Our Lady of La Salette
The beautiful lady was crying. She was weeping as if her heart was breaking -- and all because of her child... and all of the children of the world.
The young man was dying. Poor, unhappy, and unstable, he drew up his testament. "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. I believe in all that the holy, apostolic, Roman Church teaches, in everything defined by our Holy Father, the Pope, the august and infallible Pius IX. I firmly believe, even were it to cost the shedding of my blood, in the renowned apparition of the Blessed Virgin on the holy mountain of LaSalette, September 19, 1846, the apparition to which I have testified in words, in writings, and in suffering. After my death let no one assert that he has heard me make any retraction concerning the great even of LaSalette, for in lying to the world he would be lying in his own breast. With these sentiments, I give my heart to Our Lady of LaSalette." The body of Maximin Giraud was buried in the place of his birth. His heart, according to his specific and earnest wish, was placed in the basilica on the mountain dedicated to the sad and beautiful lady who chose him to bring a message to the world. A failure by worldly standards, he reamined true to the one who had chosen him.
The old woman in a black dress and an outdated bonnet was not in her usual place before the altar. As she was such a faithful and familiar figure in the church, some of thepeople went to the house where she boarded to see if she was all right. When loud knocks at her locked door brought no response, the door was forced. There, dressed for her walk to Mass, Melanie Mathieu lay dead. She who had been given, for a brief time, a great charisma, died alone - a stubborn and seemingly forsaken, prideful, foolish old woman.
The sadness of the lives of the two messengers at LaSalette does not negate the apparitiion. Indeed, it serves to repeat the theme of LaSalette -- Heaven's sorrow at the sins of mankind.
September 19, l846 was the eve of the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Maximin Giraud, age 11, and Melanie Mathieu, age 14, were tending cows in a field in the French alps in the parish of LaSalette. The children had only met the day before, so there was no chance of their making up the incredible story that they told of the events of that day.
Melanie was one of eight children of a very poor family from Corps. With the specter of starvation always present, she had been sent into the streets to beg as a young child, and had been hired out to work from the age of seven. Melanie had never been to school, and although her mother had taught her the Our Father and the Hail Mary, she rarely went to church and had never made her first communion.
Maximin family was barely better off than Melanie's. His father worked hard as a wheelwright, but spent most of his pay on liquor at the local bars. The child did not get along with his stepmother, and spent most of his time playing and staying out of her way. Like Melanie, he had never attended school. He, too, knew only a few prayers, and did not attend church.
Melanie and Maximin were typical of many of the inhabitants of the area. After the French Revolution, this part of France had never returned to the Faith. Only a few old people attended Mass. Sunday was seen by most of the people as only another working day. Days of fast and abstinence were ignored. Blasphemy was common.
At the ringing of the angelus, Maximin and Melanie took their small heard to water them in a small ravine. There were three sources of water there: one for the cows, one for the herders, and a third called "the little fountain" which gave water only after heavy snows or rains, and now was completely dry. After the cows had been watered, the children sat to eat their rude lunch of bread and cheese. In the warmth of the sun, they stretched out for a short nap, and slept longer than they intended. Awakening, Melanie realized they had overslept and the children rushed to find the cows. Fortunately, they were all grazing peacefully together. With a sigh of relief, Melanie returned to the ravine to retrieve the knapsacks in which the children had carried their lunch.
There in the ravine, only a few steps away, blazed a great circle of light. The astounded child looked at it wide-eyed. Quickly she called Maximin, who saw it too. Both children were frightened, altough Maximin told her that if it attempted to hurt them he would hit it with his staff.
Before their eyes, the globe of light grew in intensity and brilliance. They would have fled in fear except that they noticed that the globe was opening up and little by little they could discern within it the figure of a woman. The woman was seated, bent forward. Her face was bowed in her hands. Her elbows rested on her knees and she was weeping.
The luminous figure then arose, her head inclined a little to one side, her arms crossed on her breast. The beauty of her face was extraordinary, despite the tears. A white headdress covered her hair, clung to her cheeks and hid her neck. A towering crown rested on her brow, edged below with roses of many colors which gave off shimmering rays of light. She wore a long white dress with full sleeves which was sprinkled with bursts of light. She wore a small shawl trimmed with roses which seemed to form golden lace. Along the hem of the shawl were metal links, not joined in a chain but distinctly seperated one from the next. Tied about her waist was a large apron, yellow and glittering as gold. She wore white slippers decorated with clusters of pearls, gold buckles, and the same sort of roses as those on the crown and shawl. She wore a crucifix depended from a chain, and the children later described the figure on the cross as of fire. To the left of the crucifix was a hammer; to the right a pair of pliers, half open.
Then the woman spoke gently, "Come to me my children, do not be afraid. I am here to tell you something of the greatest importance. "
Their fright disappeared, and the children stepped forward, descending into the ravine and crossing the bed of the stream. The beautiful lady moved toward them, until they, too, were enveloped in the globe of light.
Crystalline tears flowed constantly from the beautiful eyes. "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 have I 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 heed of that. No matter how well you pray in future, no matter how well you act, you will never be able to make up to me what I have endured in your behalf.
"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 burdensome.
"If the harvest is spoiled, it is your own fault. I warned you last year by means of the potatoes. You paid no attention. Quite the reverse, when you discovered that the potatoes had decayed, you swore, you abused my Son's name. They will continue to be spoiled, and by Christmas time this year there will be none left. " Melanie looked inquiringly at Maximin, for the lady was speaking French and Melanie barely understood the language. Both Melanie and Maximin spoke a local patois.
The woman spoke again, "Ah, you do not understand French, my children. Well then, listen. I shallput it differently." Then, in the local patois she repeated what she had said. She continued, "If you have grain, it will do no good to sow it, for what you sow the basts will eat, and whatever part of it 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 the arms of the parents holding them. The grown ups will pay for their sins by hunger. The grapes will rot, and the walnuts will turn bad. "
The woman broke off here and began speaking to Mamimin. Melanie could not hear a word, although she could see the beautiful lady's lips moving. Then she turned to Melanie and gave her a secret which Maximin, try as he might, could not overhear.
On a different note, the lady began speaking again to both children. "If people are converted, the rocks will become piles of wheat and it will be found that the potatoes have sown themselves."
Looking searchingly at the two poor youngsters, the woman interrupted her message to ask, "Do you say your prayers well, my children ?" They replied, "No Madame, hardly at all."
"Ah, my children, it is very important to do so, at night and in the morning. When you don't have time, at least say and 'Our Father' and a `Hail Mary', and when you can, say more."
She returned again to the main theme. "Only a few rather old women go to Mass in the summer. Everyone else works every Sunday all summer long. And in winter, when they don't know what to do with themselves, they go to Mass only to scoff at religion. During Lent, they do to the butcher shop like dogs."
She interrupted again to ask the children if they knew what spoiled wheat was like. When they replied in the negative, she reminded Maximin of a time when his father had showed him spoiled wheat and talked with him about his worries about crops failure and starvation. It amazed the boy, who had forgotten the incident, that the beautiful lady knew so much.
Again the woman spoke in French. These were her last words, "Well, my children, you will make this known to all my people."
She turned from the children, stepped across the stream bed, and without looking back repeated her final words. Slowly she walked the elngth of the ravine and up the slope. The children, enthralled, accompanied her, Melanie a little ahead, Maximin a little behind. She appeared to be gliding above the ground, as the grass did not even bend. At the top of the ravine she paused, and then gracefully rose into the air. She looked up to heaven and ceased to weep. A final glance over the world and she began to disappear. The apparitiion faded into the upper air, leaving a path of radience which, in a few seconds, vanished without trace. On arrivaing home at the respective houses of their employers, Melanie went to bed the cattle for the night and Maximin, who was not assigned this chore, went in to supper. When his employer questioned him about why he had not returned to the field in the afternoon, Maximin told him of being detained by the beautiful woman. In disbelief, Selme determined that they would go to Pra's house and ask Melanie for her account, as she was known to be of a more solemn and truthful nature than the flighty Maximin. On their arrival, the boy repeated his story. Grandmother Pra was the first to recognize that it must have been an apparition of the Blessed Virgin, and went to the barn to hear Melanie's story. The word passed quickly from house to house in the little hamlet, and it was determined that the children should go in the morning and tell their story to the priest at LaSalette. Some of their listeners had disbelieved, some scoffed, but all agreed that it was a matter for the church.
The next morning, the children presented themselves at the rectory. The housekeeper refused to show them in to the priest until they told her what was so important that they should be allowed to interrupt the priest that early in the morning. From his nearby study, the priest overheard their arrival and quietly slipped in to listen to the incredible tale the children were telling. At its conclusion, he began to weep, and told the children that they were fortunate to have had a vision of the Blessed Virgin. As it was time for Mass, Maximin left to join his employer for the trip home. He had been substituting for Selme's regular herder for a week, and this was the day appointed for his return to his own home. Melanie, who had so rarely attended Mass, slipped unnoticed into the back of the church. She was horrified to find that the devout priest, weeping grieviously, was telling the people the story of the events of the day before.
After Mass, Melanie hurried back to Pra's. But she was to know no peace. Soon the mayor of Ablandins arrived and began to question her. Time and again she repeated her story, never deviating from it. No matter how tricky his questions, he was not able to catch her in a contradiction. Neither threats of jail, nor promises of money, would make the girl change her determination to say what the lady had told her to say.
Maximin's story, too, was rejected by his family, except his grandmother. Again, dire threats and inducements could not deter the child from his determination to tell the truth.
On hearing the story, the parish priest of Corps determined to investigate properly. He accompanied the children to the spot of the apparition, along with four observant parishioners. Here, he became convinced by the children's actions and attitudes that their story, indeed, was a true one. Most properly, however, he determined to report to the Bishop whom he trusted to carry out the correct canonical investigation. At this visit, it was noticed that the dried up spring which so rarely gave water, was flowing freely. Father Melin returned to Corps with a bottle of this water which he gave to a parishioner of his who had been critically ill for some time.
This parishioner drank some of the water daily, and made novena to the Blessed Virgin. On the ninth day, she was completely restored to health. Properly, the priest called this only an "extraordinary" happening, not referring to it as a miracle. The time had come for Father Melin to report to the Bishop. He wrote him a long letter setting forth the children's stories and all the facts. He concluded with the words, "I submit these details to the bishop, who will give what orders he thinks best. It is the view of the people, naturally, that the Mother of God has come to warn the world before her Son rains down punishments. My own conviction, in the light of all the evidence I have been able to gather, is identical with the people's, and I believe that this warning is a great favor from Heaven. I have no need of further wonders, to believe. But my intense desire would be that God, in His mercy, should work some new marvel to confirm the first."
Both of Father Melin's wishes were heeded. First, the bishop began a lengthy, exacting, and proper investigation. Secondly, new marvels confirming the visit of Our Lady began to pour in. A number of miraculous healings occurred. Best of all, the people of the area began to heed the warning and return to the practice of their religion.
At last, the bishop instigated a full juridical inquiry in July of 1847 that was to last four years. At long last, he drew up the doctrinal pronouncement on LaSalette, which he signed on the fifth anniversary of the apparition, September 19, 1851. It was examined by Rome and then printed and distributed in all of the churches under Bishop de Bruillard's authority. In it, he declared that the apparition had all the marks of truth, and authorized the cult of Our Lady of LaSalette. A basilica was built in her honor at the site, and successive popes have given statements of credence to the cult.
Saint John Bosco wrote of LaSalette. To him it was clear that Our Lady asked reform of men's thinking and living. He said, "Let us so act that this will be to us a source of graces and blassings, serving to rouse in us a faith which is vital, a faith which is efficacious, a faith which leads us to do good and avoid evil, that we may be worth of the divine mercy in time and in eternity."
Another who found inspiration in LaSalette was Saint Peter Julian Eymard. He recognized Mary's call for reparation, and here on her mountain he was mysteriously moved to begin his work for perpetual adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament in reparation for the evils in which so many lives were bogged down.
Other priests were influenced by Our Lady of LaSalette. Indeed, an entire order dedicated to her under this title was begun with a specific mission to work for reconcilliation. These priests have spread throughout the world, carrying Our Lady's message to the millions.
After Lourdes, Bernadette went on to become a great saint. A cause has been begun for two of the little seers of Fatima. On the otherhand, the children of LaSalette did not go on to become great saints. They did, however, fulfill their mission, to make known Our Lady's words. Their task was then finished. Unfortunately, for years they were not able to find the only privacy and peace available to them -- the privacy of the grace and the peace of eternity. Unprotected by the peace of any cloister, and true to their own nature, their lives were disappointing to those who mistake the call to perform a specific service with the guarantee of a special sanctity.
In today's age, with our increased knowledge of how to deal with and treat mental unstability and neauroticism, perhaps both Melanie and Maximin would have fared better. A clearer understanding of their personalities and proper intervention by church authorities might have prevented much of the pain of their lives after the apparition. Not so in the mid eighteen hundreds. With the exception of the beautiful thirty minutes when they were priviledged to behold the wonderful visitor from Heaven, and the joy of being chosen to communicate her message to the world, the entire lives of Melanie Mathieu and Maximin Giraud are to be pitied. Both began in poverty and ignorance, and both ended in mental instability. It is to their credit that they never deviated from the facts of their initial story of the apparition. As one of the main parts of the message of LaSalette is the emphasis on mercy, who can doubt that the divine mercy would have been granted to Melanie and Maximin ? The tears of Our Lady of LaSalette, prompted by mercy, were wept for them, and for all mankind.
Our Lady of LaSalette, hear my cries of repentance. Help me keep my resolve to turn away from my sins which so offend Your Divine Son. Just as my sins served as the hammer which drove the nails into Our Lord, let my repentance serve as the pliers which pull them out again, and release Him from the cross.
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Copyright © 2004 by Ann Ball
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