Editor: This presentation was given by Fr. Marcel Schlewer,M.S., at a meeting of La Salette Laity in Sete, France, from Oct. 10-12, 2014. The text follows, edited for length.
In 2013 we La Salette Laity were invited to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes for a meeting of spiritual families of laity who were associated with religious congregations of men and women; 160 congregations were represented.
In 2007, the lay members of these spiritual families numbered about 40,000 people. In 2013, they increased to about 50,000. This now exceeds the number of religious present in our country: some 35,000. So, in appreciating these numbers we can perhaps begin to realize the significance of these spiritual families and their important place in the future of our Church.
Our Foundation as La Salette Laity
What is this spiritual family which we claim to have with one another as La Salette Laity? The origin of our family is, of course, based on the event of September 19, 1846, the apparition of Mary to the two shepherds on the mountain of La Salette.
In itself this event is not the exclusive property of any one person. Mary spoke of “all her people”, meaning all God’s people. Initially her mandate was for the two uneducated children, Maximin and Melanie, the first two La Salette Laity. And they proclaimed without hesitation the words of their Beautiful Lady for all to hear.
Then Bishop Philibert de Bruillard, after recognizing the authenticity of the Apparition, soon decided to found a group of Diocesan Missionaries to continue this mandate to all her people.
Yet it is interesting to note that the mission to proclaim the great news was launched and based from the start, not on the two isolated individuals, but on the Church community. The first few Diocesan La Salettes would soon be joined by women's communities. Thus the La Salette Family was born around the reception and the announcement of the great news to all the people.
Part One: The Family of Jesus in the Scriptures
Without wanting to put the message of La Salette and the Gospel on the same level, we can nevertheless take note of the close link between our spiritual family and the message she brought forth. We can easily recognize in the Gospel episode truths about the family of Jesus:
While Jesus was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you. But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50; also in Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21).
We still find other references to the evangelical family in Luke 11: 27-28, John 2:12 and Acts 1:14.
In the Gospel episode from Matthew 12, during a meeting of Jesus with the large crowd, someone pointed out to Jesus the presence of his family: his mother, Mary, and his "brothers". As in many biblical passages, the term 'brothers' do not designate other children born to Mary, but close relatives, (such as in Genesis 1:8 or 14:16 or 29:15, Leviticus 10 :4 or 1 Chronicles 23:22).
The family members were seeking to speak to Jesus but could not because of the large crowd. Verse 47, missing in some manuscripts, shows us the tentative difficulty. Jesus will answer with a question to verse 48: "Who are my mother and who are my brethren?" In verse 49, Jesus shows the disciples and, in verse 50, answers the question posed by saying, “Behold my mother and my brothers!“ Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father, they are my brother, my sister and my mother.”
1 – What is a Spiritual Family?
We have a fundamental question: What is a spiritual family? The family of Jesus consists in “whoever does the will of my heavenly Father.” We must reflect on his response.
What is the Word of God? For a long time it was the Protestants who gave proper reverence to the Word of God. And since the Reformation, by reaction against Protestantism and the difference between “us and them”, we as Catholics seem to have had a fear or distrust of reading the Bible. Only with Vatican II have we “rank and file Catholics” been encouraged personally to read the Bible.
2 – The place of the Word of God in our lives as La Salette Laity
Vatican II, with its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation marked a definite turning point: Verbum Dei was published on November 18, 1965, near the end of the council. The turning point was an essential element of the conciliatory Ecumenical turn taken by the Catholic Church. Now our Church has resolutely returned to the sources of Divine Revelation.
“...God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, (all people) might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature. Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God... speaks to (all people) as friends and lives among them so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself” (Dei Verbum, #2).
3 – The Holy Spirit Guides Us as We Ponder the Word of God
God wanted the apostles, and after them the bishops, to transmit divine revelation (Dei Verbum, #7) in the Tradition. This tradition continues in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit, or by the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their heart, or from the intimate sense of spiritual things or by preaching in Episcopal succession... (Dei Verbum, #8). Thus the Holy Spirit guides believers into all truth.
The Magisterium has received the task of authentically interpreting the Word of God, but the magisterium is not above the Word of God. It serves it, teaching only what is transmitted by the Holy Spirit. Tradition, Scripture and the Magisterium do not exist without each other and, together, under the action of the Spirit, contribute to Salvation. (Dei Verbum, #10).
4 – The Four Gospels Best Manifest the Power of the Word of God
It is clearly in the New Testament that the power of the Word of God is best manifested in the fullness of time, the Word made flesh, and especially in the four Gospels.
Chapter 6 of Dei Verbum emphasized the decisive role of Scripture in the life of the Church. From the start we receive a shocking statement:
"The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she has always done also for the body of the Lord... she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful... She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith... as inspired by God.”
It is therefore necessary that all preaching be nourished and ruled by Sacred Scripture. By theology, the Church acquired a deeper understanding of the Scriptures: this must be the soul of theology. (Dei Verbum, # 24)
The Council urges insistently all Christians to learn, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures, the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. The prayer should accompany the reading of Scripture. (Dei Verbum, #25)
Part Two: The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis
After this conciliar overview, we realize that an essential element to become the spiritual family of La Salette Laity is to convince each other and help each other to welcome the Word of God.
When I set out to read the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, I was soon convinced of two more characteristics of spiritual families: that is, the joy of welcoming the Gospel and the joy to announcing it.
5 – We are a people advancing on our pilgrim way towards God
Pope Francis said from the outset that “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (Evangelium Gaudium, #1). I will devote the last part of my presentation to the announcement of the gospel, because it is at the heart of what we are called to live as a La Salette Family: the proclamation of the Gospel and the "Make it well known to all my people."
Francis says: “Evangelization is the task of the Church. The Church, as the agent of evangelization... is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God... I would like to dwell briefly on this way of understanding the Church, whose ultimate foundation is in the free and gracious initiative of God” (Evangelium Gaudium, #111).
6 – It is God who has the free and open initiative to make us a spiritual family
“God attracts us by taking into account the complex interweaving of personal relationships entailed in the life of a human community... To those who feel far from God and the Church, to all those who are fearful or indifferent, I would like to say this: the Lord, with great respect and love, is also calling you to be a part of his people!” (Evangelium Gaudium, #113). This is the case of our call to be a spiritual family.
The people of God must be the leaven of God in humanity. It must be the place of the free mercy, where everyone called by the Word, can feel welcome, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the gospel. That's where the family will take root. (Evangelium Gaudium, #114).
And it's true that this will be experienced by people with many faces, each with its own culture. Francis refers to church meetings in different continents: Puebla in March ‘76 produced by the Latin American and the Caribbean Episcopates. (Evangelium Gaudium, #115). In #116 he mentions the exhortation of Pope John Paul II in Oceania in 2001, and that the same John Paul II in 1995 to the African Synod.
The reception of the Word of God is in all cultures which are then fertilized by the transforming power of the Gospel. Is it not the same for the La Salette Spiritual Family: those La Salette Laity who went to Poland recently discovered different expressions of the same La Salette charism.
Cultural diversity does not threaten the unity of the spiritual family of the Church. The Holy Spirit of the Father and of the Son made us into communion in the harmony of God's people. This multifaceted harmony is at the heart of the spiritual family, and becomes attractive. (Evangelium Gaudium, #117).
7 – We receive ‘an instinct of faith’ which helps (us) discern what is truly of God
Pope Francis addresses an important point about we, the people of God, who receive “an instinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps (us) to discern what is truly of God” (Evangelium Gaudium, #119). He goes on to say that the people of God is made infallible when it believes it is not mistaken, even if it does not find the words to express his faith accurately. Already Lumen Gentium, #12, stated that infallibility of God's people when it expresses its faith.
8 – As baptized followers of Jesus, we are all missionary disciples
Pope Francis gives us exciting words to ponder when he says to us:
“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized... are agents of evangelization... The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization...
“The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in him ‘because of the woman’s testimony’ (Jn 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed Jesus” (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21). So what are we waiting for?” (Evangelium Gaudium, #120).
9 – So what are we waiting for?
We have reflected on our call as La Salette Laity – our foundation, our invitation to be active members of God’s family, lovers of the Word of God, sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and aware of the power of the Word. We must, with Pope Francis’ words of wisdom, advance on our pilgrim way, guided by our instinct of faith, urged on as missionary disciples, to carry Mary’s gospel message of conversion and reconciliation to all God’s people.
And, after all, this echoes Mary’s gospel mandate at La Salette to make her message known to all God’s people. So what are we waiting for?