September 18, 2017

Feast of Our Lady of La Salette [Homily]

Our Lady of La Salette [statue]

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

The anniversary of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette is September 19. As La Salette Missionaries around the world we celebrate the event on the nearest Sunday. My homily today is therefore not based on the readings for the [24th Tuesday] in Ordinary time but on special readings for the Feast.

One might find the story from Genesis, about the rainbow after the flood, to be an odd reading for a feast of the Blessed Virgin.

The rainbow makes its appearance as the sign of the covenant that God makes with Noah. The bow, an ancient symbol of war, now becomes a sign of peace. God is starting over, re-creating, reconciling humanity to himself, promising he will never again give up on us.

Other covenants followed, with Abraham, with Moses, until the definitive, final covenant was ratified in the blood of the Cross. As the flood in Noah’s time both destroyed creation and cleansed it for a new beginning, so too Jesus’ blood marked not only his death but a new beginning of life for all of us. Entrusting us, in and through the Beloved Disciple, to his own Blessed Mother, he puts us all in a new relationship to one another as he reconciles us with the Father.

St. Paul, passionate about everything in his relationship to the Lord, pleads emphatically: Be reconciled to God! Five times in five verses he speaks of reconciling and reconciliation. There is no new covenant after Christ, but we often need to renew our relationship with Christ within the covenant he has established.

It is not surprising that all the readings for today’s feast point to the reality of reconciliation. The whole purpose of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette was reconciliation. Like the prophets of old she uses language that is sometimes gentle, sometimes harsh— whatever it takes to restore the relationship between her people and her Son.

Some twenty-five years ago I was a curate in the Parish of Our Lady of La Salette in Rainham, England, east of London. Over a period of several weeks I visited a man named Sydney who had been diagnosed with cancer. Each week I found him weaker.

Meanwhile, there was another parish staffed by La Salette Missionaries, in Dagenham, the next town to our west, and on Mondays at noon the priests of both parishes would get together for dinner at the rectory in Dagenham. One Monday the three of us in Rainham drove there, but after the meal two of us decided to walk the two and a half miles back home. After a while it began to rain lightly, and as we approached our destination, there appeared before us one of the most glorious rainbows I have ever seen. Sydney died that same day.

I decided to use the image of the rainbow to begin the homily at Sydney’s funeral: “On the day that Sydney died,” I began, “a magnificent rainbow was shining over Rainham.” I noticed as I said this, however, that his widow and her son looked strangely at each other; but I didn’t give it another thought until we were leaving the cemetery, and she asked me, “How did you know?” “About what?” I replied. “About the rainbow.” “I saw it.”

“No,” she answered, and then went on to explain. On the day before Sydney died, he had been unresponsive most of the day. Then he awoke and said to his wife, “I’ve just seen the most beautiful rainbow.” With tremendous compassion and courage she told him, “Go to the rainbow.” That was their last exchange. You can imagine the comfort she found in learning that there was just such a rainbow on the day he died.

A rainbow, you see, is not just a thing of beauty. It radiates not only color but hope. That is the point of today’s reading from Genesis. That is the point of the Apparition and the Message of Our Lady of La Salette.

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