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La Salette Charism and Today’s Laity

La Salette Challenges Us…

Our Lady of the Missions

From her solitary mountaintop the Mother of Christ summons the whole church in the person of two young unsuspecting, unchurched and unschooled representatives. Her conversation there with fourteen-year-old Mélanie Calvat and eleven-year-old Maximin Giraud is a teaching moment for all the Lord’s faithful.

It offers an in-depth critique of our way of looking at our world. It challenges us to give up the comfortable security of the noncommittal observer and would break our habit of going with the ebb and flow of a runaway history. Maximin and Mélanie were invited to look at their world, at the reality around them: drought, famine, rotten potatoes, worm-eaten grapes and walnuts, blighted Crops — and the resultant death of little children, disdain for God, religious indifference.

Facing an insecure future, many inhabitants of those mountains blamed God. Their vision of God was a vengeful God, not a God of love. Mary invites the young herders to purify their notion of God by taking another look at the events in their world. “Don't you understand, my children? Let me find another way to say it. . . . Have you never seen blighted wheat? Do you say your prayers well? If the harvest is ruined, it is only on account of yourselves.”

 These words show, more than ever in the long span of human history, that we need to ask ourselves where humanity is headed. Where are we going? How are we preparing for what the future might hold? She shows us a God who, like her, walks beside us, involved in the many details and dimensions of our daily lives – like Maximin's father faced with an uncertain tomorrow, concerned that he might soon be unable to feed his children.

Some Disasters Are Of Our Own Making

What is new is that the greatest dangers concerning future events are the consequence of our own action or inaction. Natural disasters are accompanied now by “artificial” disasters; that is, dangers of our own making, such as global warming, genetic manipulation, weapons of mass destruction, hormone treated animals, unstable economies, the questioning of all cultural and religious values. We continue to disregard the fruits of what we sow, and Mary's words remain relevant: “It is only on account of yourselves. You pay no heed.”

From early on, it has been part of the La Salette charism and mission to read the signs of the times and combat the evils of the day. We are not merely to bemoan and wring our hands over them but rather to

La Salette Associates Meeting, Oct.,
2007 at La Salette Shrine, Attleboro, MA.

work energetically to redress them. The grace called La Salette speaks the language the church must speak when proclaiming here and now the concrete will of God in a clearly destructive situation.

La Salette – a Gift of Prophesy

Apparitions are gifts of prophecy, sobering signs to us of God's desire to have us mend our ways and turn from seductive but ruinous paths. Prophecy – it cannot be emphasized often enough – is not crystal-ball access to hidden knowledge and secret information. Prophecy says: What you are sowing can only yield a harvest in kind. Apparition messages stand outside institutional frameworks, and supply an added nudge.

In this connection, Our Lady left us a valuable example. There were in Europe of the mid-nineteenth century any number of bishops, priests, religious and devout laity to whom she could have confided her message. She chose to place it in the care of two unknowns, children chosen from among the people to represent the people. She gave her message and showed her tearful sadness to a girl and a boy who were initially unaware of her identity.

Vatican II’s Attention to the Laity

A general session of the Second
Vatican Council (19623-1965),
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

In the December 1967 issue of Reconciliare, Fr. Normand Théroux, M.S., then editor of this international La Salette publication, published a foresighted article, indeed. I share excerpts with you today in recognition of his prescience and in tribute to an esteemed colleague and champion of all things La Salette:

“Opening before our laity the wide horizon of their Christian vocation, Christians are to be spurred on and taught the missionary role that became theirs on the day they were baptized. The priest remains what Christ made him, a human instrument. The ambition to lavish personal attention on each and every fellow pilgrim, of having all Christendom pass through the confessional is clearly visionary.

“There can be no doubt that this goal can be achieved, but not by the means currently in place. The human resources needed by the church are already in existence. The world has lived through an ecumenical council, a council outstanding for its attention to the laity and for the hopes it founded in the laity. In its voice, the Spirit recalled their crucial and pivotal role:

“The laity derive the right and the duty with respect to the apostolate from their union with Christ their head. Incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit — through confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord himself” (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Chapter l, #3).

“If a layman, a laywoman is assigned an apostolate by the Lord himself, any significant abdication of this role, any shirking or negligence of this duty can only result in grave harm to the Church. Our reconciling role in the Church will have been completely played (out) only when we Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette shall have opened before our faithful the wide horizon of their Christian vocation.

“The La Salette Community could therefore exercise a special apostolic role in the Church, that of being a catalyst for the ever-present reconciling powers of our laity. Our ministry has, from the outset, been closely linked to shrines and pilgrimages. Shrines are usually looked at as goals of the journey, a destiny

First La Salette Lay Encounter, Set.
2012, La Salette Shrine, France.

reached at the end of a journey. Shrines should also be a point of departure, a launching place from which the reconciled go forth to become reconcilers in turn.”

Our Call to Hear and Respond

The Holy Spirit, not surprisingly, always prepares the way. Fewer young and middle-aged people nowadays come to church. The church must find its way to them. More laywomen and laymen have taken on an apostolic responsibility. A model of ministry, which Pope Paul VI spoke of highly and promoted: the ministry of like to like.

All the baptized and confirmed are challenged to hone their people skills and make all their interactions with others therapeutic. They are called regularly to cross the border in so many areas of human life and everyday interaction – between the theoretical and the practical, between “Wouldn't it be wonderful if more people were understanding forgiving, helpful, supportive?” and you actually being more understanding, forgiving, helpful and supportive with those in need. If not you, then for whom should we wait?

A Familiar Call but a New Vision

La Salette conversation phase of
the Apparition, La Salette, France.

Perhaps this La Salette apparition event is also asking us to see anew with God’s eyes the dwindling of vocations to the priesthood not merely as a catastrophe but perhaps as a sharp nudge of the Spirit who is not only urging, but compelling, the laity to assume their rightful apostolic responsibilities alongside those called to ministerial priesthood.

Our ongoing embodiment of lay involvement in Christ's reconciling ministry brings key questions to mind:

1) How is close association with the spirituality and tradition of a religious community good, not just for the religious who are in need of help and support, but for the laymen and laywomen themselves?

2) Why is lay ministry a right thing to implement, not because there is a shortage of priests, not because religious are in limited supply, but for the spiritual good of laywomen and laymen themselves?

3) Should not those laity closely associated with a religious community expect a legitimate degree of autonomy, respect for their background, gifts, experience and interests, and a voice in the development of the still new relationship between them and that religious community?

The Lady’s Love Affair with Her People

What is true of all formal religious communities in this early twenty-first century certainly holds true of us as Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette. But I cannot help thinking that ours is a special case. Between the Beautiful Lady's surprise visit to La Salette on September 19, 1846 and the conferral of canonical approbation upon it by Bishop Philibert de Bruillard of Grenoble, people – the very people to whom she had appealed, the very people for whom she had shown such touching maternal concern – eagerly climbed to the site of her appearance by the hundreds and thousands, notwithstanding the skimpy goat-herd paths and often inclement alpine weather.

The love affair, you see, was and is between the Lady and her People. She called; they answered. She challenged; they gladly took up the challenge. Having approved the apparition, the local bishop recognized his obligation to provide priestly services to Mary's people on the mountain:

“However important establishing a shrine may be, there is something more important still: the Ministers of Religion destined to serve there, to welcome the devout pilgrims, to give them the opportunity to hear 

St. John Henry Cardinal 
Newman, (photo: courtesy
of the National Portrait
Gallery, London)

the word of God, to carry out on their behalf the ministry of reconciliation, to minister to them the august sacrament of our altars, and to be for all the faithful dispensers of the mysteries of God. (Bp. Philibert de Bruillard)”

First came the Lady, next came the people to her in droves, then came her Missionaries.

The Essential Importance of the Laity

Now, given the Lady's love affair with her People, we La Salette Missionaries would really look foolish without you, wouldn't we!John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), formerly an Anglican cleric, then a convert to Catholicism and a priest, was serving in Birmingham, England, as editor of the diocesan weekly. In preparation in 1869 for Vatican Council I – at which it was expected Pope Pius IX would proclaim the doctrine of papal infallibility – he was serializing a study of his entitled On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine. (It was later published as a book and is still in print.) Voicing an attitude prevalent at the time, William Ullathorne, his bishop, called him in and scolded, “Dr. Newman, what is the meaning of this? The laity! Indeed! Who are the laity?” Without hesitation, Newman replied, “There are many, including Your Grace and myself, who would look awfully foolish without them!”


European La Salette Laity meeting in Salmata, Italy in Dec., 2012.

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