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July 31, 2003|
Saint Ignatius of Loyola
On September 16, 1647, Benoîte Rencurel was born in the little free town of Saint-Etienne d'Avançon, in the southern Alps. Her parents were good Catholics, and lived modestly from the works of their hands. When Benoîte was born, they already had a daughter, Madeleine; a third daughter, Marie, would be born four years later. The father, Guillaume Rencurel, died when Benoîte, full of life and high spirits, was seven years old. For the widow and her three daughters, this death would lead to material destitution. There was no school in Saint-Etienne d'Avançon, so Benoîte never learned to read or write. Her only instruction came from Sunday Mass. She learned there that Mary is the most merciful Mother of God, which awakened in her a desire to see her. Benoîte, a contemplative soul, loved to pray for long periods of time.
«My name is Lady Mary»
Over the course of four months, the Lady appeared every day, talking very familiarly with the young girl. To prepare her for her future mission, she instructed her, correcting her vivaciousness and her abruptness, her stubbornness and her attachment to things and animals. Benoîte related her visions to her employer, who at first did not believe her, but who, one morning, secretly followed her to a small valley, the Vallon des Fours. There, she did not see the Lady, but she heard the words that the Lady spoke to Benoîte. The apparition asked the shepherdess to warn her employer about the dangers her soul was facing«Her conscience is in a poor state. She must repent!» Moved, the employer mended her ways, began to receive the sacraments again, and lived the remainder of her days in a very Christian manner. On August 29, Benoîte asked the visitor what her name was, and heard the response, «My name is Lady Mary.» But at the same time, the Virgin announced to her that the apparitions would cease for an indefinite time. Indeed, Benoîte spent a month without seeing the Lady. This absence, by depriving her of a considerable consolation, served to purify her soul.
Finally, one morning at the end of September, the shepherdess, who had stopped her sheep and goats on a river bank, perceived Lady Mary before her, blazing like a beautiful sun. She hastened to catch up with her. But the old wooden bridge that crossed the river was broken, so she crossed the water by climbing on the back of a big goat. When she had gotten close to the apparition, she asked, «My good Lady, why have you deprived me for so long of the honor of seeing you?» «From now on, when you want to see me, you will be able to in the chapel in Laus,» replied the Lady, pointing out to her the path to follow. The next day, Benoîte went to the village of Laus and arrived at the little chapel. She immediately entered and saw on the altar the Virgin Mary who congratulated her on having searched without losing her patience. Delighted to see Our Lady again, Benoîte was embarrassed to see the poverty and dirtiness of the place. She suggested cutting her apron in two, so as to put a cloth under the Lady's feet. The Lady answered that in a short time, nothing would be lackingshe would see linens, candles, and other ornaments there. She added that she wanted to be built there a church in honor of her and her most dear Son. Many sinners, men and women, would be converted there. During the winter of 1664-1665, Benoîte went up to Laus very often. Every day she saw the Virgin who urged her «to pray continuously for sinners.» By way of this, Our Lady gives us to understand that sinners are in a piteous state. God is offended by their sins, but He wants to show them His boundless mercy, which can only be accepted freely. The news of the apparitions spread among the villagers with the help of vigils during the winter nights. Starting on the Feast of Saint Joseph, March 19th, pilgrims came to Our Lady of Laus. Many obtained graces through her intercession; they came to go to confession and to resolve to change their lives.
The doctor who examines the wound
God gave man the freedom to love Him and serve Him. Sin, which is an abuse of this freedom, consists of every act, word, or desire that is contrary to the law of God. However, sins are not all of the same seriousness. There is a distinction between mortal (or grave) sin and venial sin. Venial sin cools the love of God in our hearts without depriving us of the life of grace. Mortal sin, as a serious infraction of the law of God (for example, blasphemy, idolatry, irreligion, heresy, schism, perjury, abortion, contraception, adultery, fornication), turns man away from his Creator, over Whom the sinner prefers a created thing. For a sin to be mortal, a grave matter is not enoughthe act must also have been committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. «Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back» (CCC 1861). The apostle Saint John thus described the fate of those who die in a state of mortal sin: As for the cowards and the faithless, the depraved and murderers, the fornicators and sorcerers, the idol-worshipers and deceivers of every sorttheir lot is the fiery pool of burning sulfur, the second death! (Apoc. 21:8). This truth becomes all the more striking considering that, for every human being, death is a certainty, and after death, each of us will be judged. The lives of all of us are to be revealed before the tribunal of Christ so that each one may receive his recompense, good or bad, according to his life in the body (2 Cor. 5:10). But, after death there will be no more time to convert. Therefore, it is now that one must do penance. «Woe to those who die in mortal sin!» (Saint Francis of Assisi).
A miraculous oil
Our Lady revealed herself in Laus as the Reconciler and the Refuge of sinners. She also gave signs in order to convince sinners of the need to convert. She then announced to Benoîte that oil from the lamp in the chapel (which burned before the Blessed Sacrament), would perform cures on the sick who applied it on themselves, if they turned to her intercession with faith. In fact, many cures were recorded in a short time: a child recovered the use of an eye; a person was cured of an ulcer in his hand. Even in our time, miracles happen for people who, confident in the intercession of Our Lady, use the Laus oil with devotion.
A plank of salvation
This obligation is not a weight imposed upon penitents in an arbitrary manner, but rather is a means of liberation to find peace of heart again. If, through sin, we have turned away from our Heavenly Father, the sacrament of Penance allows us to return to Him, to throw ourselves in His merciful arms. Confession is thus the occasion of a loving reunion between the child and his Father. «It is not the sinner who returns to the Father to beg His forgiveness, but God who runs after the sinner and makes him return to Him,» said Saint John Vianney, the Curé of Ars. «To receive the sacrament of penance, three things are required,» added the same saint: «Faith, which reveals to us God present in the priest; Hope, which makes us believe that God will give us the grace of forgiveness; and Charity, which brings us to love God, and which places in the heart regret at having offended Him.»
Benoîte also encouraged confessors to warn penitents to come to Holy Communion only after a good confession, prepared by an examination of conscience in the light of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, «anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution» (CCC 1457).
Benoîte's job was not easy. The Virgin asked her to admonish women and girls who were leading a scandalous life which had sometimes gone to the point of infanticide, unjust or perverse men, and priests and religious who were unfaithful to their sacred vows. But the seer performed her duties well. She encouraged penitents, warned those who dared not confess their sins, and guided them to an appropriate confessor. «When he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for the sinner» (CCC 1465). Benoîte especially sacrificed for sinners and prayed while they made their confessions. To atone for their sins and to obtain graces for them, she gave herself over to severe penances, to the point of jeopardizing her health.
A way to new life
Between 1669 and 1679, Benoîte was favored with five apparitions of Christ Who revealed Himself to her in a state of suffering. One Friday in July 1673, the bloodstained Savior said to her: «My child, I am making myself appear in this state so that you might participate in the sufferings of My Passion.» Indeed, the Lord Jesus wished to unite to His redeeming sacrifice those very people who are its first beneficiaries (cf. CCC 618). Saint Peter warns us: Christ suffered for you in just this way and left you an example, to have you follow in His footsteps (I Peter 2:21). It was our sins that made Our Lord submit to the agony of the Cross. «Those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for He is in them) and hold Him up to contempt (Heb. 6:6)» (CCC 598). But by His death, Christ frees us from sin, and by His Resurrection, He gives us a way to new life. The sacrament of Penance reconciles the sinner with God and gives him part in the Risen Life of Christ.
«She is the reason I am losing so many souls!»
After twenty years of ordeals, Benoîte could once more carry out her mission in peace. A throng of pilgrims came to her. But so many mortifications and hardships had gotten the better of her health. Bedridden for over a month, she received Holy Viaticum on Christmas Day 1718. Three days later, she confessed and received Extreme Unction, with great consolation. Around 8 o'clock that night, Benoîte bid farewell to those surrounding her, then, having kissed a crucifix, her eyes raised to Heaven, she died in peace and went to join her Spouse Jesus and Her Most Holy Mother Mary in Heaven. The cause of beatification for the Servant of God Benoîte Rencurel, introduced in 1871, was recently taken up again by the diocese of Gap. After being administered successively by the Pères Gardistes, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Missionaries of Our Lady of Laus, the sanctuary is today entrusted to the diocesan clergy, with help from a community of the Brothers of Saint John. The sanctuary of Laus is a spiritual center that, faithful to its mission, welcomes pilgrims who have come to place themselves under Mary's maternal protection and receive the sacrament of forgiveness.
Let us ask the Mother of Mercy to renew among Christians respect for and the desire to go to this sacrament, which is a privileged means, instituted by the Savior Himself, to receive God's grace and peace of soul.