” in Encyclopedia of Theology; The Concise Sacramentum Mundi, Crossroad, New York, 1975, pgs. 184-186, pg. 184.
  4. José Ignacio Carmona, SC, The Fire of the Charism, February 2, 2010
  5. Usman I. Habib, A New Paradigm of Leadership Development, Church of God Mission International: A Thesis for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy by, 2014, 288 pgs., pgs. 31-32.
  6. René Masson, La Salette ou les larmes de Marie (La Salette or the Tears of Mary), Editions S.O.S., Paris, 1982, pgs. 145-147.
  7. Fr. Emile Ladouceur, M.S., The Vision of La Salette: The Children Speak, La Salette Communications Center Publications, 2016, pg. 103.

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