Our Lady of La Salette
LA SALETTE, 1846: OUR LADY WHO WEPT
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The visit of my Mary to earth on September 19, 1846 is usually referred to as OUR LADY OF TEARS or OUR LADY WHO WEPT. We sometimes believe that the only reason she is not weeping all the time is because she has the Beatific Vision of her Magnificent Son to comfort her. There’s an expression, “You can’t get hurt if you don’t stick your chin out”. She always sticks her chin out. She is always being hurt. If we study the history of the world, in particular the 16th through the 19th centuries, we become alarmingly aware that we’ve hurt Mary very deeply. However, very seldom do we ever hear her complain about the outrages committed against her. During her apparition to St. Catherine Laboure, she cried because of the chastisement that would come to France, and to the Religious Orders.
The irony of her visit to the two simple French children high above the tree line in La Salette, France, is that, again, the tears she shed were not for herself; she cried for us, her children. What an example she is, the suffering servant. What a heart she has. No wonder there is such devotion to her Immaculate Heart. It is so big; there’s enough room in her heart for the whole world.
The excitement and devotion which flourished in the wake of Mary’s apparition to Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1830, and the phenomenal spread of the Miraculous Medal that followed in its path, brought many people back to the Church and Mary. But by and large, Satan was still in control. The situation had not changed that much, or the word had not spread far enough in the succeeding 16 years. 1846 found France as anti-Church as it had ever been, only more self centered and materialistic.
The mountain people had never paid too much attention to what went on in the big city. They had their own set of problems that had nothing to do with the national politics of the country, or the power plays and backstabbing in the parlors of Paris. While it’s true that the national attitudes finally found their ways into the villages and hamlets, they really didn’t need any encouragement for their attitude towards the Church. Their lack of faith was more because of apathy; the Church was just there, like an old shoe.
The French had indeed become cultural Catholics, that is, Catholics in name only. They were only involved with Church for Baptism, First Holy Communion, Weddings, and Funerals. Sunday was no longer a day of worship and glorification of God. It was a workday just like any other. The churches were empty. First Holy Communionwas more often than not, last Holy Communion. Children were not taught prayers in the home. There was no example set by the parents. God was some far off figure who had nothing to do with their lives. If He truly existed, He was not concerned with their problems.
Their attitude towards God was a contradiction in terms when one considered where they lived. The majestic panorama of the mountain was such evidence of the splendor of God, His Perfect artistry, His Perfect Love. As far as the eye could see were beautiful mountains, one more elegant than the other, broken by streams of fresh water running down to the valleys. Little houses, nestled in the side of the mountains, were scattered throughout, adding patches of color to the scene. This could only be the work of a Supreme Being. No human architect or artist could ever have conceived such a plan. Sadly, though, many of the gifts of the Lord are either unappreciated, or taken for granted. This beauty was wasted on the citizens of La Salette. Their attitude was “You can’t feed your family landscapes.”
Into this setting, we bring two children, Maximin Giraud, age 11, and Melanie Mathieu, age 15. They both came from the nearby town of Corps. As small as Corps was, 1300 inhabitants in 1846, the two had never met. But then, neither was part of the social circle.
Maximin was the product of a drunken father, and an uncaring stepmother, who had no time for him. Her main concern was taking care of the children she had borne her husband. The husband passed most of his time at the local cafe, spending the little money he earned on drink. Maximin was small for his age, but he was healthy. One night, a farmer from nearby La Salette met Giraud in a cafe, and talked him into letting Maximin tend his cows for a week. The boy had no experience in this field, but the farmer convinced his father that it was a simple task, which he would have no trouble handling. That’s how Our Lady got Maximin to the mountain on September 19th of that year.
Melanie Mathieu, on the other hand, was an experienced cowherder at age 15. Hers was a large family from the other side of Corps. She was loved by her parents, but they were unable to take care of her. She was sent out into the streets to beg at an early age. When she was 8, she baby sat for money. They hired her out at age 10 as a farm helper. She never experienced a parent’s warmth, a mother’s touch, or love of any kind at the farms where she worked. She was not a person to her employers, with whom she lived; rather, she was treated as one of the farm animals. The farmers were only interested in what she could produce, not her physical or mental state. They didn’t care whether she was happy or sad, sick or well. A scrawny girl, she was very plain, quiet, and sulky. But who could blame her? She had been virtually alone from age 10 to 15, when she met Maximin on the mountain of La Salette.
They had one thing in common, these two children from different parts of the same town, whose upbringing had been completely different. They both had an overpowering desire to be loved by a mother. This was the most important form of nourishment they lacked. Little did they know that their Real Mother watched over them from the day of their birth, and all through their life, so that She could give them the gift of this moment in time.
The farms they worked at were near each other. Melanie and Maximin met on Thursday, September 17, when Maximin arrived from Corps. Melanie didn’t like Maximin. He covered up his shyness and insecurity by acting brash and stupid. She thought him silly. Actually, the farmer who had talked Maximin’s father into sending him up to La Salette didn’t care for him either. After the first day, he was sorry he had asked for the boy. Maximin was lightheaded, flighty. He couldn’t remember simple orders.
The following morning, Friday, September 18, the children went up the mountain together, but each went to a different slope with their respective cows. Maximin had brought a goat and his dog with him. It was an uneventful day. But being young, they planned on having a beautiful, adventurous time the following day, Saturday, September 19. That’s the way with young people. Each day is a new day, a new adventure.
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The morning passed. The children had brought the cows up, watered them, then ate their lunch together. They met with some other herders for a short time. The noon sun warmed them; their eyes became heavy. They both fell asleep in the pasture. Two hours later, Melanie woke with a start. She panicked. She looked around nervously. Where were the cows? They were nowhere to be seen. She awakened Maximin, and the two ran up and down the slopes, looking for their charges. When they found the cows quietly eating grass on the other side of a slope, they breathed a deep sigh of relief, and ran back towards the place where they had left their lunch, to gather up their knapsacks.
As they approached the edge of a ravine, Melanie stopped. A burst of bright light in the shape of the sun glistened in front of her. It was brighter than the sun, causing Melanie to shade her eyes from its brilliance. She looked away and closed her eyes. Then she returned her focus to the spot. It was still there. She was frightened. She called out to Maximin.
“Memin” that was his nickname, “come see the light shining down here.”
Maximin could tell by the sound of her voice that something was wrong. He ran towards her.
“Where is it?” he shouted.
She could hardly speak. “There”, she pointed weakly in the direction of the unusual light.
The globe grew larger and larger before their eyes. Melanie was mesmerized by the dazzling light. She dropped the stick which she used to keep the cows in line. Both children wanted to run, but their legs were like lead. They couldn’t move. The globe opened. They were able to make out the figure of a woman inside. She was brighter than the sphere, if that was possible. She was seated, as if on a rock. Her face was covered by her hands. Her shoulders heaved. She was weeping. The two looked at each other, but did not move.
Maximin, not knowing what to say, blurted out to Melanie,
“Hold onto that staff of yours, and I will hold onto mine. If it does anything, I’ll give it a good clout.”
The lady raised her head. The two children gasped. There in front of them was the most beautiful face they had ever seen, or imagined. She was awesome. She was still crying, but even in tears, she was breathtaking. Her arms crossed her breasts. She looked up at the children, with so much love in her eyes that all fear left them. They melted in the warmth of her gaze. She opened her arms to them. Then she spoke.
“Come to me, my children. Do not be afraid. I am here to tell you something of the greatest importance.”
Her voice lilted. It sounded like music. It was warm and loving, but firm. She commanded with a gentleness that relaxed them immediately. She spoke in French, which they did not understand that well. They spoke in the local patois. They realized, however, that she wanted them to come to her. Their hearts racing, they approached her. She met them halfway, gliding in their direction. The globe followed her, encompassing her in its splendor. She came so close to them that they were enveloped in the globe also. She had a sweet, fresh fragrance about her, a light scent of roses, but different from anything they had ever smelled. Her clothes sparkled as she moved towards them. She continued to cry as she spoke to them.
“If my people will not obey,” she said, “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 I would not have my Son abandon you, I must pray to Him constantly. But you pay no attention to it. 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 on your behalf.
I gave you six days for working. The seventh I have reserved for myself. But no one will give it to me. This is what causes the weight of my Son’s arm to be so crushing. In addition, the cart drivers cannot swear without bringing in my Son’s name. These are the two things which make His 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 attention. Quite the opposite. When you found out that the potatoes had decayed, you swore; you blamed my Son. They will continue to spoil, and by Christmas time this year there will be none left.”
Maximin did not understand a word the lady said. Melanie struggled, and was able to pick out key words, but much of it was lost on her also. Mary was aware that the children were having a problem understanding French. She saw Melanie give a look to Maximin, who had a blank expression on his face.
“Ah, you do not understand French, my children. Well then, listen. I will put it in another way.” Then she spoke in the local patois. She repeated what she had told them. Then she continued.
“If you have grain, it will do no good to sow it, for what you sow the animals 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 old will be seized with trembling and die in the arms of their parents. The grownups will pay for their sins by hunger. The grapes will rot and the walnuts will turn bad.”
Our Lady turned to Maximin and spoke to him privately. Melanie knew it was a secret for Maximin alone, because although she could see the lady’s lips moving, and she was as close to the lady as Maximin, she couldn’t hear a word. The lady then turned to Melanie, and imparted a secret to her also.
THEN SHE GAVE US THE SIGN OF HOPE
“IF THE PEOPLE ARE CONVERTED, THE ROCKS WILL BECOME PILES OF WHEAT AND IT WILL BE FOUND THAT THE POTATOES HAVE SOWN THEMSELVES.”
She turned to the children. “Do you say your prayers well, my children?”
Maximin avoided her eyes, looking down to the ground. The two of them answered. “No Madam, hardly at all.”
She looked so lovingly at them. “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 an ‘Our Father’ and a ‘Hail Mary’, but when you can, say more.”
Then she returned to the subject at hand.
“Only a few old women go to Mass on Sunday in the summer; everybody else works every Sunday all summer long. In the winter, when they don’t know what to do with themselves, they go to Mass only to make fun of religion. During Lent, they go to the butcher shop like dogs”. (This was a reference to the lack of fasting and abstinence during Lent)
She looked around her. She sighed a heavy sigh. She turned her eyes in their direction, completely swallowing them up in the beauty of those eyes. She spoke to them in French.
“Well, my children, you will make this known to all my people.”
She turned from them slowly. The meeting was coming to an end. She stepped across the stream, and then stopped. She never looked back at them. She repeated her previous command.
“Well, my children, you will make this known to all my people.”
She continued to move up the slopes. The children followed her. She glided along the ground, without so much as bending a blade of grass. Then she was raised into the air. As she looked up to Heaven, the children noticed for the first time that she was not weeping. She looked off in the distance one last time. The globe which surrounded her glowed brighter than before. She began to fade. The light remained for a short time, and then it faded. She was gone.
This was the shortest apparition we will write about, but one of the most significant. Mary established a pattern here that she would continue to use again in Fatima, and more recently in the as yet unconfirmed apparitions at Medjugorje, Yugoslavia.
She begins with doomsday prophecy. In the instance of La Salette, Our Lady was making reference to the Great Potato Famine that plagued Ireland in 1845, and had reached disaster proportions by 1846. She also predicted further famine, plagues and suffering for France. These were all predictions of things to come, which did in fact occur. Close to a million people died as a result of a wheat shortage in Europe. The grapes of France were destroyed by a pestilence. Children did indeed die in their mother’s arms.
BUT IT DIDN’T HAVE TO HAPPEN
She gave us a way out in La Salette.
IF THEY ARE CONVERTED, THE STONES AND ROCKS WILL BE CHANGED INTO HEAPS OF WHEAT, AND POTATOES WILL SOW THEMSELVES
Perhaps the chastisement would have been worse if many had not heeded her message, and returned to the Church.
In Fatima, she predicted the rise of the Soviet Union, and World War II.
BUT IN THE END, MY IMMACULATE HEART WILL TRIUMPH
Perhaps the ravages of World War II would have been worse if we had not responded to her pleas.
In Medjugorje, the message is the same. Great times of tribulation are coming our way. But if we pray, fast, and return to the Church, if we reconcile with our neighbors, the chastisement will be lessened.
We were told in 1987 that Jesus is pleased with the way the world, IN PARTICULAR THE WEST is responding to Our Lady’s warning at Medjugorje.
The Apparition by Mary to Maximin Giraud and Melanie Mathieu was approved by the Bishop of the area 5 years to the day after Our Lady came. On September 19, 1851, the letter authorizing devotion to Our Lady Of La Salette was proclaimed to the people.
In all instances where Mary shows her love by visiting us in an apparition, we can be sure that the devil is close by. La Salette was no different. From the very beginning, there were divided camps among the religious and the laity. Four of the priests who took part in the official investigation did not believe that an authentic apparition had taken place.
One of them resorted to the most unethical means, including writing anonymous stories discrediting the appearance by Mary. Another priest, who felt he had been slighted by the bishop, took out his anger on Our Lady of the Mountain. Even the assistant pastor to St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, twisted the saint’s words to make it appear as if St. John Vianney did not believe in the apparition at La Salette, which was certainly not true.
All of these diabolical acts were finally discredited but they threw doubts into the minds of the people. All that’s needed is the slightest suspicion to turn us away from the graces Our Lady is so anxious for us to accept.
Then there was the problem of the childrens’ behavior. We have to remember that this was actually the beginning of Our Lady’s apparitions to children on earth. Nobody knew who Mary had appeared to in Paris in 1830. They knew it was one of the nuns, though, and the natural association one makes with nuns is holiness. We also have to realize that St. Catherine was not subjected to the notoriety that came with being a visionary. She was able to live anonymously, without those particular pressures.
These children were in the public eye from the very first day. It was probably assumed that the children were saints, or should have been, if they had been chosen by the Mother of God. They were not saints. They were simple children, on whom this gift of love was bestowed. But with the gift came the responsibility of living up to it. Whether it was fair or not is not the issue. They just weren’t able to handle it.
It was assumed that they would enter the religious life, which they tried to do. But neither was able to cope with it. They both lived in torture for the rest of their lives. Their conduct cast a shadow on the authenticity of the apparition, even after it had been approved by the Church. But the power of Mary was stronger than the power of evil. Her message was accepted and acted upon. La Salette became a great place of pilgrimage. It remains that way until today. One of the greatest gifts of La Salette is the amazing number of conversions that have taken place there. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is extremely strong. There are many stories of people who had been away from the Church for years, experiencing complete changes of heart at this holy place. This is exactly what she asked for.
We have to stop for a minute to share on the children. The series of apparitions in modern times by Mary began with the Miraculous Medal in 1830, and continued on through La Salette, Lourdes, Pontmain, Fatima, Beauraing, Banneux, and the most recent reported apparitions in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia. With the exception of Paris, in each of these instances, she chose to make her presence known to unsophisticated, unlearned children. Maximin and Melanie were the first in this series of visionaries. There were no guidelines as to how they should behave. There were no predecessors, on whose example they could fashion their lives.
We are all given free will. Jesus and Mary ask us to come to them freely, of our own volition. They do not want robots. The gift of surrender to the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart has to be freely given. The fact that we have to fight our own human nature all our lives to be able to give this gift makes it an even greater sacrifice. While we have abundant graces to help us through the hard times, we have to say “YES”, and accept them.
My Mary is an unconditional giver. She did not make stipulations with the children at La Salette. She came to them because she loved them. She asked them to plead with us to save ourselves from the wrath of Jesus. She told them to spread the message, which they did. We’re sure that Mary grieved for these two children as she watched them walk through the rest of their lives in suffering. We have to believe that she did everything she could to bring them closer to the Lord. We also believe that Our Lady was waiting to welcome them into the Kingdom when they closed their eyes for the last time.
Without making a judgment about the children after the apparition, I find it hard to believe that anyone who had been given the gift of actually seeing this most perfect creature of God could ever turn away from her. Whether the vision had been for an instant, the blinking of an eye, or a short period of time, as was the apparition at La Salette, I think it would be imprinted on my heart for the rest of my life. I would never forget it. Everywhere I went, I would search for that vision, that face. I would like to believe that Melanie Mathieu and Maximin Giraud did the same.
La Salette is a difficult pilgrimage place in terms of bringing groups. It is high up on top of a mountain in the French Alps. The first time we went there, we wondered how high we would have to climb with our huge tour bus. At one point, my grandson, Rob, pointed to the top of the mountain. We could see a tour bus the size of ours. It looked like an ant. Rob said, “That’s where we have to go”. Everybody laughed. No one believed him. P.S. That was how high we had to go.
Possibly because of the difficulty in getting to the top, La Salette is a shrine that is not taken for granted. Tourists don’t go up there. Pilgrims do. They boast about having made the journey up the great mountain. The attitude at the top is one of reverence and prayer. Mary’s message of conversion is the keynote of this shrine. Chapels of Reconciliation are in great numbers. There is one church dedicated to the shrine. It is almost always filled with pilgrims, praying in petition and thanksgiving to Mary.
Mary speaks to us very clearly on top of this mountain, above the tree line. What the local people of 1846 failed to realize about the gift of this mountain, is that it is close enough to Heaven, and far away enough from the distractions of the world, that when Our Lord Jesus and His awesome Mother Mary speak to us here, we are able to hear them. Our great task is to listen to what they are saying to us, and ACT ON IT.