Mary, Reconciler of Sinners

Editor: This talk was given as part of an eight-day retreat given on the Holy Mountain of La Salette by Bishop Jean Guy Rakotondravahatra, M.S. (1934-1996), Bishop of Ihosy, Madagascar, pages 39-41.

The Christian people, in an inspired intuition of piety, spontaneously invoked Our Lady of La Salette under the title, “Reconciler of sinners”. Official church documents make no mention of it among the titles it attributes to Mary. Let us, however, listen to what Vatican Council II teaches:

01Bishop Jean Guy Rakotondravahatra, M.S. (1934-1996)
“The Father of mercies willed that the consent of the predestined mother should precede the Incarnation, so that just as a woman contributed to death, so also a woman should contribute to life. This contrast was verified in outstanding fashion by the Mother of Jesus. She gave to the world that very Life which renews all things, and she was enriched by God with gifts befitting such a role... By thus consenting to the divine utterance, Mary, a daughter of Adam, became the mother of Jesus. Embracing God’s saving will with a full heart and impeded by no sin, she devoted herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son. In subordination to him and along with him, by the grace of Almighty God she served the mystery of redemption” (Lumen Gentium, #56 emphasis added).

To be sure, Christ alone is Savior, Christ alone is Mediator between God and humanity, and it is Christ who, by his blood, accomplished the work of reconciliation. St. Paul in Ephesians 2:13-17 says that Christ, by means of the cross, is our peace, our reconciliation. But another text of the same St. Paul says:
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God” (Colossians 1:24-25).
We Participate in the Mystery of Reconciliation

02The Crucifix, the Virgin and the Saints by Pier Antonio Bernabei (1567-1630)Our participation in the mystery of reconciliation accomplished by the sole Savior and Mediator contributes effectively to the salvation of all. This participation was first fully verified in Mary standing at the foot of the cross of Jesus:

“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:25-27).

In her role as Mother, she shared in a singular manner in the salvation accomplished by her Son. This is the meaning of her tears at La Salette. We must note, however, that it is not in God that the tears of Mary bring about a change of attitude toward us. To believe this would be to do God injury, God whose deep Being is Forgiveness, the perfection of love.
Mary’s Tears are Addressed to Us

These tears are addressed to us. We know that tears are the consummate language of maternal love. They express the profound sorrow which moves a mother’s heart when faced with the danger her child is courting. They are a way of pleading. We are familiar with the story of St. Monica and what torrents of tears she shed for her son, Augustine.

Well then, Mary’s tears are the expression of her maternal love for us. She knows that God’s Forgiveness is accessible to us: Jesus died to signify this. Her tears speak to us “who pay no heed!” It is not the heart of God that is hardened and in need of Mary’s tears so as to relent. It is our own: we are running to our ruin without being in the least concerned.

Appearing in tears at La Salette, Mary shows us how seriously she takes her spiritual maternity toward all her people. In the Gospel, Jesus said: “When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived” (John 16:21). And we know that the Woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12 “was pregnant and was crying out in labor and the pangs of childbirth.”
The Globe of Light Enveloped Mary
03Mary has entered, body and soul, into blessed eternity: that is the meaning of the light which envelops her. But the fact remains: the Beautiful Lady is weeping. Is this not a very motherly way to make us understand that, as long as there remains one human being needing to be brought back to God, Mary lives her hour: the hour for bringing to birth spiritually the children the dying Jesus entrusted to her on the cross? Is this not the mystery of her maternal love, a mystery beyond our understanding?

Never will we be able to comprehend it, explain it. But the fact remains: the Beautiful Lady is weeping. It is hard to say that this is no more than theater, no more than cinema. It must relate to something real at the heart of her happiness in heaven. “How long a time do I suffer for you!”

Raised up to the glory of heaven, she remains no less the one to whom, at the foot of the cross, the dying Jesus said: “Woman, behold your son” (John 19:26). Can she remain indifferent to our history? Seeing what threatens to befall us as a result of our obstinate refusal of Love, would she still be a mother if, now that she is in heaven, this did not at all trouble her? As though, being disillusioned, she could say, “Too bad for you! I have already done a whole lot!”
Her Tears – an Expression of Her Motherly Love for Us

An expression of her motherly love for us, the tears of Mary will be meaningful for our salvation only if they help us further penetrate the true God-and-man relationship. God is love – love to the supreme degree, a love which is total openness to others. This God-Love could in no way allow any compromise with sin. God would be denying himself.

Insubordination on the part of his children provokes the wrath of God. God’s wrath remains nevertheless an aspect of his boundless love. In fact, it is not inspired by any selfishness, as would a wrath prompted by the desire to avenge his honor, his authority. It is a wrath which in no way causes him to break off all ties with sinners forever, a wrath which does not close his heart.

We read in Hosea:
“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? ...My hearts recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger. I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11:8-9).
Choose Life or Death
God’s truth bursts forth in the tenderness of forgiveness. On the one hand, the tears of Our Lady invite us to open ourselves to this pardon of God. On the other hand, God’s wrath manifests the seriousness of our freedom. This freedom – it is God himself who bestows it upon us, not so we might choose death, but life. He respects it, whatever use we may make of it. And God does not deal with us underhandedly. God has done everything to have us see where our decisions take us; to life, if we open ourselves to his love; to death, if we stubbornly refuse it.

The whole of salvation history, as the Bible describes it to us, shows that God does not give up on man. He awaits the return of the prodigals that we are. His wrath tells us that sin is not fatal, that it is a way out of it, if we are willing to listen to his voice, understand the warnings he gives us. Truly this is the meaning of the words the Virgin spoke to us through her tears: “I showed you last year with the potatoes...”
Scrutinizing the Signs of the Times

04Vatican II reminded us: “…Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served… To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel” (Gaudium et Spes, #3-4, emphasis added).

If, understanding the warnings – the signs of the times, we would say today – we come back to God with a sincere heart, he will lift us from the bottom of the abyss in which we are sinking, but where he is already awaiting us. “Crucified under Pontius Pilate, he died, was buried, descended to hell, and on the third day rose from the dead...”

This truly is the meaning of the Beautiful Lady’s tears. Had God given up forever on the sinner, the apparition of the Beautiful Lady would have been nothing more than a mockery, a shameful hoax. But, in the heart most stuck in sin, there is always a fissure through which grace can infiltrate. And to say that God does not give up on men, is this not to acknowledge the true God and man relationship? Sinner, yes, but capable of opening up freely to the divine mercy which bursts with the victorious all-powerfulness of God-Love in the face of sin.

Speaking to us through her tears, the Virgin at La Salette opens for us the way of hope which St. Augustine described in these terms: “You made us for yourself, Lord, and our heart knows no rest till it comes to rest in you.” God does not give up on us. The tears of the Virgin tell us so. In this does our hope lie.

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