After the summit

I was musing on the lives of two of the earlier visionaries of the Blessed Virgin -- Melanie and Maximin, the two cowherds to whom Our Lady appeared in La Salette in 1846.

The two kids (she was close to 15 and he was 11) had a close encounter of the divine kind after a nap on an alpine hillside. Waking, they freaked out because the cows they were tending were nowhere to be found. They encountered a brilliant light, in which sat a beautiful lady, weeping. She spoke of spoiled wheat and potato blights and a populace that had turned away from her Son.

In 20 minutes, the whole event was over, and the boy and girl led the cows down to the town where they reported their encounter.

What captured the attention of my heart, though, was the aftermath of the heavenly visit. Maximin and Melanie became superstars of a sort, but their celebrity cut both ways. Sure, they were considered especially blessed. But they were just as destitute, dirty, unlettered and ignorant after the visit as before. But now, they were also the targets of every unscrupulous political or religious group with an axe to grind.

Maximim seems to have held fast to his original story. Not that it made helped him any. Trying to trade on his famous name, he agreed to help a liquor distributor use him in its advertising. I can just image -- "Drink Eau de Maximin! Heaven help me, it's delicious!" The venture flopped. Maximin died before he was 40, never able to use the apparition to his earthly advantage. His last speech, given on the 25th anniversary of the event, ended with him recounting the experience, ending wistfully with, "And then she was gone. And she left without us. And she left us without us."

But it was Melanie, in a sense, who got the worst of it, ending up making bedfellows with apocalyptic groups that were keen on trading on the secret that the Virgin had entrusted to her. Some of the "prophecies" attributed to her came not from the Virgin's lips, but from a woman who was manipulated by others (and perhaps by her own sense of self-importance) to make more of the message than was transmitted in 1846.

Believe it or not, the perils of their post-apparition lives made me love the visionaries all the more. They were not stained-glass saints, but fallible human beings entrusted with a dangerous heavenly message. They (literally) had had their summit experience. And they fouled it up. They were ensnared by weird currents of power politics and religiosity which, being unsophisticated, they failed to navigate.They came very close to subverting the message entrusted to them. Yet, in spite of everything, they held onto their original experience. Maximin and Melanie both stuck to their stories until the end.

They are a lot like us, sans the lit-from-within Weeping Lady. We have heard a message -- be it from a gospel story, a parental warning or an inner calling. We try to live out the message in our own ways -- sometimes running from it, and sometimes implementing it in ways that seem acceptable within our cultural context but that betray our actual calling. We struggle to right ourselves, to overcome our narrowness and to enlarge our souls.

We often fail, even to the end of our lifetimes. But in our feeble attempts, perhaps, comes our salvation.

Maximin and Melianie, pray for us, the seeking Church. Place our feet on their right path as we seek to bring heaven's light to our shifting lives.