The Gift of Mary’s Tears

Editor: This is the introduction by Fr. Flavio Gillio, M.S., to the new book to be published soon, “Food for the Journey; the Biblical Roots of the La Salette Message, Volume One”, by Fr. Normand Theroux, M.S. This book is a welcome addition to our library of materials on the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette., and will be available in a paper version, in digital form and also as an audio book, all sold online on Amazon.com and other outlets.
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I have never personally met Fr. Normand Theroux, M.S. and yet we have become good friends. Whenever I have a chance to visit his gravesite in the small cemetery the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Enfield, New Hampshire, we spend a little time together and we peacefully converse. Yes, I guess we have become good friends. After all, we both share the same passion for the Scripture, we both studied in Rome at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and, more importantly, we have both being seduced by the same “Beautiful Lady”!

I have, therefore, welcomed with joy the invitation to write an introduction to this volume, Food for the Journey; the Biblical Roots of the La Salette Message, Volume One. Fr. Theroux’s own title for this collection evokes one of the most used biblical metaphors to unfold the hidden meaning of our own lives – that of a journey or pilgrimage.

We are on a Journey

Bible stories constantly remind us that the idea of “journey” or “pilgrimage” bears a deeply interconnected anthropological and theological value. On the one hand, we are and belong to a pilgrim people, to a pilgrim community. On the other hand, we do not walk alone. Like the pilgrim community of Israel in the desert, we are found by the One for whom we are searching: the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Father of Jesus, the Messiah.

God introduces himself as a pilgrim God, looking for his wandering people. It is not a coincidence that one the greatest modern Jewish thinkers, philosophers and theologians, Abraham Joshua Heschel, entitled one of his most known books, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism. And for us Christians, God’s pilgrimage reaches its highest point in Jesus of Nazareth, as Saint John Paul II reminds us in his 1999 letter, On Pilgrimage.

Untitled 2The Biblical History of Salvation, from Genesis to Revelation, is conceived as a progressing and unfolding journey from the Paradise lost to the Paradise found. In between, we find a great number of characters who embarked on challenging journeys, both physical and spiritual: Abraham, a “wandering Aramean” (Deuteronomy 26:5) took the risk of journeying towards an unknown land (Genesis 12:1; 15:17; 17:1); Moses, the greatest prophet, led Israel into a collective pilgrimage (Book of Exodus); Hosea, who prophesied to the Northern Kingdom just before the destruction of Israel in 722 B.C., and himself embarked on a painful journey through the ebb and flow of love.

And in the New Testament, a young woman from Nazareth, named Mary, journeyed through the sometimes-dark pilgrimage of raw and heroic faith; Paul and the Apostles, those “pilgrims” for Christ, journeyed from the Torah to the Cross and the resurrected Jesus. They were all men and women “on the way”, following and witnessing the One who is the “Way”.

This collection of homilies invites us, its readers, to embark on a literary and spiritual journey between two mountains, Mount Sion and the Holy Mountain of La Salette, where the “Beautiful Lady” appeared on September 19, 1846 to two children, Maximin Giraud and Melanie Calvat.

Our guide for this journey is Father Theroux’s gentle voice and sharp insight. He allows us to appreciate the height and depth, the width and the length of the many biblical and La Salette landscapes and panoramas that his love for Scripture and for the Beautiful Lady are able to decipher and unfold. These reflections highlight the deep connection between the Bible – and more specifically the Gospels – and the message delivered by Our Lady at La Salette. And, finally, these perceptive meditations can help us understand better and more deeply the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette as the most biblical of the major Marian Apparitions.

Mary is a Handmaid

Untitled 3Mary mentions holding up through her prayer “the arm of my Son”
Throughout Fr. Theroux’s homilies, Mary is discretely present, a handmaid. She never overshadows her Son, but rather she leads us to him – as in the Gospels and in her words and actions at La Salette. Even if, as Fr. Theroux writes in one of his homilies, Mary remains “in obscurity throughout almost the entire New Testament”, she keeps on being a discreet but significant presence. Like in the Gospels, so on the Holy Mountain of La Salette, Mary’s presence is simply and entirely Christ-centered:

“The crucifix on the Lady's breast at La Salette is more than a symbol. (Jesus) is the ‘Son’ she mentions three times in her discourse. He is the center of her life. He is her life. She had given him his body, his humanity. She had given him the blood he had shed on Calvary. The Lady who had stood on Calvary now stands at La Salette. She was called ‘mother’ on Calvary and this was to prove more than a title. She weeps still up to this very day for all her people and for each one of them.”

Regarding Mary’s discrete but significant presence in her Son’s life, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council, points out:

“In the public life of Jesus, Mary makes significant appearances. This is so even at the very beginning, when at the marriage feast of Cana, moved with pity, she brought about by her intercession the beginning of miracles of Jesus the Messiah. In the course of her Son's preaching she received the words whereby in extolling a kingdom beyond the calculations and bonds of flesh and blood, he declared blessed those who heard and kept the word of God, as she was faithfully doing.

“After this manner the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with his sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth. Finally, she was given by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross as a mother to his disciple with these words: ‘Woman, behold your son’” (Lumen Gentium, Chapter 8, #58).

Mary as Prophet and Teacher

While guiding his readers to climb the two mountains, Fr. Normand Theroux paints Mary as prophet, teacher, and tender companion and mother. With the biblical prophets, Mary at La Salette shares the “… grace and terrifying vocation…” of giving voice to someone else’s words, demanding to be heard:

“At La Salette, Our Lady spoke in the name of her Son. She clearly did not say what she said on her own authority. She reminds people of the Mass, the day, Sunday, reserved for the Lord, penance, prayer and respect and honor for the Name of her Son. These are all God-centered commandments and the Lady speaks them on the authority of her Son. She mentions this ‘Son’ repeatedly throughout the apparition, so that there is no doubt about the origin of her message.”

Untitled 4Praying pilgrims make their way along the winding path on the Holy Mountain in France
As such, Mary’s words at La Salette, are words that are “…riven with truth and the truth in them will not expire”, as Fr. Theroux writes commenting on the Gospel. He adds, “At La Salette, (she) is Mary, the Queen of Prophets”.

In this first volume, Food for the Journey: the Biblical Roots of the La Salette Message, Mary also appears as a teacher and catechist. She teaches us, through Fr. Theroux’s meditations, how to cope “well with life and its tough problems”, and the path to follow in order to grow in intimacy with the Lord.

Finally, the Beautiful Lady of La Salette also accompanies us on our journey, as a tender and vulnerable companion and mother – a compassionate mother who weeps for all those whom she loves. Hopefully all of us have learned from our own life experiences. I believe that Fr. Theroux is correct when he writes that “caring for people brings its share of pain – joys too, of course, but pain in abundance” – a pain born of love. And likewise, the “Beautiful Lady”, out of love for her people, experiences a “…flow of tears that flood the heart and cannot be held back.”

Shedding Tears

At La Salette, Mary’s tears are not only among those traits that make the Apparition of La Salette the most biblical one among the major Marian apparitions, but they are also a key to understanding the message she delivered to Maximin and Melanie. Like in the Gospels, where Jesus’ deeds bring to light his words and vice versa, at La Salette too, Mary’s actions and attitudes are deeply connected to her words, and they mutually enlighten each other.

In fact, the authors of the bible are not at all hesitant to show even the most well-known persons in our Salvation History coming to tears. And as ironic as it may appear, men in the bible are seen weeping more than women!

Tears in the Bible

For example, Abraham weeps over the dead body of his beloved wife, Sarah (Genesis 23:2).

Esau weeps at the feet of his father, Isaac, when he realizes that his brother, Jacob, has stolen the blessing from his father (Genesis 27:38).

Untitled 5Maximin and Melanie discovery a woman seated within a globe of light, weeping,
Joseph the dreamer, the great Prince of Egypt, weeps six times. The first time happens in Genesis, chapter 42, verse 24. A second snapshot of Joseph weeping is also described (Genesis 43:30).

Later the narrator portrays Joseph to be even bolder in his expression of emotions: “And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him” (Genesis 45:2). And once the family ties are almost reconciled, Joseph weeps once again (Genesis 45:14).

A similar reaction is found when Joseph is reunited with his father (Genesis 46:27). The last time Joseph weeps is at his father’s death (Genesis 50:1). From these instances, we can infer that Joseph was not only a great charismatic and confident leader, but he also had a tender heart and did not hesitate to express his powerful emotion in tears.

Similar to the outstanding prince of Egypt is the greatest King of Israel, David. He wept often, and quietly. But one of his most emotional responses occurred when he saw the dead body of his dearest friend, Jonathan, and the body of Jonathan’s father, Saul (2 Samuel 1:12).

Even though our male biblical heroes seem to weep quiet frequently, women are not forgotten. For example, Hannah is not ashamed to express her sadness of heart to her beloved husband, Elkanah, through her frequent tears: “Her husband Elkanah would say to her, ‘Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?’” (1 Samuel 1:8).

As we shift our attention from the Old Testament to the New Testament, both Jesus and Peter, continue the biblical habit of expressing their feelings through tears! Twice, once in Luke and once in John, Jesus is said to weep. He wept while approaching Jerusalem, probably at the Mount of Olives: “As he drew near, (Jesus) saw the city and wept over it” (Luke 19:41). Then he also wept in seeing the dead body of his very dear friend, Lazarus: “When Jesus saw (Mary of Bethany) weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Sir, come and see.’ And Jesus wept” (John 11:33-35).

Tears – a Sign of Vulnerability

Untitled 6Mary speaks to the two witnesses
From a biblical perspective, weeping is not necessarily a sign of weakness but rather can be a sign of tender vulnerability and surrender. Weeping unveils the height, width and depth of our own humanity and heart. Yet, as a culture, many of us are not comfortable disclosing times in our lives when tears came to our eyes. Many among us may even feel embarrassed and ashamed at being seen weeping in public.

Just a small example: oftentimes in confession, if a person confessing begins crying, he or she will often say, “Excuse me, Father…”, as if this is a shameful or embarrassing response for them. Such a way of thinking may be rooted in the fact that we have been growing up with the tenet, “never let them see you cry”. Or, we might feel that, as a modern, sophisticated person, we believe that crying doesn’t accomplish anything and could even expose us even to being more deeply hurt. Perhaps we were taught to control our emotions in order to be seen as strong and competent, especially if we have a leadership role in our community, family or elsewhere.

Tears as a Tender Expression of Love

But this way of looking at tears is certainly not what we see in the Apparition of Our Lady at La Salette. At La Salette, the “Beautiful Lady” becomes alive and real through her tears. For example, when Maximin and Melanie saw her crying, they simply thought it was a peasant woman from the village down in the valley who was running away from her family. Mary at La Salette is not embarrassed to appear vulnerable and expose to us her deepest emotions, through her weeping.

And so, what do her tears mean? The liturgical readings for the Feast of Our Lady of La Salette disclose to us their meaning. In our first reading from the book of Genesis, we hear about the rainbow in the clouds as a welcome reminder of God’s covenant with us (Genesis 9:13).

At La Salette, Mary’s tears also remind us about the good news of God’s love and mercy for his people. They speak to us about her and her son’s communion with our broken and wounded world – expressing sorrow mingled with hope for our redemption (“If they are converted…”). Her tears make her presence real, showing us her deep communion with the needy people in our world. Fr. Theroux highlights this attitude when he writes:

“Mary at La Salette came to imitate her Son in what he had done and to share his mission. She showed the world the suffering of an abandoned Lord. She revealed, if it had to be revealed, that in some mysterious way, God grieves and weeps for people. It is nothing less than stirring to see that at La Salette, the Lord wanted to let us know that God, is indeed, caring for his people to the point of tears.”

Our Crucified Savior Suffers With Us and For Us

In our brief gospel for the feast, Jesus is seen nailed to the cross, with Mary and one of his disciples faithfully present. Concerning this tragic scene, Fr. Richard Rohr describes the crucified God as one “who walks with crucified people, and thus reveals and redeems their plight as his own. Jesus is not observing human suffering from a distance, but is somehow in human suffering with us and for us.”

Untitled 7Mary disappears into light at the end of her apparition
Similarly, at La Salette, Mary bears, on her breast “the crucified Christ… in bright and shimmering evidence. This is a suffering Christ, who in some way, still bears the burden of the cross. The mother herself says clearly, "How long a time have I suffered for you!” Like the Son, the “Beautiful Lady of La Salette” is not observing the broken world from afar, from a distance. Instead she is with us and for us. This shows her desire to suffer with us – “cum passio”, “to suffer with” – and her tears indicate both her compassion and mercy. Both the Son and his Mother are burdened with suffering, out of love and for those they love.

Mary’s tears at La Salette should awaken in us a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving, leading us to pray with the Psalmist: “O bless the Lord, my soul” (Psalm 103:2). This is because Mary’s tears are neither a sign of dismiss nor of judgment.

On the contrary, her tears welcome us; they do not judge us or reproach us; they invite us to come closer to her and allow ourselves to be welcomed by her in the same way that the “Beautiful Lady of La Salette” invited and received the two little peasant children. And the opening words of her message emphasize even more her attitude and posture: “Come near, my children… do not be afraid…I have great news to tell you.”

This is a picture of what it means to be unconditionally loved. We all hunger and thirst for such an experience. As Richard Rohr describes so well:
“This is the kind of experience that we all want, that we all wait for, that we all need. Although we want it from one another and we get it occasionally, there is only One who can be relied upon to always receive us and mirror us perfectly as we are.”

Untitled 8The Basilica on the Holy Mountain of La Salette
It is really a grace to be able, at least once in our own life, to experience being truly loved – not for what we are able to accomplish; not because of our good reputation; but rather to be loved simply for who we are. It is a transforming grace to experience such a moment of unconditional love. We should appreciate that it can be a transforming grace to be touched and moved by the tears of Our Lady of La Salette.

As Paul reminds us in the second reading, Mary’s tears, when we allow them to touch our hearts, are able to recreate us – “a new creation” – to reconcile us, and thereby make us ambassadors of Christ’s reconciliation.

She Weeps For Those Who Do Not Deserve Her Tears!

Because of that, the tears that Mary shed at La Salette are a challenging call to direct our compassion, mercy and tenderness to those who live at the margins or peripheries of the Church and our world.

As in 1846, it’s very easy to recognize that our contemporary world is still filled with people who weep. They may be responding to natural calamities happening around the world; or perhaps weeping over discrimination because of people’s different beliefs, religious values, or sexual orientation; or perhaps they come to tears seeing mistreatment and injustice, within and outside the Church.

Mary’s tears at La Salette are tears for all her people – without exclusion or discrimination. And if we delve more deeply into the message, Mary weeps for people who do not deserve her tears! In her own words, she weeps for people who “cannot drive the carts without bringing in my Son’s name”; for people who do not go to Mass or, if they go, they do so “only to mock religion”; also for people who, during Lent, “go to the meat market like dogs.” In short, she weeps for people who do not deserve her tears!

Untitled 9A statue of Mary is crowned at La Salette on Aug. 21, 1879 by Hippolyte Guibert, OMI, Archbp. of Paris and Papal Legate for the occasion.
Once again, the Mother imitates the Son, as Fr. Theroux very well explains:

“At La Salette, Mary said, ‘Well, my children, you will make it known to all my people.’ By the ministry of Maximin and Melanie, her words would stir the Church but go beyond it to the whole world. The entire world is thus called to faith and life. The gospel of John is predicated on faith, on the belief that the love of God for all people is not something one can understand. Only faith can grasp it. The Lady weeps at La Salette for all the people who do not know the beauty of faith which is an aspect of God's love for people.”

Like her Son, Mary at La Salette wishes to reach out to her own people – where they are and whom they are. What a great lesson, modeling for us what compassion, mercy and tenderness are all about! What a wonderful lesson about how to extend our compassion, mercy and tenderness to the margins and peripheries of our Church and world! The Beautiful Lady of La Salette, appearing in this very remote and marginal place, reaches the neediest people where they are found. She is with them and for them!

An Invitation

This collection of homilies, volume one of Food for the Journey: the Biblical Roots of the La Salette Message, is meant to be, like the Eucharistic Bread and Wine, food to nourish a special friendship, and a special relationship, while encouraging us, its readers to take “… advantage of those habits of faith…” which Our Lady of La Salette lists in her message: prayer, Eucharist, Lenten observances, and respect for the name and person of her Son.

We can all be truly grateful for Fr. Normand Theroux’s love for Scripture and Our Lady of La Salette; ultimately, they give us the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the One who is the face of the mercy of the Father and in so doing reaffirm our own discipleship. They give us the opportunity to listen anew to Mary’s reconciling message and to be transformed into reconciled reconcilers.

They give us the opportunity to open our hearts to the Father’s tenderness, mercy and compassion as reflected by the Son through his Mother so that we can become what she preached. After all, in a single half-hour, Maximin and Melanie had learned to love “the Beautiful Lady of La Salette”! And we certainly have more time than that!

Untitled 10Pilgrims hike among the mountain surrounding the Shrine
May this first volume of Fr. Normand Theroux’s homilies be, as he himself expresses with great hope, a “good way to learn who Mary is, what she does and how she practices the gospel command of love”. May we pledge to seek out and be ambassadors of reconciliation with and for those of her people who live on the margins of our Church and world.

May all her people, in addition to Maximin and Melanie, hear the great news: “Come near, my children, do not be afraid.” After all, the message of Our Lady of La Salette is a universal call. In Fr. Normand Theroux’s own words: “La Salette gives us the sharp message that someone cares enough to call and call again. To speak. To upbraid. To weep” – all without judgment, dismissal, or discrimination. Enjoy this reflective journey and welcome its call to conversion of heart.

Reflection Questions:
  • When have you come to tears over an event or a person?
  • Who for you is a person of faith and why?
Prayer:

Mary, Weeping Mother of La Salette, we praise you for your life of deep and lasting faith, echoed in your appearance on the Holy Mountain of La Salette. Your gentle invitation to “Come near” can melt our hearts and open our lives to a deeper love for you and your Son. Your prophetic words expressed your deep concern for us and our daily lives.

As we travel together with you and your Son on this journey of life, deepen our awareness of our need for the gifts of faith and forgiveness. Help us become true and dedicated ministers of reconciliation, sharing your words of correction, comfort and hope with all your people.

May we always place our trust
in your loving Son, who lives with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

La Salette Invocation:

Our Lady of La Salette, Reconciler of Sinners, pray without ceasing for us who have recourse to you.

(The visuals of French stained glass in this article are from the Seminary Chapel in Hartford, Connecticut)

Untitled 11The La Salette Crucifix Mary wore during her apparition


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