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“He Skiied into Mary’s Arms” 

from Marian Shrines of France, ed. Brother Francis Mary Kalvelage, F.I

"Our Lady of La Salette, Reconciliatrice of Sinners, Pray without ceasing for us who have recourse to Thee !"

Click on image for music

My parents are German Jews who fled from the Nazi holocaust and settled here in the U.S..  I was born and raised in a middle class suburb of New York City.  Growing up I was quite religious, but drifted away from religion when I went to college -- first to M.I.T., where I absorbed the hip scientific "we know better than to believe in God" philosophy, and then to Harvard Business School, where I eventually joined the faculty.

Despite worldly success my life felt irrelevant,  meaningless.  When I suffered some reverses in both my professional and my personal lives,  I hit bottom.  It was at that point that the Lord gave me perhaps the greatest grace of my life.  While walking on an empty beach, it seemed like I "fell" into Heaven. I directly felt God's presence and His love.  I knew that He existed, that from the first moment of my life He loved me and watched over me, and that everything, every event which happened in my life was exactly the best thing which could possibly happen.  I knew that everything I did -- for good or for bad -- mattered and was weighed in the scales.  I knew that we lived forever, and knew that Heaven existed.  I knew about the angelic hierarchy.  I knew that this was not the picture of God that I had from the Old Testament.  I prayed to know the name of my Lord and Master, my God.  I prayed  "Let me know your name.  I don't mind if you are Buddha, and I have to become a Buddhist.  I don't mind if you are Apollo, and I have to become a Roman pagan.  I don't mind if you are Krishna, and I have to become a Hindu.  As long as you are not Christ and I have to become a Christian!" So He did not reveal His "name" to me...

From that moment on I knew the meaning and purpose of my life was to worship and serve my God.  I knew that when I died I would regret two things -- every hour that I wasted in the eyes of Heaven, and all of the energy I wasted worrying about not being loved when every moment I was held in a sea of love without knowing it.  But I had no idea of who He was, of what religion this was, of "how" to worship Him.

So every night before going to sleep I said a short prayer to know the name of my Lord and Master, my God, the love and the purpose and the meaning of my life.  About a year later I had a "dream" of Mary, in which she spoke to me and offered to answer any questions I might have.  When I woke, I knew that the initial meeting had been with Christ, and that I was a Christian.  I still had no idea of the difference between the Catholic Church and the other forms of Christianity, and I still had an aversion (based on the typical anti-Catholic stereotypes) to the Catholic Church. 

A few months later I found myself in the French Alps on a ski vacation.  After several days of dreary rain I decided to take a day trip in my rental car to the La Salette.  I had heard about it a few months earlier when  I stopped at a La Salette shrine near my house to admire the beautiful gardens, and while there read a plaque describing the apparition.  I decided to visit it simply because it sounded like a beautiful, isolated spot, and because the skiing was rained out.  It took longer to get there than I had expected, and it was twilight by the time I took the last bend in the winding, mountain road and saw the sanctuary glowing in a hollow, surrounded by massive mountains and deep snow.  Much to my surprise, I found out that it would be possible to stay there, so I made arrangements to spend the night.

As a Jewish agnostic, I never expected to find myself staying at a Marian shrine.  I was still far from being sympathetic to Christianity as a religion, much less to the Catholic Church.  Yet the deep peace and the palpable love which flowed from the spot enveloped me and drew me into a quiet joy and contentment at being there.

A snowstorm and a mishap with my rental car prevented me from leaving when I planned, and forced me to spend most of the remainder of my vacation there.  The time was spent walking in the mountains, thinking about God and about my life, praying, and sleeping -- a lot!  In fact, most of my time there was spent napping.  When I would try to get up, I would feel myself gently pushed back into a delicious, healing sleep.  I remember forcing myself awake after one nap, only to fall back asleep into a dream in which a car was on a lift in a garage, being worked on by a dozen mechanics.  I was the car and the Blessed Virgin Mary was the shop supervisor, and she reprimanded me for trying to get off the lift while I was still being worked on!

It was a major overhaul!  By the end of my stay I was hopelessly in love with Mary, and committed to living the life she and her son Jesus wanted for me.  I knew that the Catholic Church was where Mary was to be found, was the Church created and sustained by Jesus.  During those days, drifting in and out of sleep, quietly walking the spot where Mary appeared, praying at the stone on which she sat, and drinking the water from the spring which miraculously appeared at the spot of her apparition, I was healed and converted.  It was my introduction to the quiet peace and joy of holiness,  the beginning of my journey into the Church, into the fullness of the Truth, into true life in Jesus Christ.

"...the Seventh I Kept for Myself"  (sidebar to above chapter)

    As a Jew I was struck and deeply moved when I read that Mary's words at La Salette were: "Six days I have given you to labor, the seventh I have kept for myself."  For from a Jewish perspective it is very natural, almost inevitable to associate Mary in a special way with the Sabbath.  In Jewish tradition the Sabbath is seen as a bride, and is referred to as the "Sabbath queen".  And it is understood to be the forecourt of the Messianic Kingdom, a sort of taste of what is to come.  Perhaps the clearest way to show this is to simply quote verbatim from the prayer which Jews recite at the start of every Sabbath:

"Come, my Beloved.
Let us welcome Sabbath the Bride, Queen of our days.

Come, let us all greet Sabbath, Queen sublime,
Fountain of blessings in every clime.
Annointed and regal since earliest time,
In thought she preceded Creation's six days.

Come, my Beloved.
Let us welcome Sabbath the Bride, Queen of our days.

Arise and shake off the dust of the earth.
Wear glorious garments reflecting your worth.
Messiah will lead us all soon to rebirth.
My soul now senses redemption's warm rays.

Come, my Beloved.
Let us welcome Sabbath the Bride, Queen of our days.

Awake and arise to greet the new light
For in your radiance the world will be bright.
Sing out, for darkness is hidden from sight.
The Lord through you His glory displays.

Come, my Beloved.
Let us welcome Sabbath the Bride, Queen of our days.

Then your destroyers will themselves be destroyed;
Ravagers, at great distance, will live in a void.
Your God then will celebrate you, overjoyed,
As a groom with his bride when his eyes meet her gaze.

Come, my Beloved.
Let us welcome Sabbath the Bride, Queen of our days.

All rise and turn to the entrance in a symbolic greeting
of the Bride, Sabbath

Come in peace, soul mate, sweet gift of the Lord,
Greeted with joy and in song so adored
Amidst God's people, in faith in accord.
Come, Bride Sabbath; come, crown of the days.

Come, my Beloved.
Let us welcome Sabbath the Bride, Queen of our days."

    Almost every one of these words could be sung ever so appropiately to the Queen of Heaven, the Queen of La Salette, the Blessed Virgin Mary!  It seemed only natural to me that Mary should identify herself with the Sabbath, that she should say "...six days have I given  you to labor, the seventh I have kept for myself"!