by Lourdes Policarpio
The lone extraordinary encounter with Our Lady of La Salette took place the afternoon of September 19, 1846 in a mountain meadow set against the majestic French Alps.
Isolated as the place was, the village or parish of which it was a part, La Salette by name, was not as isolated from the changes gripping the rest of France. This was an age of new ideas and revolution was affecting various facets of life, the faith not excluded. Religion was suffering from persecution; in this distant region, piety was waning as the farmers hardly ever attended Sunday Masses, and using the Lord’s name irreverently was becoming a habit.
In the stillness of the mountains and the verdant pastures, two children were sleeping side by side in the grass. At a height of 6,000 feet above sea level, there must have been such solitude and peace here, not unlike that found in sanctuaries of prayer. The children, eleven-year-old Maximin Giraud and fourteen-year-old Melanie Calvat, were herding the cows of their employers. Maximin was a carefree urchin - a wild, reckless, spirited boy. On the other hand, Melanie was morose and taciturn. She was the fourth of ten children in a very poor family. Both could neither read nor write and they had never attended school or catechism. They had known each other only two days before that day which changed their lives forever.
Melanie suddenly woke up. Dozing off right after lunch, she hastily remembered the cows they were herding. Waking up Maximin, they looked for the herd only to find them grazing peacefully. It was mid-afternoon and as they turned back towards the ravine, Melanie halted, thunderstruck. She summoned Maximin. Far below in the ravine, there was a globe of light, so dazzling it outshone even the sun. Puzzled and terrified, the children were about to flee when suddenly the luminous circle of light opened. They could make out a figure gradually: there was a woman, seated, her face in her hands, weeping in such sorrow. Before the children could flee, the woman rose and with arms crossed on her breast, she faced the children.
She was bathed in light and oh, so lovely! Dressed like a peasant woman of the region, she had a long dress with an apron, a shawl and a bonnet. There were roses on her head, her white shawl, and on her shoes. Very prominent was a chain she wore which had a resplendent crucifix; in particular, at the end of the nailed hands of the Lord, there was a hammer on one and pincers on the other.
The lovely Lady beckoned to the children and said, “Come to me, my children. Do not be afraid. I am here to tell you something of the greatest importance.”
The children moved to the ravine and came within touching distance of her. Addressing them, the Lady said:
If my people will not obey, I shall be compelled to loose my Son’s arm. It is so heavy, so pressing that I can no longer restrain it. How long I have suffered for you! If my Son is not to cast you off, I am obliged to entreat Him without ceasing.But you take no least notice of that. No matter how well you pray in the future, no matter how well you act, you will never be able to make up to me what I have endured for your sake. I have appointed you six days for working. The seventh I have reserved for Myself. And no one will give it to Me. This it is which causes the weight of my Son’s arm to be so crushing. The cart drivers cannot swear without bringing in my Son’s name. These are the two things which make my Son’s arm so heavy. If the harvest is spoiled, it is your own fault. I warned you last year by means of the potatoes. You paid no heed. Quite the reverse, when you discovered that the potatoes had rotted, you swore, you abused my Son’s name. They will continue to rot, and by Christmas this year there will be none left. If you have grain, it will do no good to sow it, for what you sow the beasts will devour, and any part of it that springs up will crumble into dust when you thresh it. A great famine is coming. But before that happens, the children under seven years of age will be seized with trembling and die in their parents’ arms. The grown ups will pay for their sins by hunger. The grapes will rot, and the walnuts will turn bad.
Then the Lady turned to each of the children separately and gave them secrets, although they did not know what the other’s secret was. Continuing her messages, she said: “If people are converted, the rocks will become piles of wheat, and it will be found that the potatoes have sown themselves.”
She asked the children: “Do you say your prayers well, my children?”
Shamefaced, the children answered, “No, we say them hardly at all.”
To which, she answered: “Ah, my children, it is very important to say them, at night and in the morning. When you don’t have time, at least say an Our Father and a Hail Mary. And when you can, say more.”
Then, she returned to her main topic:
Only a few rather old women go to Mass in the summer. All the rest work every Sunday throughout the summer. And in winter, when they don’t know what to do with themselves, they go to Mass only to poke fun at religion. During Lent they flock to the butcher shops, like dogs. My children, haven’t you ever seen spoiled grain?
Maximin answered, “No, never.”
But my child, you must have seen it once, near Coin, with your papa. The owner of a field said to your papa, “Come and see my spoiled grain.” The two of you went. You took two or three ears of grain in your fingers. You rubbed them, and they crumbled to dust. Then you came back from Coin. When you were but a half hour away from Corps, your papa gave you a piece of bread and said, “Well, my son, eat some bread this year, anyhow. I don’t know who’ll be eating any next year, if the grain goes on spoiling like that.”
Astonished, Maximin replied, “It’s very true, Madame. Now I remember it. Until now I did not.” In parting, the Lady said, “My children, you will make this known to all my people.” Then she glided away and without facing them repeated, “You will make this known to all my people.” Realizing she was leaving, the children ran after her. The Lady reached the top of the hillock, the spot where the children went to in their search for their cows. Upon reaching the summit, she paused and glanced in the direction of the southeast, toward Rome. Right in front of her, the children saw her suspended in the air; although she had ceased weeping, her face was still sad.Maximin’s description was: “We saw her head no more, then the rest of the body no more; she seemed to melt away...” “Perhaps it was a great Saint,” the boy concluded.
At that time, La Salette was a village of about 700 people. You can imagine the place buzzing with excitement about the unusual story. The pious grandmother, mother of Baptiste Pra, Melanie’s employer, said with conviction, “She is certainly the Blessed Virgin....”
The parish priest of La Salette, Fr. Louis Perrin, was one of the early believers. Throwing caution to the winds, he narrated the children’s story to the congregation during his Mass. The parish priest of Corps, Fr. Pierre Melin, was more cautious. But he was witness to the miracle of the spring waters. With a group he led the children to the site and interrogated them rigorously. At the ravine where the Lady appeared, they said the Rosary. Right after, one of the men broke off a piece of the rock on which the Lady had sat. To everyone’s surprise, a spring gushed out. This had been a water source but only after heavy rains or when the snows were melting. But now, without the rains and melting snow, the spring flowed steadily. The spring water was brought to town and given to a woman who had long been seriously ill. On the ninth day of her prayers to the Lady, her health was perfectly restored.
While there were some who doubted the story and ridiculed the children, they were outnumbered by the many who went on pilgrimages. What was astonishing was that violation of the Sunday rest ceased to be the norm. People flocked to the confessional, prayed at the ravine, drew water from the spring, and received Holy Communion.
One year after the apparition, on September 19, 1847, around fifty to sixty thousand people went to the holy mountain of La Salette. Such a crowd came that accommodations could no longer be found and many had to sleep in the open fields.
The task of investigating miracles and apparitions falls to the Bishop of the locality and in this case, the Bishop of the diocese of Grenoble, Philibert de Bruillard, undertook the necessary investigation and inquiries of the apparitions of Our Lady of La Salette. The two children were consistent and firm in their story; cures were investigated. After five years of rigorous documentation, Bishop de Bruillard made a formal declaration on the apparition of Our Lady of La Salette which was read in the parishes of his diocese on November 16, 1851. Part of it states:
We give judgment that the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to two herders on September 19, 1846, on the mountain of the Alpine chain situated in the parish of La Salette, in the territory of the archpriest of Corps, bears in itself all the marks of truth, and the faithful have grounds to believe it indubitable and certain.
The following year, Bishop de Bruillard ascended the mountain to lay the cornerstone of the basilica which was to be built at the site of the apparition. Under his direction, the Missionaries of La Salette would be established. Succeeding years would see how Our Lady’s messages would spread throughout the world through the La Salette priests, brothers and sisters.
Unlike in other apparitions of the Blessed Mother, the visionaries of La Salette, Melanie and Maximin did not become saints. They both tried to enter the religious life but failed. John J. Delaney in the book, “A Woman Clothed with the Sun”, explains it thus:
Again, in these lives (Melanie and Maximin’s) there are failure and foolishness, but nothing bad. The two did not become saints; but they were always devoted Catholics. Evidently, they did not have the call to heroic sanctity, as, for example, Bernadette did. Their role, rather, was to be witnesses, and they fulfilled it unexceptionably...
In September 1855, the new Bishop of Grenoble, Msgr. Ginoulhiac, in particular said, “The mission of the children is now ended, that of the Church begins.” There has been much controversy regarding the secrets entrusted to the children. In the Internet, for example, one finds a lengthy “revelation” of the secret (considered apocalyptical) but the Church has had no official declaration on this. Catholics should regard the “secrets” with much prudence. Sr. Teresita Burgos of the Sisters of Our Lady of La Salette in the Philippines, interviewed in the National Shrine in Silang, Cavite put it so aptly, “A secret is a secret.”
Twelve years later, in another part of France, in Lourdes, Our Lady would again repeat the same themes of conversion and penance. In La Salette, she particularly stressed two grave sins: the non-observance of Sunday as the Lord’s day and the use of the Lord’s name irreverently.
Her call is so relevant today as we see, even in the Philippines, the proliferation of malls, amusement centers, factories, and call centers which could encroach on the observance of Sunday as a day of rest and prayer to the Lord. Certainly, a little recreation on Sunday is needed; the danger is when it goes to the extremes.
For example, in the Philippines, malls already have Masses; is this to say that people who prefer attending Mass in the malls have no time to go to church? Certainly, a Mass in the Church is more conducive to prayer and reflection. And how about people who work in malls and call centers on Sundays, do they still have time for Mass? On the other hand, you only have to switch on the TV to realize how using the Lord’s name irreverently is an “accepted” sin (“My God!” “Jesus Christ!”); it does not already cause anger or dismay among Catholics.
Reflect silently on the posture of the Blessed Mother in La Salette as she is seated and weeping with her face covered and you will realize how it is such an image of utter grief. She cannot be more emphatic! As Maximin described her, “One would have thought she was a mother whom her children had beaten and who had fled to the mountain to weep.”
Would that we could take away her grief! Would that we can share in her pain! Doing what we can to wipe away her tears in our fleeting years on earth – we would have an eternity of joy in Heaven.
The Second Coming of Christ will take place in your lifetime.
According to this book which contains a series of incredible messages and prophecies to an Irish seer, our present generation will witness the Second Coming of Christ.
Click here to read a book review that summarises the key messages of the book.
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