Spirituality Matters 2018: May 31st - June 6th

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(May 31, 2012: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“Anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal…”

No sooner had Mary received the announcement from the Angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of the Messiah than she “set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. (Recall that in the context of the Annunciation, Mary had learned that her cousin was pregnant.) As if Mary didn’t have enough on her plate already, she dropped whatever she was doing in order to offer assistance to Elizabeth for “about three months”. Mary didn’t wait for the request; Mary anticipated the need.

One of the hallmarks of the Salesian tradition (and as embodied in the Sisters of the Visitation, founded by Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal) is this notion of “anticipating the need of our neighbor”. This quality invites us to be “on the lookout” for opportunities to do good for others. Simple things like:

  • holding open a door for another
  • offering to help carry someone’s groceries
  • assisting someone who may have dropped something on the floor
  • checking in on someone who’s under the weather
  • being the first to greet someone or to call someone by name
  • asking how someone is doing today.
These are ordinary, everyday ways of honoring others by simply acknowledging their presence and by recognizing that they exist.

Here is where Paul’s admonition in his Letter to the Romans comes into play. Insofar as each day is loaded with countless opportunities to honor people by anticipating their needs – by “looking out” for their interests – such efforts could understandably become wearisome over time. In the Salesian tradition, we need to approach each new day as yet another God-given gift: the invitation to offer to do good things for others rather than waiting for others to ask us to do good things for them.

Mary embodied the virtue of anticipating the need of another in her decision to offer her cousin Elizabeth assistance without waiting to be asked. In so honoring her cousin, she brought honor to herself.

Today, how might we honor Mary by following her example through our willingness to anticipate the needs of one another?

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(June 1, 2018: Justin, Martyr)
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“Be serious and sober-minded…”

Recall that on Tuesday we considered the issue of sobriety: the importance of being clear minded, of seeing ourselves and others as we really are, and of being grounded in reality. On this day, when we acknowledge the sacrifice made by Justin Martyr, it is appropriate to revisit yet again Francis de Sales’ counsel regarding desires. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, we read:

“Do not desire crosses except in proportion to the way in which you have patiently carried those already sent to you. It is an abuse to desire martyrdom while lacking the courage to put up with an injury. The enemy often supplies us with great desires for absent things that we may never encounter in order to divert our minds from present things which, small as they may be, we might obtain great profit. While in our imaginations we picture ourselves doing battle with great monsters in Africa, for want of vigilance we allow ourselves to be slain by little serpents that actually lie in our path…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 37, p. 218)

It’s tempting sometimes to engage in “what if’s”, especially when we catch ourselves imagining how we might do heroic things for the sake of the Gospel. What if I were persecuted for my faith? What if I were arrested for being a Christian? What if I were asked to lay down my life for Christ? While such imaginings may be entertaining – and perhaps even noble – what if all these “what if’s” simply prevent us from recognizing the countless opportunities God gives us every day to do simple, ordinary and little good things for others?

Get serious. Be realistic. While we should admire and emulate the martyrs, odds are we won’t be called to give our lives for Christ in the dramatic fashion that they did. Rather we will be called to live our lives for Christ in ways that – while far less dramatic – are no less heroic.

How? By sharing our lives with others each and every day.

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(June 2, 2018: Saturday, Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“By what authority are you doing these things…?”

We see in today’s Gospel a typical tactic employed by those who take umbrage with others. If they can’t refute what others do, they’ll attempt to refute their authority for doing so.

Jesus didn’t ask permission to do good things. He simply did them, regardless of the consequences. Tragic, indeed, that his enemies attempted to use his good deeds as evidence of wrongdoing!

We’ve all heard the expression: “No good deed goes unpunished”. Today’s Gospel reminds us that in a perfect world, doing good should be applauded and rewarded. However, insofar as we do not live in a perfect world, we shouldn’t be shocked that doing good may sometime bring its share of resistance and hostility.

By any means – by all means – do good things. Just be certain that you are doing that good for God’s glory, and not your own glory.

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Spirituality Matters 2018: May 24th - May 30th

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(May 24, 2018: Thursday, Seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another."

Salt is essential for life in general, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt )

In his commentary on this closing verse of today’s Gospel of Mark, William Barclay made the following observation:

“Here we must take salt in the sense of purity. The ancients declared that there was nothing in the world purer than salt because it came from the two purest things – the sun and the sea. The very glistening whiteness of salt was a picture of purity. So, this will mean, ‘Have within yourselves the purifying influence of the Spirit of Christ. Be purified from selfishness and self-seeking, from bitterness and anger and grudge-bearing. Be cleansed from irritation and moodiness and self-centeredness, and then – and then only – will you be able to live in peace with your fellow men and women.’ In other words, Jesus is saying that it is only the life that is cleansed of self and filled with Christ that can live in real fellowship with others.” (Daily Bible Series, Mark, p. 236)

In a letter of spiritual direction, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Self-love, then, is one of the sources of our disturbance. The other is the importance we give ourselves. Why is it that when we happen to commit some imperfection or sin, we are so surprised, upset and impatient? Without doubt, it is because we thought we were something special, resolute and steady, and therefore, when we discover that in reality we are nothing of the kind and have fallen flat on our face, we are disappointed, and consequently we are vexed, offended and upset. If we really knew ourselves well, instead of being astonished at finding ourselves on the ground we would marvel that we ever manage to remain standing up. That’s the other source of our disquiet: we want nothing but consolation and are taken aback when we see and experience our misery, our nothingness and our weakness.”

Nothing will make us lose our taste for life and love more quickly that self-love. Nothing will help us maintain – and increase – our taste for life and love more quickly than the love of God.

And neighbor!

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(May 25, 2018: Venerable Bede, Priest)
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“Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged.”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:

“Complain as little as possible about the wrongs you suffer. Undoubtedly, a person who complains commits a sin by doing so, since self-love always feels that injuries are worse than they really are. Above all, do not complain to irascible or fault-finding persons. If there is just occasion for complaining to someone either to correct an offense or restore peace of mind, do so with those who are even-tempered and who really love God. Otherwise, instead of calming your mind said others will stir up worse difficulties and instead of pulling out the thorn that is hurting you they will simply drive it deeper into your foot.” (IDL, Part III, p. 130)

In a letter of spiritual direction, Francis wrote:

“Strong and staunch hearts only complain when there is really something important to complain about, and even then they do not harbor resentment – at least, they do not succumb to fuss and agitation.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 207)

What’s the takeaway from today’s first reading? If you must complain (1) do it for something really important, (2) do it with people who won’t make it worse and (3) move on when you’re done.

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(May 26, 2018: Philip Neri, Priest)
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“Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing a song of praise.”

“Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining down-to-earth popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy.”

“At an early age, Philip abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence, and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next thirteen years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate.”

“As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially, they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome.”

“At the urging of his confessor, Philip was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor himself, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions, and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led excursions to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way.”

“Some of Philip’s followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns!”

“Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety. He was beatified in 1615 and canonized in 1622.” ( https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-philip-neri/ )

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“As for certain good-humored, joking words, spoken by way of modest and innocent merriment, they belong to the virtue called eutrapelia by the Greeks, which we can call pleasant conversation. By their means we can take friendly, virtuous enjoyment in the amusing situations human imperfections provide us.”

The only thing on par with Philip Neri’s notion of holiness was his appreciation for humor. We see in him a perfect example of how pursuing a life of devotion leaves plenty of room for laughter!

Today, how might we imitate his example today?

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(May 27, 2018: The Most Holy Trinity)
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“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The doctrinal image of the Trinity is a difficult concept to understand. In fact, one might recall being taught that the Trinity is a mystery.

The best way to approach this mystery might be to consider the experience of God. There is no denying that we indeed have a continued experience of God. St. Francis de Sales refers to the experience of the Trinity as an example of God’s continual dialogue with us. For Francis de Sales, we continually experience this Triune God, because he never stops communicating with us through the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. St. Paul said it best in his greeting to the Corinthians which we hear every time we gather for the liturgy: “May the grace and peace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always.”

This notion of three persons and one God is a concept that is difficult to understand. Maybe that is why St. Augustine was one of the first to refer to the dogma as a mystery and why St. Patrick is often depicted as trying to explain the Trinitarian mystery through the use of the three-leafed clover. The notion of a triune God will always be difficult to explain and understand. And maybe that explanation - or the attempt at explanation - is best left to the theologians.

Today is one of the few Sundays of the year when we celebrate a dogma. On this Sunday, Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the mystery of three persons, one God. What we contemplate is the ongoing experience of the Triune God, a God who constantly reveals to us something of what it means to be divine – and by extension, therefore, something of what it means to be human.

Every time we bless ourselves with the sign of the Cross, or when we baptize, or begin Mass, we always do so in the name of the Triune God. There simply is no way to avoid it. On Trinity Sunday and on every Sunday that we gather, we can celebrate the Triune Godhead in a variety of ways, including spending time with the theological concepts of what it means to be Three Persons, One God. Today in particular, that reflection would mean spending time with the notion of a Triune God. Also, one could celebrate today by taking advantage of the offer for continued dialogue with our God as Father…Son…and Spirit.

As we heard in today’s first reading taken the Book of Deuteronomy, God continues to reveal himself to his people. What might this triune God be revealing to us today about not only about what it means to be divine, but also what is also means to be human?

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(May 28, 2018: Monday, Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You may have to suffer through various trials…”

While there is so much more to life than suffering, suffering is indeed an unavoidable part of life. Francis de Sales was keenly aware of this lived reality. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, we read:

“Our Savior himself has declared, ‘By your patience you will win your souls.’ It is a man’s great happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls. We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

That said, Francis de Sales was quite clear: we should not go out of our way looking for trials or afflictions. Life being what it is, trials and sufferings have a nasty habit of looking for - and finding - us! When tough times and situations do come our way, Francis cautions us to avoid getting all worked up by trying to go around, over or under them. We need to walk straight through them as patiently and calmly as we can.

Look at the day ahead. What trials – large or little – might be headed your way? How do you plan to deal with them?

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(May 29, 2018: Tuesday, Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Gird up the loins of your mind; live soberly.”

Sobriety is the state of being sober. The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers the following definitions of sober:

  1. Sparing in the use of food and drink; abstemious: not addicted to intoxicating drink; not drunk;
  2. Marked by sedate or gravely or earnestly thoughtful character or demeanor;
  3. Unhurried, calm;
  4. Marked by temperance, moderation, or seriousness;
  5. Subdued in tone or color;
  6. Showing no excessive or extreme qualities of fancy, emotion, or prejudice.
Sobriety is the best remedy for what many people in recovery often refer to as “stinkin’ thinkin’”. People who are intoxicated don’t think clearly; people who are intoxicated suffer from impaired judgment; people who are intoxicated aren’t very realistic.

We can be intoxicated by any number of things, even by things that – on the face of it – appear to be very good! In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales named one such thing that can intoxicate and debilitate us if we are not careful - desire!

“Do not desire things that endanger your soul…Desire neither honors and offices and neither visions nor ecstasies. There is a great danger, self-deceit and vanity in such things. Do not desire faraway things, that is, things that cannot happen for a long time – as many people do – and by so doing wear out and waste their hearts to no purpose and expose themselves to the danger of becoming very discontented. If a young man greatly desires to be established in some position before the proper time, what help, I ask you, does this desire bring him? If a married woman wants to be a nun, to what purpose is it? If I want to buy my neighbor’s property before he is ready to sell it, don’t I waste my time by such desires?” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 37, pp. 217-218)

Lack of sobriety with regards to desires, plans, hopes and dreams can result in our simply spinning our wheels. Not only does “Stinkin’ thinkin’” frustrate us with desires that aren’t healthy or realistic, but it also prevents us from pursuing those desires that are appropriate and achievable! The remedy? Francis wrote:

“A variety of foods – especially if a large amount is eaten – overburdens the stomach and ruins it if it is weak. Don’t overburden your souls with many dreams or desires, neither with worldly ones – which may completely corrupt you – nor with spiritual ones, for they may cause you difficulty. When our soul has been purged and feels free from evil passions. Like a famished person, it longs for many different kinds of pious practices, mortifications, penance, humility, charity and prayer. To have so keen an appetite is a good thing, but you must consider whether you can properly digest all that you want to eat. From among all the desires choose those that you can practice and fulfill at present. Turn them to your best advantage, and this done, God will send you others that you can practice in due time. In this way you will never waste time with useless desires….I give this advice not only to spiritually-minded but to worldly people as well. Without it we will live only in anxiety and confusion.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 37, p. 219)

Do you want to avoid “anxiety and confusion” in the midst of life’s dreams and demands? Then gird up the loins of your mind and live soberly. St. Francis de Sales observed: ‘Do not desire means of serving God that you presently lack; rather, diligently use the means you actually have!’

One day at a time.

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(May 30, 2018: Wednesday, Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you…”

We witness a pretty bold – perhaps, even presumptuous – move on the part James and John in today’s Gospel. The two brothers attempt to wrest from Jesus the promise of granting an open-ended request: “we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you”. Wow! Talk about chutzpah!

Yet, haven’t we been guilty of the same thing? Haven’t we asked Jesus at times for things with the expectation that our request must be granted? Haven’t we prayed at times for our hearts’ desires with little or no consideration that God might have other thoughts or plans? Haven’t there been times when we simply wanted God to give us a blank check? Talk about chutzpah!

In a sermon on prayer, Francis de Sales observed:

“Between meditation and contemplation there is the prayer of petition which is made when – after having considered the goodness of our Lord, His infinite love and His omnipotence we become confident enough to ask for and entreat Him to give us what we desire…True prayer of petition is made by grace, that is, when we ask for something which is not due to us at all and when we ask it of someone who is far superior to us, as God is…The point is absolutely clear: we can – and ought – to ask God for both our temporal and spiritual needs.” (Living Jesus, p. 304)

You know the old adage: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” However, as James and John learned in a very hard way in a very public forum, just because you ask for something doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get! When it comes to prayers of petition, we should (1) have the courage to ask for whatever we want, and (2) we should have the courage to accept whatever God ultimately grants – or doesn’t grant – us.

Are you looking for a prayer of petition to start today and every day? How about this variation on the request of James and John: “We want to do for you whatever you ask of us”.

Amen!

Spirituality Matters 2018: May 17th - May 23rd

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(May 17, 2018: Thursday, Seventh Week of Easter)
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“Take courage…”

In a letter to Soeur de Soulfour, Francis de Sales offered this advice:

“Be like a little child who, while it knows that its mother is holding its sleeve, walks boldly and runs all around without being distressed at a stumble or fall; after all, it is as yet unsteady on its legs. In the same way, as long as you realize that God is holding on to you by your will and resolution to serve him go on boldly and do not be upset by your setbacks and falls. Continue on joyfully and with your heart as open and widely trustful as possible. If you cannot always be joyful, at least be brave and confident.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 45-46)

Be brave; be confident; be courageous.

Being courageous is not about being foolhardy. Being courageous (as we learn from the Italian word, coragio) is about being a person of heart. We all have issues in life; we all have difficulties in life; we all have setbacks in life; we all have heartaches in life. Often times what distinguishes triumph from tragedy in our attempts to deal with life’s challenges is whether we end up encouraged or discouraged, that is, whether we manage to maintain our hearts or whether we lose our hearts.

Today, consider the stumbles and falls that you have experienced in life. How have they left you? Encouraged or discouraged? Are you managing to keep your heart or are you losing it?

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(May 18, 2018: John I, Pope and Martyr)
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“Do you love me…?”

In a sermon preached at the Visitation monastery at Annecy on the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in 1618, Francis de Sales observed:

“God wants our love for Him to be a love of choice. He wants us to love Him with a love that chooses Him out from all others. He wants the love which we have for others to be just a faint reflection of the supreme love which we have for Him and to allow His love to reign supreme in our hearts.”

“Some foolish people claim that such a commandment to be impossible in this life. Such people make a big mistake! Our Lord would never have given this commandment without also giving us the power to set about doing it. Other people will say that we cannot love God with our whole heart, soul mind and strength; we must share some of our love with our families and friends. Had our Lord commanded us to love Him as the blessed do in heaven, there might be some point to their objection insofar as the love of the angels and the saints never changes; it is never interrupted. As for us, there are many things vying for our time and attention. Yet for all that, our love for God can be strong and unchanging even though we cannot always be actively showing it.” (Pulpit and Pew, pp. 222 - 223)

Francis de Sales concludes his sermon by asking this question: “How can you be sure that you love God?” He lists three “infallible signs:”

  1. “If you love God, you will seek His presence; you will yearn to be close to Him. You will seek Him, not for your own pleasure, but to please Him.”

  2. “The love of too many things dissipates our love and lessens its perfection. We are to love other things besides God, but always put Him first. Be forever ready to forego whomever and/or whatever else we may love as God’s pleasure may require.”

  3. “You are to love one another with a love similar to the love that God has for us – a love that is loyal and unchanging; a love that does not rely on outward appearances; a love that is not impatient of faults and imperfections; a love that is ever ready to lend a helping hand to further our neighbor’s good…all the ways in which God, in his goodness, shows his love for us.”
Do you love God? Jesus told Peter how he should show it!

Today how will you demonstrate your love for God?

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(May 19, 2018: Saturday, Seventh Week of Easter)
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“Who is the one who will betray you…?”

Well, the obvious answer is Judas. We know that he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Later he regretted his betrayal and hanged himself.

Then again, Peter betrayed Jesus by denying that he even knew him - not once, not twice but three times. He regretted it almost immediately and went on to become “the rock” on which Jesus would build his Church. How about James and John? Didn’t they betray Jesus – in a way – by asking for places of honor at his left and at his right? In subsequent years they gave their lives for their faith.

It might make a great deal more sense – and require a lot less time – to ask this question: who is the one who has not betrayed Jesus? The answer would produce a much shorter list. After all, each of us betrays Jesus when we are focused upon our own benefit at the expense of others. Each of us betrays Jesus when we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the needs of others. Each of us betrays Jesus when we decide that we are not up to the challenges that come with being his disciples.

Each of us betrays Jesus when we sin.

Thanks be to God that Jesus doesn’t hold grudges. Thanks be to God that Jesus doesn’t settle old scores. Thanks be to God that Jesus doesn’t hold on to old hurts or betrayals. Imperfect as we are, Jesus continues to say to us, day in and day out: “Follow me”.

Thanks be to God!

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(May 20, 2018: Pentecost Sunday)
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“Each of us hears them speaking in our own tongue about the marvels that God has accomplished.”

Despite the fact that they were speaking to many people from many languages and many cultures, the apostles were understood by all of their listeners as they proclaimed the marvels that God had accomplished.

How was this possible?

Inflamed by the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were speaking the language of the heart. They were speaking with enthusiasm. They were speaking with gratitude. They were speaking with praise and thanksgiving. They were speaking from their core. They were speaking from their soul. In short, they were speaking the universal language – the language of the heart.

We are most human - we are also most divine - when we speak the language of the heart, when we speak the language of love, when we speak and listen from the soul and when we are grounded in the Word Made Flesh.

Communicating is often easier said than done. We misunderstand one another. We presume to know what others are thinking or feeling. We use the same words for which we have different meanings. We have different ways of saying the same thing. We hear, but we fail to listen. We are always talking, but we so seldom share something of the soul.

St. Francis de Sales tells us that the Holy Spirit comes to inflame the hearts of believers. When we speak and listen from hearts inflamed with joy, truth and gratitude, conflict gives way to understanding, confusion gives way to clarity, estrangement gives way to intimacy, hurt gives way to healing, frustration gives way to forgiveness, violence gives way to peace and sin gives way to salvation.

Today, be it through speaking or hearing, how might we become more fluent in the language of love?

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(May 21, 2018: Christopher Magallanes, Priest and Companions, Martyrs)
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“The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace…”

“Saint Cristóbal Magallanes Jara, also known as Christopher Magallanes (July 30, 1869 – May 25, 1927), is a martyr and saint venerated in the Catholic Church who was killed without trial on the way to say Mass during the Cristero War after the trumped-up charge of inciting rebellion.”

“He was born in Totatiche, Jalisco, Mexico on July 30, 1869. He was son of Rafael Magallanes Romero and Clara Jara Sanchez, who were farmers. He worked as a shepherd in his youth and enrolled in the Conciliar Seminary of San José in Guadalajara at the age of 19.”

“He was ordained at the age of 30 at the Santa Teresa Temple in Guadalajara in 1899 and served as chaplain of the School of Arts and Works of the Holy Spirit in Guadalajara. He was then designated as the parish priest for his home town of Totatiche, where he helped found schools and carpentry shops and assisted in planning for hydrological works, including the dam of La Candelaria. He took special interest in the evangelization of the local indigenous Huichol people and was instrumental in the foundation of the mission in the indigenous town of Azqueltán. When government decrees closed the seminary in Guadalajara in 1914, Magallanes offered to open a seminary in his parish. In July 1915, he opened the Auxiliary Seminary of Totatiche, which achieved a student body of 17 students by the following year and was recognized by the Archbishop of Guadalajara, José Francisco Orozco y Jiménez, who appointed a precept and two professors to the seminary.”

“Magallanes wrote and preached against armed rebellion, but was falsely accused of promoting the Cristero Rebellion in the area. Arrested on May 21, 1927, while en route to celebrate Mass at a farm, he gave away his few remaining possessions to his executioners, gave them absolution, and without a trial, he was killed four days later with Saint Agustín Caloca in Colotlán, Jalisco. His last words to his executioners were "I die innocent, and ask God that my blood may serve to unite my Mexican brethren." He was succeeded as parish priest of Totatiche by Fr. José Pilar Quezada Valdés, who went on to become the first bishop of the Archdiocese of Acapulco.” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crist%C3%B3bal_Magallanes_Jara )

As in the case of many a martyr, a man who preached peace came to a violent end. How high a price are we willing to pay in our attempt to be sources of peace in the lives of others?

Today!

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(May 22, 2018: Rita of Cascia, Religious)
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“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

“From an early age Rita desired to become a nun, but her parents insisted that she marry at the age of twelve. Rita did so in obedience to them. Adding to her disappointment, the man her parents arranged for her to marry was cruel and harsh, and she spent 18 years in a very difficult marriage. Her husband eventually became physically abusive, yet she met his cruelty with kindness and patience. Two sons were born to her whom she loved deeply. After many years she eventually won her husband over to greater civility and kindness.”

“In the 14th century Italy was rampant with warring families caught in a vicious circle of assassinations and bloody vendettas (think Romeo and Juliet). Rita’s family was caught up in this strife that was so entrenched in society at that time. Her husband was murdered as a result of the infamous rivalry between the aristocratic families of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. Rita mourned her husband’s death and interceded for his soul with great earnest.”

“Rita’s two young sons, in keeping with the vice of the day, talked of avenging their father’s death. She did all she could to guide her children into forgiveness, but was unable to dissuade them from their evil intentions. Prayer was her only hope. She pleaded with God that he would prevent the evil swelling up in the hearts of her sons, or allow them to die before they had the chance to commit a mortal sin. Both of her sons fell sick and died within a year.”

“After the death of her husband and her sons, Rita was all alone in the world and sought again to enter the convent, as had been her desire from childhood. She was turned away because of her family’s association with the civil strife; some of the sisters living in the convent were family relations of the men who were responsible for killing her husband. To maintain peace in the convent, she was denied entry. Facing crushing disappointment and yet another impossible situation, Rita had recourse to prayer and the intercession of the saints. Her sincerity and spirit of charity and forgiveness prevailed, and she was eventually granted entry into the convent. She became known as a holy and prayerful woman, often meditating on the sufferings of the crucified Christ.”

“St. Rita certainly had a difficult life, but her heartbreaking circumstances drove her to prayer and helped her to become a holy woman. She began her work of intercession for sinners while she lived, starting with those closest to her heart. Through her love and prayers she won the grace of conversion for her husband and both of her sons. Canonized in 1900, St. Rita is the patron of impossible causes, sterility, abuse victims, loneliness, marriage difficulties, parenthood, widows, the sick, and bodily ills and wounds.” ( https://www.catholiccompany.com/getfed/st-rita-of-cascia-patron-saint-of-the-impossible/ )

Throughout all the difficulties that she experienced in life, St. Rita consistently drew close – and kept close – to God. In the midst of our trials and tribulations, do we do the same?

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(May 23, 2018: Wednesday, Seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit’– you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow.

In this selection from the letter of James, we hear in one of Jesus’ disciples wisdom from the Master himself. In the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 6: 28 – 36), Jesus observed:

“Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

Let’s be clear – it’s prudent to have a plan. It’s prudent to prepare for tomorrow. It

is only natural to anticipate what the future may bring. But, as our own lived experience repeatedly reminds us, the only time we actually have at our disposal is today: now, this hour and this moment. We can hope for tomorrow, but we can’t always count on tomorrow.

Of course, Jesus’ insight was clearly not lost on Francis de Sales. In a letter of spiritual direction, Francis wrote:

“Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow. The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.”

With an eye to tomorrow, let us do our level best to pursue that which is within our power – to live TODAY well!

Spirituality Matters 2018: May 10th - May 16th

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(May 10, 2018: Thursday, Sixth Week of Easter
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"A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me."

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“God is in all things and all places. There is no place or thing in this world where God is not truly present. Everyone knows this truth but not everyone brings this truth home. Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore do not show him the respect that they do only after being told of his presence. However, because they do not actually see him they easily forget his presence, and having forgotten it, they still more easily lose the reverence and respect owed to him.”

He continued:

“Unfortunately, we do not see God who is present with us. Although faith assures us of his presence, yet because we do not see him with our eyes we often forget about him and behave as if God were far distant from us. We really know that he is present in all things, but because we do not reflect on that fact we act as if we did not know it.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)

You know the adage: “Seeing is believing.” As people of faith, we believe that God is fully present within us and among us. Because we do not see God physically, however, it is all-too-easy for us to lose sight of our belief in an all-present God and act in ways that are contrary to our belief.

Today, let us ask God for the vision we need to be ever mindful of his presence. Empowered by this awareness, may the attitudes and actions that others see in us help them also to believe in an all-present God, too.

* * * * *
(May 11, 2018: Friday, Sixth Week of Easter)
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“You will grieve but your grief will become joy…”

These words spoken by Jesus in today’s Gospel have a familiar ring to those acquainted with the Salesian tradition. They sound like a remarkably simple – but powerful – summarization of St. Francis de Sales’ teaching on what he called “spirit of liberty”:

“The first sign (of this spirit of liberty) is that the heart enjoying this liberty is not at all attached to consolations and accepts afflictions with all the meekness possible to the flesh. I am not saying that the soul does not love consolation and long for it, but without clinging to it. The second sign is that the man enjoying this spirit does not set his heart on spiritual exercises: if illness or some other emergency prevents them he is on no way upset. I am not saying that he does not love them but that he is not attached to them. Thirdly, he does not lose his joy, because no loss or lack can sadden one whose heart is perfectly free. I am not saying that it is impossible for him to lose his joy, but it will not be for long.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 70 - 71)

What’s the bottom line? Into everyone’s life a little rain must fall. Into everyone’s picnic ants will sometimes intrude. Into everyone’s success some setbacks will eventually surface. But for those who are freed by the spirit of liberty, any grief associated with these (and other hard knocks in life) will – eventually – turn into joy.

Over and over again!

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(May 12, 2018: Saturday, Sixth Week of Easter)
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"Ask and you shall receive…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“If a man prays to God and perceives that he is praying, he is not perfectly attentive to his prayer. He diverts his attention from the God to whom he prays in order to think of the prayer by which he prays…A man in fervent prayer does not know whether he prays or not, for he does not think of the prayer he makes but of God to whom he makes it.” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

Today here’s a question for you. When you “ask the Father for anything” in Jesus’ name, upon what do you focus - that for which you ask or the person from whom you ask it?

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(May 13, 2018: Seventh Sunday of Easter)
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“Consecrate them ... I consecrate myself for their sakes now, that they may be consecrated in truth.”

For the past six weeks we have been observing the great Sunday of Easter, which lasts 50 days, culminating in the feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles.

Christ prays to his Father in the Gospel that we may remain one. He prays that God may protect us and guard us from the evil one “Consecrate them ... I consecrate myself for their sakes now, that they may be consecrated in truth.”

The scene to which our minds take us is the Last Supper. We are all in the upper room. Jesus wants us to experience the joy of being one body, upholding one another in love whatever the circumstances.

Jesus prays that his disciples will see through the world’s illusions. By arming themselves with God’s word, they will outwit the evil one who seeks to separate them from the Father’s protection. Our primary responsibility as Christians is to share with others the love of God that is within us. To share this love, we must see beyond the ways of the world and remain faithful to God’s plan and ways.

What we Christians need in our spiritual life is what St. Francis de Sales reduced to two words in a motto he chose for himself as a youth: NON EXCIDET. They are words of determination. A broader translation would be, “I will not fall away from my original purpose” or “I will not fall down on the job; I will not lose courage.” And yes, Francis was faithful to his chosen motto. He stuck to his books and to the practice of virtue. As a result, he became very learned and very close to God or ‘sanctified’, made ‘holy’ as a result of his industry and tenacity.

The entire secret of his sanctity escaped from his great heart when he said: “If I knew that there was a single fiber of my heart that was not completely saturated with the love of God, I would immediately pluck it out.” St. Francis de Sales knew well what a person needs most in life, i.e. firmness of character.

Today, may all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit!

OR

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(May 13, 2018: Ascension of the Lord - Where Observed)
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“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Well, the day in question finally arrived. Jesus was taken up into heaven and returned to the Father. After standing there in silence for what must have seemed like an eternity, one of the eleven eventually broke the silence by asking the question: “Now what?”

The rest – as they say – is history.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“After Jesus had shown himself for a little while to the disciples, he ascended up to heaven, and at length a cloud surrounded him, took him and hid him from their eyes. Jesus Christ, then, is hidden in heaven in God. Jesus Christ is our love, and our love is the life of the soul. Therefore our ‘life is hidden in God with Christ Jesus, and when Christ who is’ our love and therefore our spiritual life ‘shall reappear’ in the Day of Judgment, we shall also appear ‘with him in glory.’” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

In his Catholic Controversies (p.286) Francis de Sales outlines the activity of the Apostles – especially Peter and Paul – following the Ascension. Simply put, it would appear that once the dust of the Ascension settled, Jesus disciples got to work.

This same work continues for us today. Our task in the wake of the Ascension is to make the “hidden” Christ “reappear” through the quality of our love for others.

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(May 14, 2018: Matthias, Apostle)
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“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete…”

In a sermon entitled “Dedicated Hearts,” Francis de Sales stated:

“We might possibly reach a saturation point when it comes to our quest for wealth and honors, but when it comes to loving God, how can we ever say, “I have enough”? No limits can ever be set to our hunger and thirst for Him...’” (Pulpit and Pew, p. 223)

In other words, no matter how happy and joyful we might be, our happiness and joy will always be incomplete unless it includes the love of God. And in what will we find complete joy? In the opinion of St. Francis de Sales, it is experienced through our willingness to be what he describes as a “servant of God.” He wrote:

“To be a servant of God means to be charitable towards one’s neighbors, to have an unshakeable determination in the superior part of your soul to obey the will of God, to trust in God with a very humble humility and simplicity, and to lift oneself up as often as one falls, to endure with all your abjections and to quietly put up with others in their imperfections. (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 140)

Jesus embodies the fullness of joy. Jesus shows us what a joyful and joy-filled life looks like.

Today, how can we imitate his example today and share His joy – as well as ours – with others?

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(May 15, 2018: Tuesday, Seventh Week of Easter)
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“This is eternal life: that they should know you, the only true God and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“‘Life is in the will of God,’ says the Psalmist, not only because our temporal life depends on the divine will but also because our spiritual life consists in its fulfillment, by which God lives and reigns in us and makes us live and subsist in God…Ah, Lord God, we are in this world not to do our own will but that of your goodness, which has placed us here. It was written of you, O Savior of my soul, that you did the will of your eternal Father. Ah, who will give my soul the grace to have no will but the will of God!” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 7, p. 73)

To know God is to know God’s will. To love God is to love God’s will. To know and do God’s will is to experience eternal life. Nowhere do we see this love demonstrated more clearly and convincingly than in Jesus’ knowledge, love and obedience to his Father’s will throughout his entire earthly ministry. Note the impact: not only did following the Father’s will not diminish Jesus, but it also empowered Him to be faithful to and effective in his purpose for living: that “we might have life, and have life to the full”. (John 10:10)

If eternal life is found by knowing and loving God – and, by extension, by knowing, loving and living God’s will in our lives – then the eternal life that Jesus offers us is not limited to the next life; it is available here and now in this life.

Let us pray: God, not our will, but your will be done in us, in order that we might know something already on this earth of the eternal life you offer us in the One whom you sent in order that we might know and love you!

Jesus Christ.

* * * * *
(May 16, 2018: Wednesday, Seventh Week of Easter)
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“Savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock…So be vigilant…”

There are a number of variations of a Cherokee parable known as “The Two Wolves.” It goes something like this:

An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life. The old man said, “A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego. The other wolf is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too, as these two wolves struggle for supremacy.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old chief sat in silence for a few moments and then simply replied, “The one you feed.”

It is tempting to look for the “savage wolves” about which Jesus warns in other people, especially in the case of those with whom we find ourselves embroiled in misunderstanding, conflict and perhaps even hostility. However, it might be a better idea to look also inside ourselves for any signs that such “savage wolves” might be living within us. And for what should we be vigilant?

Today, be on the watch for any feeling, thought, opinion or perspective that would pervert the truth of whom we are in our relationship with God, ourselves and one another.

Spirituality Matters 2018: May 3rd - May 9th

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(May 3, 2018: Philip and James, Apostles )
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“Hold fast to the word I preached to you…’

In a letter to Andre Fremyot, Archbishop-elect of Bourges, which dealt with the topic of “Practical Preaching,” St. Francis de Sales wrote the following about the purpose of preaching:

“What end should a person have in view when preaching a sermon? The aim and intention should be to do what our Lord told us when he came into this world to do: ‘I have come so that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.’ The preacher’s object, then, is that sinners who are dead through sin may come to life again with a life that looks toward right doing and that the good – who possess spiritual life within them – may have it yet more abundantly, may become more and more perfect…So the preacher should say to himself when he is in the pulpit: “I have come so that these people here may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (Pulpit and Pew: A Study in Salesian Preaching, pp. 37 – 38)

Philip and James – as in the case of all the Apostles – preached the Good News of Jesus Christ in order that others might be saved. They spent their lives holding fast to the word of God even as they shared that word with others, to the point of shedding their blood.

While not all of us are called to preach from a pulpit, all of us are called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ through our actions. How might we hold fast to the word preached to us by the quality of our lives lived with others, that is, to help others to have life – and have it abundantly?

* * * * *
(May 4, 2018: Friday, Fifth Week of Easter )
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“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities…”

In today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles, we see an exercise of what might be called “pastoral discretion”. As growing numbers of Gentiles became disciples of Jesus Christ, apparently some of the more-established Jewish converts were attempting to impose what would have been considered traditional Jewish customs on their Gentile brothers and sisters. Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas were sent to Antioch – boots on the ground – to sort these things out. In the end, they determined that “less was more”. They dispensed with the temptation to load people with burdensome obligations while at the same time establishing a minimum threshold: “Abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals and from unlawful marriage”.

In his own way, Francis de Sales practiced a less-is-more approach to pastoral discretion. In a day when many spiritual guides were (however unintentionally) burdening people who were seeking to live a devout life, with practice after practice after practice, Francis established this minimum threshold: follow the commands and counsels of God carefully, frequently and promptly – his shorthand definition of devotion.

What’s the moral to the story? Following Jesus consists less in carrying heavy burdens and more about only doing what is right – doing good things for God and others carefully, frequently and promptly!

* * * * *
(May 5, 2018: Saturday, Fifth Week of Easter )
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"No slave is greater than the master…”

Jesus seems to be saying, in effect, “Don’t even think about trying to be greater than I am.” Put another way, it certainly feels like Jesus is at least reminding us of our place, if not putting us in our place. But as Francis de Sales reminds us in his Treatise on the Love of God, the “place” that Jesus has in mind for us is anything but a put-down.

“You see how God by progressive stages filled with unutterable sweetness leads the soul forward and enables it to leave the Egypt of sin. God leads us from love to love, as from dwelling to dwelling, until He has made us enter into the Promised Land. By this I mean that He brings us into a most holy charity, which to state it succinctly, is a form of friendship and disinterested love, since by charity we love God for his own sake because of his most supremely pleasing goodness. Such friendship is true friendship, since it is reciprocal, for God has eternally loved all those who have loved him, now love him or will love him in time to come. It is manifested and recognized mutually: God cannot be ignorant of the love we have for Him since He himself has given it to us, while we cannot be ignorant of his love for us since He has made it so widely known and we on our part acknowledge that whatever good we possess is the true effect of his good will. In fine, we are in continual communication with Him and He never ceases to speak to our hearts by his inspirations, allurements and sacred movements. He never ceases to do us good or to give us every kind of proof as to his most holy affection. God has openly revealed all his secrets to us as to his closet friends.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 22, pp. 160 – 161)

The bottom line is that we are already friends of God! Why would we need to be anything greater than that?

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(May 6, 2018: Sixth Sunday of Easter)
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"Love one another as I have loved you."

Jesus taught us about a type of love that is very different from the love we often experience in this world. By His words and by His deeds, He showed us how the Trinity Itself loves. This love is a self-emptying love, a self-sacrificial love, and love so focused on the other that the self is forgotten. In the great Paschal mystery, we see Jesus so absorbed in love of the Father that He willingly sacrificed His very self for this love. His love of the Father's will was all that mattered to him.

St. Francis de Sales is a spiritual master in the school of this love. His great work, Treatise on the Love of God, traces a journey into the very heart of the love of the Trinity. At the very end of this two-volume work, Francis reaches Calvary. For Francis, Calvary is the true academy of love. When the human will surrenders itself to the will of the Father in an act of self-donation, love blossoms. Nothing so enflames the human heart as this act of self-emptying love.

You may ask how St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal can be known for developing a philosophy of life that is optimistic, gentle, humble, and caring, in spite of the fact that it is centered on Calvary. How do joyful friendship and devotion spring from such a source? Yet, this love is exactly what we celebrate today. Easter, the Resurrection and the new life promised by God are ours, when we follow this path. While we will always pass through Calvary, Jesus has shown us that the true end of this sacrificial love is a sharing in the very life of the Trinity Itself. This life, the true destiny of the human spirit, is the love that never ends.

In the garden of the tomb Mary Magdalene thought that the man she met was a gardener- until he pronounced her name – “Mary”. When Jesus spoke he name so intimately, Mary instantly recognized Jesus. This man spoke as Jesus, even if he did not look like Him. To put the Gospel into practice means that we too must speak to others as Jesus spoke to Mary.

We don't have to look far to locate opportunities for self-sacrificial love. As St. Francis de Sales knew so well, they are present in every walk of life and in every situation of life. They come in small, medium and large opportunities. The daily desire and ability to recognize them is a key to holiness. Let us listen to Jesus: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete”.

Enjoy what remains of the Easter Season! Love others as Christ loves us and in so doing make every day a celebration of Easter joy!

* * * * *
(May 7, 2018: Monday, Sixth Week of Easter )
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“I have told you this so that you may not fall away…”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a “heads up”. Notwithstanding the imminent arrival of the Paraclete, whom Jesus will send from the Father, there will still be tough – and trying – times ahead for them. Jesus wants them to be prepared so that when the tough – and trying – times come, they won’t fall away, that is, they won’t give up.

In a letter to a nun (dated August 20, 1607) Francis de Sales wrote:

“To be a servant of God means to be charitable towards one’s neighbors, have an unshakeable determination in the superior part of one’s soul to obey the will of God, trusting in God with a very humble humility and simplicity, and to lift oneself up as often as one falls, endure oneself with all one’s abjections and quietly put up with others in their imperfections.”.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 140)

Francis de Sales’ advice to a nun over four hundred years ago is just as relevant today as it was then. Following Jesus – being a servant of God and a temple of the Holy Spirit – will always bring its share of challenges, trials and tribulations. We sometimes fall – we sometimes fail – in the face of these same challenges, trials and tribulations. However, falling down is not the same as falling away - unless, of course, you choose to stay down after falling down.

If you fall – if you fail – in your attempts to “Live + Jesus” just this day, will you stay down or will you get back up?

* * * * *
(May 8, 2018: Tuesday, Sixth Week of Easter)
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"Where are you going…?”

Where are you going?
Where are you going?
Can you take me with you?
For my hand is cold
And needs warmth
Where are you going?

- “By My Side” (Godspell, 1971)

For some time now, Jesus has been telling his disciples that he will be leaving them in order that the Advocate (a.k.a. the Paraclete) may come to them. As we see in today’s Gospel, Jesus is trying to convince them that it will be better for them if he goes. By all accounts, the disciples are having a hard time believing - or accepting – his reassurances.

Put yourself in their position. Jesus keeps talking about going back to the Father while they’d prefer to ask the question: “Where are you going?” They’d prefer to ask the question: “Do you have to go?” Either way, they are struggling with the fear of losing Jesus; they are struggling with the prospect of being left alone to fend for themselves.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“After Jesus had shown himself for a little while to the disciples, he ascended up to heaven, and at length a cloud surrounded him, took him and hid him from their eyes. Jesus Christ, then, is hidden in heaven in God. Jesus Christ is our love, and our love is the life of the soul. Therefore our ‘life is hidden in God with Christ Jesus, and when Christ who is’ our love and therefore our spiritual life ‘shall reappear’ in the Day of Judgment, we shall also appear ‘with him in glory.’” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

For our purposes, let’s hear the question “Where are you going?” in a slightly different way. Just suppose that now it is Jesus who is asking the question of us! Today, Jesus asks us “Where are you going?”. Where will our steps, conversations and interactions take us? At the end of the day, will we have drawn any closer to the “Day of Judgment” when we shall “appear with him in glory”?

Regardless, we know one thing for sure - no matter where we go, Jesus doesn’t want us to walk alone. We are in this together.

* * * * *
(May 9, 2018: Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“The Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say all that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. Therefore, you must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purpose, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth.’ If you happen to tell a lie inadvertently, correct it immediately by an explanation or making amends. An honest explanation has more grace and force to excuse us than a lie has…As the Sacred Word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Jesus promises that the “Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth.” How do we know, then, that the Spirit dwells in us? How do other people know that the Spirit dwells in us?

The answer - We do when we do our level best to tell the truth, when we do our level best to speak the truth and, when we do our level best to be truthful, truth-filled people.

Spirituality Matters 2018: April 26th - May 2nd

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(April 26, 2018: Thursday, Fourth Week of Easter )
* * * * *

“Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”

In his Conference on Three Spiritual Laws, Francis de Sales remarked:

“Never was there a time when people studied as they do now. Those great Saints (Augustine, Gregory and Hilary whose feast we are keeping today!) and many others did not study much. They could not have done so, writing as many books as they did, preaching and discharging all the other duties of their office. They had, however, such great confidence in God and in God’s grace that they neither placed their dependence nor their trust in their own skill or labor, so that all the great works which they did were done purely by means of their reliance on God’s grace and almighty power. ‘It is You, O Lord,’ they said, ‘who gives us the work and it for you that we work. It is You who will bless our labors and give us a rich harvest.’ Therefore their books and their sermons bore marvelous fruit. By contrast, we who trust in our fine words, in our eloquent language and in our knowledge labor for that which ends up in smoke. We yield no fruit other than vanity.” (Conference VII, pages 116-117)

It is healthy to remind ourselves that however much good we may manage to accomplish today, it is God “who gives us the work”. It is God who helps us to work. It is God who will bring his work in us to completion. In so doing, what we do is to give witness to the goodness of the Lord at work in us and at work among us.

Together, let us sing of the goodness of the Lord! But don’t stop there! Together, let us do – and be – the goodness of the Lord in the lives of one another!

Today!

* * * * *
(April 27, 2018: Friday, Fourth Week of Easter )
* * * * *

“Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

We all have a deep seated fear. Using the image of musical chairs, we fear that when the music stops, there won’t be a chair for us. Jesus promises us that this situation won’t happen because he has prepared a place for each and every one of us. This promise from Jesus is a great remedy for our fear of being left out.

From a Salesian perspective, however, the “place” that Jesus promises to create for us is not found exclusively in heaven. Jesus has also created a unique place, role or niche for each of us here on this earth - a place in which we are called to be sources of his life and his love in the lives of other people.

How will that place – and the people in it – be better for the way you live your life today?

* * * * *
(April 28, 2018: Saturday, Fourth Week of Easter )
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"The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit…”

One of the manifestations of living life in the Spirit is happiness and joy. In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“The virtue of cheerfulness requires that we should contribute to holy and temperate joy and to pleasant conversation, which may serve as a consolation and recreation to our neighbor so as to not weary and annoy him with our knit brows and melancholy faces….” (Conference IV, On Cordiality, Book IV, p. 59)

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal, written not long following their first encounter during the Lenten mission that he preached, Francis specifically cites the relationship between joy and religious liberty:

“No loss or lack can sadden one whose heart is perfectly free. I am not saying that it is impossible for such a person to lose his joy, but it will not be for long.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 71)

In a letter to a young novice who attempted to live the life of a Benedictine sister (but who subsequently left the convent) Francis de Sales underscored the importance of being joyful…or, at least, of trying to be:

“Go on joyfully and with your heart as open and widely trustful as possible; if you cannot always be joyful, at least be brave and confident.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 46)

It’s no accident that we Christians frequently refer to the term “Easter joy”. The power of the Resurrection – and the gifts of the Spirit that flow from it– should go a long way in helping us to be – among other things – joyful! Life being what it is, however, we aren’t always joyful people. When we find it difficult to be joyful, let’s do our best at least to be brave and confident.

And perhaps today, even find joy in that approach!

* * * * *
(April 29, 2018: Fifth Sunday of Easter)
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“Those who keep his commandments remain in him and he in them.”

The scripture passage for today is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples. In it, Jesus is communicating the most important things he wants them to remember. In a powerful and beautiful extended metaphor, Jesus speaks of himself as the vine and his disciples as the branches. He tells them that they must tie themselves closely to him. In order to be healthy, fruit-bearing branches, they must be willing to be trimmed clean of those growths that keep them from bearing fruit. Above all, they must be part of the vine. If they become separated from the vine, they will produce no fruit. They will become withered and rejected branches, good for nothing but to be burnt.

Jesus makes it clear that his disciples already have been given what they need. If they believe the words of life that Jesus has shared with them, if they make his words part of their lives, they will live in him and he will live in them. Hearing those word is only the first step. Living the word by absorbing it and making it an integral part of one’s life, must happen if one is truly to thrive as a disciple of Jesus. This state is as true for us today as it was for the disciples.

We too have been given God’s word. We too are called to live in Jesus, or to “Live Jesus”, as Francis de Sales said, as we go about our daily tasks. And what is the fruit we are supposed to produce? Our fruit is a life marked by the love of Christ and by a life lived in a way that shows our brothers and sisters that we really believe what Jesus told us. It is a life marked by patience, kindness, gentleness and humility. The second reading perhaps puts it best: “We are to believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ, and are to love one another as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him and he in them.”

The way we know that we are living in Jesus and that he is living in us is that we are keeping his commandments. We are called to love “in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it”. We can and should read the scriptures and other spiritual books. We can and should meditate on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We can and should say our prayers and make use of the sacraments of the Church. In the end, however, it is how we treat our brothers and sisters that will tell the story. If our words are not supported by our deeds, then they are empty and barren words, good for nothing.

If we talk about the forgiveness of Jesus but hang on to grudges, we are not “Living Jesus”. If we harbor resentment in our hearts, we are not “Living Jesus”. If we refuse to acknowledge addictive behavior and get help for it, we are not “Living Jesus”. If we delight in gossiping about our neighbor’s misfortunes or weaknesses, we have some pruning and trimming to do before we can bear fruit in the name of Jesus.

Today, let us dig out the pruning shears and start trimming!

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(April 30, 2018: Monday, Fifth Week of Ester )
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“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:

“When I saw in St. Catherine of Siena’s life so many raptures and elevations of spirit, words of wisdom and even sermons uttered by her, I did not doubt that by the eye of contemplation she had ravished the heart of her heavenly Spouse. But I was equally edified when I saw her in her father’s kitchen, humbly turning the spit, kindling fires, dressing meat, kneading bread and doing the meanest household chores cheerfully and filled with love and affection for God. I do not have less esteem for the humble, little meditations she made during these ordinary, lowly tasks than for the ecstasies and raptures she experienced so often. Perhaps the latter were granted to her precisely because of her humility...I cite her life as an example so that you may know how important it is to direct all our actions – no matter how lowly they may be – to the service of his divine Majesty” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, p. 214)

The Salesian tradition reminds us that great ways of keeping God’s commandments are rare and that opportunities to display our love for God in remarkable ways are few and far between. By contrast, opportunities to love God and to keep his commandments in everyday, ordinary ways are legion. It is interesting to consider the possibility that it was St. Catherine’s ability to recognize and to love God in the midst of the mundane responsibilities and demands of everyday life that enabled her to recognize and to love God also in extraordinary ways!

Today how might we imitate St. Catherine’s example in our approach to the ordinary tasks that will be part and parcel of our experience?

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(May 1, 2018: St. Joseph the Worker)
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“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid…”

Recall this account in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel:

“Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” (18-20)

Joseph may have had his doubts about how the providence of God was working in the life of Mary and in his own life. He may have been deeply troubled by discovering Mary’s surprise pregnancy. He may have harbored doubts – he may have harbored fears – but Joseph had faith enough to work through his troubles, doubts and fears.

St. Joseph is a powerful example of a person who gradually came to know his place in God’s plan of salvation and who had the courage to take it. He took Mary as his wife despite the mysterious circumstances surrounding her being with child. He treated Jesus as his own. When God told him to pull up stakes and flee to Egypt (of all places!) to protect his family from Herod, Joseph responded promptly without question. When God told him it was safe to bring his family back home from Egypt and settle down, Joseph responded promptly without question. In the midst of all the ups and downs, Joseph’s faith – quiet and unassuming as it may have been – was rock solid.

Like Joseph, each of us has a unique place in God’s ongoing plan of salvation. Despite our troubles, doubts or fears, will we have the courage to take our place?

Today?

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(May 2, 2018: Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit…”

From the perspective of St. Francis de Sales, the fruit that first comes to mind, when hearing these words from Jesus is the most important fruit of all: charity, or the love of God. Of course, this fruit-of-fruits is manifested in a whole host of ways. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales turns once again to one of the saints that he admired the most – St. Joseph – to illustrate the point:

“The man who possesses charity has his soul clothed with a fair wedding garment which – like that of St. Joseph – is wrought over will all the various virtues. Moreover, it has a perfection which contains the virtue of all perfections and the perfection of all virtues. Hence, ‘charity is patient, is kind. Charity is not envious,’ but generous. ‘It is not pretentious,’ but prudent. ‘It is not puffed up’ with pride but is humble. ‘It is not ambitious’ or disdainful, but amiable and affable. It is not eager to exact ‘what belongs to it’ but is generous and helpful. ‘It is not provoked,’ but peaceful. It ‘thinks no evil’ but is meek. It ‘does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth’ and in the truth. ‘It suffers all things, believes all things’ that are said concerning good to it easily, without stubbornness, contention or distrust. It ‘hopes all’ good things for its neighbor without ever losing hope of procuring his salvation. ‘It endures all things,’ waiting without agitation for what is promised to it…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 8, p. 219)

How well do we remain in Jesus? How patient and kind are we? How humble, amiable and affable are we? How meek and generous are we? How truthful and hopeful are we? How patient and long-suffering are we?

Today is a new day. What kind of fruit can we bear just this day in the name of Jesus?

Spirituality Matters 2018: April 19th - April 25th

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(April 19, 2018: Thursday, Third Week of Easter )
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“Do you understand what you are reading?”

This question raised in the today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles puts us in touch with Francis de Sales’ perspective on two gifts of the Holy Spirit: knowledge and understanding.

The Gift of Knowledge

“This divine gift, however, has little to do with mere human learning. The Spirit’s gift of knowledge is essential if we are to make good and effective use of the previous two gifts, if we are to know how to behave towards the God we mean to fear and love. It is about being capable of discerning evil to be avoided and the good to be sought. As the prophet says, offend no more; rather, do what is good. And be at rest always.”

Mere human knowledge only enables us to know the difference between good and evil. The Spirit’s gift of knowledge, by contrast, actually enables us to turn away from what is evil and to put our hands to doing what is good.

Francis concludes with this observation: “There have been saints, to be sure, who were wonderfully wise for all of their ignorance. There have been others, equally as certain, who have been wonderfully ignorant for all of their knowledge.”

The Gift of Understanding

“Understanding is a special enlightenment that enables us to see and penetrate the beauty and perfection of the mysteries of faith. We may listen to sermons, we may read widely; yet we can remain ignorant of these divine mysteries if we lack the gift of understanding. A simple soul, open in prayer, may gain some insight into the mystery of the Blessed Trinity – not to explain it, but to draw from it some secret aspect that can save – because the Holy Spirit has bestowed the gift of understanding. I always maintain that if anyone loses his soul, it is for want of following such mysteries of the faith, for example: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs; blessed are the patient, they shall inherit the land. Who is awake to the beauty of these principles, however, except those whom the Holy Spirit enlightens?”

There is no substitute for the knowledge that helps us to grow in our understanding of the ways of the Lord. However, we must be careful not to allow knowledge to take the place of understanding. While Francis de Sales recognizes the need to know the difference between good and evil (and, by extension, to actually do good and to actually avoid evil), such knowledge only comes to full flowering when we demonstrate our understanding of God’s ways through our practice of the Beatitudes.

Do you understand what you are hearing? If you do, then why not do it!

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(April 20, 2018: Friday, Third Week of Easter )
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“He recovered his strength…”

In a letter to Madame de la Flechere, Francis de Sales observed:

“I entreat you by the love of him whom we both love, of Jesus Christ, to live consoled and peaceful in your infirmities. I glory in my infirmities, says our great St. Paul, so that the power of my Savior may dwell in me. Yes, indeed! Our misery is a as throne to make manifest the sovereign goodness of Our Lord.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 203)

Two men loom large in today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles: Saul (a.k.a. Paul) and Ananias. Each has his share of imperfections. Saul was blind. Initially, he was blinded spiritually by his rage against and persecution of the followers of Jesus. Saul was subsequently blinded physically after his encounter with the voice of Jesus along the road to Damascus. For his part, Ananias was reluctant – perhaps, even resentful – at the prospect of welcoming and healing a great persecutor of any man or woman who belonged to the Way.

And yet – as imperfect as they were - each played a role in God’s plan of salvation.

In a sermon on the “Failings of the Saints,” Francis de Sales preached:

“With the exception of our Blessed lady, all other creatures contain some imperfections. The man who denies that he has any imperfections is just as much a liar as the man who says that he has no perfections at all. Every man, however holy, has some imperfections; every man, however wicked, has some good points. Made in God’s image, each man reflects something of God’s goodness; made from nothing, each man always carries with him some imperfection.” (Pulpit and Pew, P. 258)

All of us are imperfect people. However, as we see in the cases of Saul (Paul) and Ananias, God asks imperfect people to be instruments of his light, life and love.

Today, how might God desire to make his “sovereign goodness” shine through our imperfection - by asking us to be instruments of God’s healing, redeeming and life-changing strength?

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(April 21, 2018: Saturday, Third Week of Easter )
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“How shall I make a return to the Lord?”

In the first part of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales raises the same question in the context of the “First Meditation: On Our Creation.” After considering all of God’s benefits to us, Francis asks: “What can I ever do to bless your holy name in a worthy manner and to render thanks to your immense mercy?” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 9, p. 54)

Needless to say, Francis de Sales offers some suggestions as to how we might “make a return to the Lord.” These include:

  • “Give thanks to the Lord. ‘Bless your God, O my soul, and let all my being praise his holy name,’ for his goodness has drawn me out of nothing and his mercy has created me.”

  • “Offer. O my God, with all my heart I offer you the being you have given me. I dedicate and consecrate it to you.”.”

  • “Pray. O God, strengthen me in these affections and resolutions.”
How can I make a return to the Lord? The answer - by being the person that God has created me to be, and by encouraging others to do the same!

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(April 22, 2018: Fourth Sunday of Easter)
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“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me in the same way that the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

Have you ever heard the expression “to know is to love”? When we’re talking in a general way, it is certainly true that we can hardly be expected to fall in love with someone we don’t know. But the statement “to know is to love” is not completely true when it is a question of human relationships. In these relationships, it is more accurate to say “to love is to know”, i.e., that once we have decided to love others, to commit ourselves to other people, we open ourselves to them and they, in turn, reciprocate by committing and opening themselves to us.

Jesus expresses this truth when he says: "Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him."(Jn. 14:21) Francis de Sales echoes this truth by telling us, "Knowledge of the good can give us the beginning of love but not its measure." (Treatise, Book 6, chap. 4)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes a surprising and startlingly revelation about his relationship with us. “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me in the same way that the Father knows me and I know the Father.” He is saying that he knows us as intimately and as personally as his heavenly Father knows him. And we, in turn, know him the way he knows the Father. The kind of knowledge that Christ our Good Shepherd has for each one of us is only acquired by a very close and intimate contact with us. It is a result of his love for us, of his willingness to commit himself totally and completely to us just as a shepherd totally and completely commits himself, even his life for his sheep.

If we reflect on the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep, we see that his whole life is centered on the lives of his sheep. The shepherd is with them all day long, and many times throughout the night he watches over them. It’s no surprise then that he gets to know all of the peculiarities, all of the individual traits of each of his sheep and gives them each a name. To others his sheep may all look the same, but to their shepherd, each is different and distinct. So he has no trouble whatsoever picking his own out from among hundreds in the sheep pen.

The parable of the Good Shepherd is not so far removed from us as we might first be inclined to believe. The parable touches the very well-springs of our being - our need to be known and loved for the person we are, no matter what. We might sometimes think, feel or act in ways that are as smelly and dirty as most sheep. We might get into all kinds of trouble by straying from our shepherd, like the sheep who gets caught in bramble bushes, fall into rocky crags or have a hundred and one missteps. Nevertheless, our Good Shepherd is there to bind up our wounds. He knows and loves us to the extent that he puts his life on the line for us.

Like the Good Shepherd, do we put ourselves on the line for one another?

Today and every day!

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(April 23, 2018: Monday, Fourth Week of Ester )
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“Whoever does not enter through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber…”

Jesus wants us to “have life, and to have it to the full” (John 10:10) and he tells us there is a right way and a wrong way to have that “full life”. The gateway to that life is through him and through him alone - no workaround or short cut will suffice.

In the first few pages of his book Night, Ellie Wiesel reflects upon the image of heaven offered to him by his mentor Moishe the Beadle:

“‘There are a thousand and one gates allowing entry into the orchard of mystical truth. Every human being has his own gate. He must not err and wish to enter the orchard through a gate other than his own. That would present a danger not only for the one entering but also for those who are already inside.’ Thus began my initiation. Together we would read, over and over again, not to learn it by heart but to discover within the very essence of divinity. And in the course of those evenings, I became convinced that Moishe the Beadle would help me enter eternity, into that time when question and answer would become ONE.”

From a Salesian perspective, this image of heaven makes absolute sense. Many people make the mistake of thinking that in order to “have life, and to have life to the full” they must become someone they’re not. Many people make the mistake of believing they must become someone else, while many people make the mistake of trying try to enter “through a gate other than” their own. What would Francis de Sales’ advise? “Be who you are, and be that perfectly well.”

In the big scheme of things, Jesus is the one and only gateway to life. Still, Jesus is big enough to accommodate the fact that no two people enter through him in exactly the same way; no two people experience that fullness of life by walking in the exact same footsteps.

Do you want to experience fullness of life on earth? Do you want to experience fullness of life in heaven? Then don’t live someone else’s life.

Today, like Jesus, try to live your own life as best you can.

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(April 24, 2018: Tuesday, Fourth Week of Easter)
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"He rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart...”

Firmness - or strength - of heart is an invaluable asset in the pursuit of devotion, especially as we deal with the ups and downs of daily life. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:

“We must try to keep our heart steadily, unshakably equal during the great variety and inequality of daily events. Even though everything turns and changes around us, our hearts must remain unchanging and ever looking, striving and aspiring toward God.” (IDL, Book IV, Chapter 13, p. 256)

A little further along in this chapter, Francis de Sales makes a distinction between tenderness of heart and firmness of heart. He continues:

“Some men think about God’s goodness and our Savior’s passion, feel great tenderness of heart, and are thus aroused to utter sighs, tears and prayers, and acts of thanksgiving so ardently that we say that their hearts have been filled with intense devotion. But when a test comes, we see how different things can get. Just as in the hot summer passing showers send down drops that fall on the earth but do not sink into it and serve only to produce mushrooms, so also these tender tears may fall on a vicious heart but do not penetrate and are therefore completely useless to it.” (IDL, Book IV, Chapter 13, pp. 257-258)

Tenderness of heart and firmness of heart- each have their place in the pursuit of holiness. Tenderness of heart can help us to enjoy the good times, while firmness of heart can help us get through the difficult times.

What kind of heart might you need to have today?

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(April 25, 2018: Mark, Evangelist)
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“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…”

Humility is one of the great hallmarks of the Salesian tradition. It is one of two qualities that Jesus used to describe himself. Obviously, then, our attempts to practice humility help us in our efforts to imitate Christ, to “Live + Jesus”.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Many men neither wish nor dare to think over and reflect on the particular graces God has shown them because they are afraid that this might arouse vainglory and self-complacence. In so doing they deceive themselves. Since the true means to attain to love of God is consideration of God’s benefits, the more we know about them the more we shall love them. Nothing can so effectively humble us before God’s mercy as the multitude of his benefits and nothing can so deeply humble us before his justice as our countless offenses against him. Let us consider what he has done for us and what we have done against him, and as we reflect on our sins one by one let us also consider his graces one by one. There is no need to fear that knowledge of his gifts will make us proud if only we remember this truth: none of the good in us comes from ourselves. A lively consideration of graces received makes us humble because knowledge of them begets gratitude for them.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 5, pp. 134-135)

To humble ourselves does include acknowledging our sins, weaknesses and deficiencies. Unfortunately, many of us stop there. True humility challenges us to name not only our sins but also to name God’s graces. True humility challenges us to count not only our weaknesses, but also to count God’s blessings. True humility challenges us to acknowledge not only our littleness, but also to acknowledge our greatness.

In the end, the Salesian practice of humility has far less to do with putting ourselves down and a great deal more to do with remembering how God continues to raise us up.

The Almighty has done great things for us; holy is his name and humble is our name!

Spirituality Matters 2018: April 12th - April 18th

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(April 12, 2018: Thursday, Second Week of Easter )
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“The one who is of earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things…

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say everything that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. Therefore, you must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purpose, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth’…Although we may sometime discreetly and prudently hide and disguise the truth by an equivocal statement, this must never be done except when the matter is important and God’s glory and service clearly require it. In any other such case such tricks are dangerous. As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or slippery soul. No artifice is as good and desirable as plain dealing. Worldly prudence and earthly artifice belong to the children of this world, but the children of God walk a straight path and their heart is without guile. Lying, double-dealing and dissimilation are always signs of a weak, mean mind.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

How can I tell if I am a person “who is of earth” or “who is of heaven”? In the opinion of Francis de Sales, look no further than the kind of words that come out of your mouth.

Of what kind of things – and values – will you speak today?

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(April 13, 2018: Friday, Second Week of Easter )
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“What good are these for so many?”

Overwhelmed by the size and scope of the needs of the throng gathered before them, we can understand the skepticism of Philip and the other disciples regarding Jesus announced desire to feed the “large crowd”. You can hear it in their voices. Does Jesus really know what he’s up against? Does Jesus really grasp the situation? Is Jesus – perhaps – out of touch with the enormity of the challenge – and potential disaster – lying before him? Was it possible that Jesus had been out in the sun too long?

In light of this dynamic consider this question: was the miracle that Jesus subsequently – and convincingly – performed solely for the benefit of the “five thousand”? In addition to meeting the physical hunger of “the large crowd”, perhaps Jesus performed this miracle for the benefit of “the twelve”. The lesson? When faced with the needs of others, do not discount what you bring to the table, regardless of how small or insignificant it may appear. As overwhelming as the hungers of other people may be, we’ll never know how much – or how little – we can do for them unless we first try.

What good am I for so many? Remember to let Jesus weigh in on that question.

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(April 14, 2018: Saturday, Second Week of Easter )
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“Do not be afraid...”

“Terrible thing, to live in fear. Brooks Hatlen knew it. Knew it all too well. All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won't have to be afraid all the time…” (Morgan Freeman as Ellis Boyd Redding in The Shawshank Redemption.)

It isn’t all-together clear why the disciples were afraid in today’s selection from John’s Gospel. Was it the darkness? Was it the strong wind? Was it the appearance of Jesus? Regardless of the answer, they were fearful, but before their fear could get the upper hand, they suddenly discovered that they were also safe.

In a letter he wrote to an unnamed gentleman, Francis de Sales made the following observation:

“Mistrust of our strength is not a lack of resolve, but a true recognition of our weakness. It is better to distrust our capacity to resist temptation than to be sure that we are strong enough to do so, so long as we don’t count on from our own strength we don count on from the grace of God. This is how it happens that many persons who very confidently promised to do marvels for God failed when under fire, whereas many who greatly mistrusted their own strength and were afraid they would fail accomplished wonders when the time came, because the great awareness of their own weakness forced them to seek God’s help to watch, pray and be humble, so as not to fall into temptation…God, who does nothing in vain, does not give us either strength or courage when we don’t need them, but only when we do. He never fails us. Consequently, we must always hope that He will help us if we entreat Him to do so…Many are afraid before the skirmish, but the actual danger fills them with courage. We must not be afraid of fear. So much for that!” (LSD, p. 181)

What is there to fear? Great question! Perhaps, that question is the first step to avoid living in fear - to name what it is that you are tempted to fear. Perhaps, the second step to avoid living in fear is to believe that God will give you the strength or courage you need to deal with your fears when you need it.

And not when you don’t!

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(April 15, 2018: Third Sunday of Easter)
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"Peace be with you."

In 1954, the great French painter, Henri Matisse, died at the age of eighty-six. In the last years of his life, arthritis crippled and deformed his hands, making it painful for him to hold a paintbrush. Yet he continued to paint, placing a cloth between his fingers to keep the brush from slipping. One day someone asked him:

  • Why did he submit his body to so much suffering?
  • Why did he continue to paint in the face of such great physical pain?
Matisse's response went something like this: the pain eventually passes, while the beauty remains.

Why tell that story on the third Sunday of Easter? If we look at the Gospel passage from Luke, Jesus encounters his disciples for the first time and says, “Peace be with you”. This particular passage from Luke follows the experience of two disciples on the way to Emmaus. As in the case of Jesus’ first disciples, we, too, can find ourselves still wondering about (perhaps even disbelieving on occasion) in the presence of God in our messy and sometimes even joyless lives.

Some of us gather Sunday after Sunday in church. We wonder if all the claims of faith and stories of Jesus are true. How can Jesus give peace to our lives when we feel that our lives are anything but peaceful? How do we experience peace even as we are full of worries about the house, the car, the kids, the job, and the demands and deadlines of our state and stage of life?

When do we possibly find or make the time to be at peace? How can Jesus possibly provide this kind of peace for which each of us – and all of us - long so deeply?

Remember the story of Henri Matisse? In a similar way, many of the worries, pains and frustrations that we experience will also fade away. At some point in the process many of the worries, pains and frustrations that we experience can be used to shape us into something useful and beautiful for God and for one another. And the beauty of what we become in the process will ultimately prevail long after the world, as we know it, has passed away.

Saint Francis de Sales reminds us:

“Do not worry about the tensions and struggles in your life, because the same loving Father who takes care of you today, will take care of you tomorrow; either He will shield you from suffering or He will give us the unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.”

In the midst of life’s difficulties may Christ’s peace be with us - a peace that helps us to embrace all of life’s challenges but likewise enables us to see and reflect – life’s greater beauty!

Today and every day!

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(April 16, 2018: Monday, Third Week of Ester )
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“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord...”

In today’s Gospel the question is asked of Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God”? The answer is found in the antiphon from today’s Responsorial Psalm: “Follow the law of the Lord”.

What does it look like when we follow the law of the Lord? In the mind of St. Francis de Sales, the answer is: “Living a life of devotion”.

“Devotion is simply that spiritual agility and vivacity by which charity works in us or by the aid of which we work quickly and lovingly. Just as the function of charity is to enable us to observe all of God’s commandments (the law of the Lord) in general and without exception, so it is the part of devotion to enable us to observe them more quickly and diligently.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

Devotion enables us to follow the law of the Lord. Devotion enables us “to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired”. (Ibid) Such devotion enables us not only to experience the blessings of life for ourselves, but also to be a blessing in the lives of others.

Today, how might we follow the law of the Lord?

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(April 17, 2018: Tuesday, Third Week of Easter)
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“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?”

Jesus was constantly bombarded with requests for signs. People were constantly looking for reasons to put their faith in Jesus, but they wanted him to perform wonders and miracles in order to be convinced. In his life, Jesus gave people more than enough signs to believe in him. Unfortunately, those signs fell on the deaf ears, blind eyes and hard hearts of people who were basically saying to Jesus: “Sure, but what have you done for me lately”?

Aren’t we sometimes guilty of asking God for a favor, a sign or a wonder in order that we might really, really believe in him? Notwithstanding God’s proven track record of mercy and generosity in our regard, aren’t we sometimes guilty of saying to God, in effect: “Sure, but what have you done for me lately”?

What remedy can we apply to this temptation of constantly asking God for signs in order that we might believe in him? How about asking the question, “What signs can we do in order that others may see and believe in him”? In other words, how can we live our lives in ways that help others to believe in God? Rather than asking for signs, we should be asking to be signs in other people’s lives!

What have we done for God – or others – lately?

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(April 18, 2018: Wednesday, Third Week of Easter)
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“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger or thirst…”

In a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde (dated August 24, 1613), Francis de Sales wrote:

“As your heart continues receiving its Savior more often (in Communion) it would also continue being more perfectly converted to him. During the twenty-five years that I have been serving souls, experience has given me an insight into the all-powerful virtue of the Divine Sacrament for confirming hearts in the way of goodness, preserving them from evil, consoling them, and in a word, making them god-like in this world, provided that they are moved by a right faith, by purity and devotion.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, Chapter 29, pp. 215)

Jesus is the bread of life. Whoever comes to him – whoever receives him – will never hunger. Whoever believes in him – whoever receives him – will never thirst: with, perhaps, one exception - the hunger and thirst to follow Jesus’ example in doing what is good!

Spirituality Matters 2018: April 5th - April 11th

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(April 5, 2018: Thursday, Octave of Easter )
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“He showed them his hands and his feet.”

Following Jesus' crucifixion, the apostles were afraid. Their fear was quite understandable - perhaps even prudent - when you consider the real possibility that they would suffer the same death as Jesus, if they were identified as his followers.

Jesus breaks into their lives in the midst of their fears. He attempts to calm their fears. He challenges them to be at peace by showing them his hands and his feet. Given the horrible wounds visible in both places, one might say that this is quite a strange way to dispel others’ anxiety and grief!

Despite the power and glory of the resurrection, Jesus still bore the legacy of pain, disappointment, rejection, humiliation, suffering and death on his body. Herein lay the promise and the hope that Jesus offered: pain, suffering and loss - despite the scars that they leave - need not be the last word for those who believe in the love of God.

St. Francis de Sales wrote: “We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible forbearance the injuries, denial and discomforts we meet.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Pt III, Chap 3)

All of us have experienced pain and suffering. All of us bear the wounds of failure, betrayal, deception, disappointment and loss. Our hearts, our minds, our memories - our souls - have the scars to prove it. Out of fear of being hurt further, like the apostles, we sometimes lock ourselves away in some small emotional or spiritual corner of the world, living in fear of what other pain or disappointments may come our way. We withdraw from life. In effect, we die with no hope of resurrection.

Jesus shows us that while we, too, have been wounded by life, the scars of pain, rejection, misunderstanding and mishap do not need to have the last word. We may, indeed, be permanently affected by things both unfortunate and unfair, but these need not rob us of the power and promise of recovery, of renewal - of resurrection - unless we allow ourselves to be defeated by the nails of negativity, by the lance of loss.

The scars of our humanity are a part of our past and a part of our present. They need not, however, determine the course of our future. Let's keep things in perspective. St. Francis de Sales remind us: "Look often on Christ, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, and overwhelmed by every kind of weariness, sorrow and labor."

Jesus not only survived but he also thrived! His faith, his passion, his resilience and his love, indeed, had the last word in his life.

Today, won't you let his words have the same effect in your life?

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(April 6, 2018: Friday, Octave of Easter )
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“Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples...”

Familiar with the term “one-hit wonder”?

“A one-hit wonder is a person or act known mainly for only a single success. The term is most often used to describe music performers with only one hit single. Because one-hit wonders are often popular for only a brief time, their hits often have nostalgic value and are featured on era-centric compilations and soundtracks to period films. One-hit wonders are normal in any era of pop music, but are most common during reigns of entire genres that do not last for more than a few years.” (Wikipedia)

When it comes to post-Resurrection appearances, Jesus was no one-hit wonder. Between the time of his Resurrection and his Ascension, Scripture records at least ten distinct appearances. Jesus spoke, ate and drank (even cooked) with and embraced a wide swathe of people during these appearances – some small and intimate, others large and profoundly public.

Today’s Gospel account from John recounts a small, more intimate appearance that Jesus makes to seven people. We are told that this was the “third time” Jesus was revealed to his disciples. Peter and the others go fishing but their efforts leave them empty-handed. Suddenly Jesus (initially unrecognized) appears and calls to them from the shore, directing them to cast their nets in a different place. Overwhelmed with the number of fish that they subsequently catch, Peter apparently is struck by the sense of déjà vue – he becomes eerily conscious of the almost-identical circumstances associated with his very first encounter with Jesus three years before. From that moment on, there is no question in his mind that “it is the Lord”.

Our Catholic-Christian tradition contains countless accounts of how the Risen Jesus continues to reveal himself unexpectedly in the lives of ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. Put another way, when it comes to post-Resurrection appearances, the hits keep coming.

Today, how might the Risen Jesus reveal himself to you? Will you recognize Him?

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(April 7, 2018: Saturday, Octave of Easter )
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“Observing the boldness of Peter and John…ordinary men.”

Many of us have been brought up to believe that boldness is something that we should eschew. This fact may be especially true for those who have been addressed at some point in their lives as a “bold, brazen article”! Such a description is certainly not an accolade that folks would normally seek!

Peter and John were bold: so bold as to identify themselves as the “companions of Jesus”, so bold as to proclaiming in Jesus “the resurrection of the dead”, and so bold as to heal a crippled man in the name of Jesus. Even after being detained, interrogated and ordered by the Sanhedrin to stop speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus – or else – Peter and John told them flat out that they would continue to speak about what they “had seen and heard” with vim and vigor, apparently without much – if any – care or concern about their own health, wealth or welfare.

There can be no doubt that the Pharisees, Scribes and Elders might have considered Peter and John to be – in their own way – bold, brazen articles! No surprise here, if you consider that these same Pharisees, Scribes and Elders had formed the same opinion of Jesus.

It’s probably safe to say that on most days we preach and practice the Gospel in measured, discrete and considerate ways. We’re not trying to make waves and we’re not trying to draw crowds. In fact, we might actually be trying our level best to “stay under the radar”. But there are times in our lives when it is both fitting – and perhaps, even imperative – that we proclaim and preach the Gospel in ways that other people might consider bold, perhaps even brazen!

In those moments, do we – ordinary men and women that we are – have the courage to identify ourselves as the “companions of Jesus”?

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(April 8, 2018: Second Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday)
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“He showed them his hands and his side.”

In the wake of Jesus' crucifixion and death, the apostles were locked away together in fear. They were afraid that they might suffer the same fate as their teacher. Despite their anxious seclusion, Jesus breaks into their lives. Not only does he break into the physical space in which they were taking refuge, but Jesus also breaks into the core of their minds and hearts. Jesus attempts to calm their fears. He challenges them to be at peace. He does these things in a rather confrontational and mysterious manner: by showing them the wounds in his hands and side.

Perhaps not so mysterious, however, if we understand them in the context of words spoken by the character of Dr. Hannibal Lector in the closing scene of the film Red Dragon: “Our scars have the power to remind us that the past was real”.

It is remarkable that the experience of resurrection did not remove the scars of Jesus' woundedness - the lasting marks of pain, disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection, betrayal, humiliation, abandonment, suffering and death. These wounds notwithstanding, Christ's resurrection powerfully demonstrated that pain, sadness, suffering and injustice - as real as they were - did not, ultimately, wield the last word. While suffering was clearly a part of Jesus’ life, there was so much more to his life than just suffering.

St. Francis de Sales wrote:

"We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance, and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible forbearance the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet." (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 3)

All of us bear the wounds of failure, deception, betrayal, disappointment and loss. Our hearts, our minds, our memories - our souls - bear the scars to prove it. Like the apostles, we, too, are tempted to withdraw from others, to lock ourselves away in some secluded emotional or spiritual corner, living in fear of what other pain or disappointments may come our way. Of course, in withdrawing from life, we figuratively - in some cases, even literally - die.

Jesus clearly demonstrates in his own life that our wounds do not necessarily need to overwhelm or disable us. While these wounds may be permanent, they need not rob us of the power and promise of recovery, of renewal - of resurrection - unless we despair and allow ourselves to be defeated by the nails of negativity.

The wounds of our past certainly leave their mark in our present. They don't necessarily determine the course of our future.

Today, turn to the love of Jesus who knows what it means to be wounded and who shows us how to move through and beyond our wounds…and the scars they leave.

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(April 9, 2018: Annunciation of the Lord )
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“Do not be afraid, Mary…”

In a letter he wrote to an unnamed gentleman, Francis de Sales made the following observation:

“We do not always have to feel strong and courageous; it is enough to hope that we will have strength and courage when and where we need them…So now, since you belong entirely to God, why be afraid of your weakness – on which, in any case, you shouldn’t be relying? You do hope in God, don’t you? And will anyone who hopes in Him ever be put to shame? No, never. I beg you, calm all the objections that might be taking shape in your mind and to which you need give no other answer than that you want to be faithful at all times and that you hope God will see to it that you are, without trying to figure out if He will or not.” (LSD, p. 181-182)

Mary was troubled by the angel’s message. Her mind was awash with questions about what this greeting meant for her. There’s no doubt that she was startled; perhaps, initially even afraid. But she worked through her fear; she did not allow herself to be overwhelmed by any objections that might have been forming in her mind. Putting her hope, faith and trust in God, Mary was able to simply say “yes” to God’s invitation to her to become the mother of the Messiah. For His part, God gave Mary the ability to be faithful at all times.

Today, like Mary, do you hope in God?

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(April 10, 2018: Tuesday, Second Week of Easter)
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"The community of believers was of one heart and mind...”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“‘By the Word,’ St. John said, that is, by that eternal Word who is the Son of God, ‘all things were made.’ Therefore, since this Word is most simple and most single, it produces all the variety among things. Since it is unchanging, it produces all changes that are good. Finally, since it abides eternally, it gives to all things their succession, changes, order rank and season.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 2, p. 106)

Saint Francis de Sales reminds us of one very important aspect of any community and/or family - diversity! While the early Christian “community of believers” may have been of one heart and mind, it’s difficult to imagine that this state could be achieved without its share of challenges, conflicts and controversy. The fact that community always has its share of diversity begs the question: “What distinguishes a community that is “of one heart and mind” from one that is not? Perhaps it’s the ability – and the willingness – to agree on the things or values in life that really matter in order to build consensus around the issues that are really worth honoring as non-negotiables.

Today, how might God call you to be “of one heart and mind” with others?

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(April 11, 2018: Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr)
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“Whoever lives the truth comes to the light so that his works may be clearly seen…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“When our mind is raised above the natural light of reason and begins to see the sacred truth of faith, O God, what joy ensues! As yet we do not see his face in the clear day of glory, but as it were in the first dawn of the day. If divine truths are so sweet when proposed in the obscure light of faith, O God, what shall those truths be like when we contemplate them in the noonday light of glory! We will see God manifest with incomprehensible clarity the wonders and eternal secrets of his supreme truth and with such light that our intellect will see in its very presence what it had believed here below!” (TLG, Book III, Chapter 29, pp. 189-190)

Living in the light of God’s truth enables us to see clearly God’s works in our lives. May our attempts at living in the light of God’s truth also enable other people to see clearly our works in their lives! After all, while we do walk by faith, we also walk by sight!

Today, what will people see in me that gives witness to the truth of what God sees in all of us?

Spirituality Matters 2018: March 29th - April 4th

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(March 29, 2018: Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper )
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“Do you realize what I have done for you?”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that he wills all of us to be saved that no one can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose he made us ‘in his own image and likeness’ by creation, and by the Incarnation he has made himself in our image and likeness, after which he suffered death in order to ransom and save humankind. He did this with so great a love...” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

While we may not be “ignorant” of what God has done for us (beautifully ritualized in the upper room at the Last Supper and dramatically demonstrated on the hill of Calvary) how much time – on any given day, in any given hour – do we actually spend reminding ourselves of how “great a love” God has for us? Do we realize what God has done for us? Do we realize what God is doing for us even at this moment?

If our answer is “yes”, then here a follow-up question: how do we show it?

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(March 30, 2018: Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion )
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“He learned obedience from what he suffered…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Our Savior himself has declared, ‘By our patience you will win your souls.’ It is man’s greatest happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls. We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered. He learned to listen to the voice of his Father by his practice of endurance, that is, through his willingness to see things through to the end. In so doing, he experienced the happiness and joy that even his suffering and death could not vanquish.

What kind of cross – be it injury, denial or discomfort – might God ask us to carry today? Are we up to the task?

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(March 31, 2018: Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil )
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"God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind. In like manner he commands Christians – the living plants of the Church – to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to one’s position and vocation”. (Part I, Chapter 3, p. 43)

Even before God created things – including us – God intended to underscore his love for the created order by becoming one of us in the person of his Son. Francis de Sales believed that it was the Incarnation that became the motivation for Creation. Thus, Creation made possible the ultimate expression of God’s love for the universe: the Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ. Because of “The Fall” the Incarnation took on an additional purpose: to save us from our sins.

Tonight’s readings from Scripture testify to the fidelity of God’s creative, incarnational and redeeming love. Throughout all the ups and downs of human history, one constant has remained: God’s love for us. A love to the death - a love all about life.

Today, how can we show our gratitude for so wonderful – and faithful – a love? The answer is by bringing forth the “fruits of devotion”! In so doing, we continue the creative, incarnational and redemptive action of the God who loved us even before the creation – and redemption – of the world.

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(April 1, 2018: Easter Sunday, Resurrection of the Lord)
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“The death and passion of our Lord is the sweetest and the most compelling motive that can animate our hearts in this mortal life…The children of the cross glory in this, their wondrous paradox which many do not understand: out of death, which devours all things, has come the food of our consolation. Out of death, strong above all things, has issued the all-sweet honey of our love.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 12, Chapter 13)

This paradox, indeed, is the central mystery of our faith. Jesus, allowing himself to be consumed with passion and swallowed by death, has conquered death once and for all with the passion, that is, the power of righteousness leading to eternal life.

Christ’s pathway of passion, death and resurrection was personal and unique. It had been fashioned by the Father from all eternity. Jesus was faithful to God’s vision for him. Jesus embraced his vocation as the humble, gentle Messiah. Jesus suffered the pain of death and experienced the power of rising again.

From all eternity God also has fashioned a personal path for each of us. Each of us has a unique role to play in the Father’s never-ending revelation of divine life, love, justice, peace and reconciliation. Still, the way to resurrection is the way of the cross – the way of giving up, of letting go, of surrendering all things, thoughts, attitudes and actions that prevent us from embodying the passion of Christ - the passion for all that is righteous and true.

Francis de Sales offers this image in Book 9 of his Treatise on the Love of God:

“God commanded the prophet Isaiah to strip himself completely naked. The prophet did this, and went about and preached in this way for three whole days (or, as some say, for three whole years). Then, when the time set for him by God had passed, he put his clothes back on again. So, too, we must strip ourselves of all affections, little and great, and make a frequent examination of our heart to see if it is truly ready to divest itself of all its garments, as Isaiah did. Then, at the proper time we must take up again the affections suitable to the service of charity, so that we may die naked on the cross with our divine Savior and afterwards rise again with him as new people.”

Be certain of one thing - the daily dying to self that is part of living a passionate life is not about dying, stripping and letting go for its own sake. The goal is that we be purified to live more faithful and effective lives of divine passion. God does not desire that we die to self out of self-deprecation. No, God desires that we die to self in order that, ironically, we may become more of the person God calls us to be.

“Love is as strong as death to enable us to forsake all things”, wrote St. Francis de Sales. “It is as magnificent as the resurrection to adorn us with glory and honor”.

This glory and honor is not just reserved for heaven. To the extent that we die a little each day and experience the fidelity of God’s love in the midst of all adversity, trials, struggles and “letting go” - something of these gifts can be ours even here on earth.

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(April 2, 2018: Monday, Octave of Easter )
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“Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed…”

There is no doubt that there were some folks who - after listening to Peter preach about Jesus the Nazorean on the day of Pentecost - might have asked themselves the question: “What, is he crazy?”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“As soon as worldly people see that you wish to follow a devout life they aim a thousand darts of mockery and even detraction at you. The most malicious of them will slander your conversion as hypocrisy, bigotry, and trickery. They will say that the world has turned against you and being rebuffed by it you have turned to God. Your friends will raise a host of objections which they consider very prudent and charitable. They will tell you that you will become depressed, lose your reputation in the world, be unbearable, and grow old before your time, and that your affairs at home will suffer.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 1, p. 235)

When we attempt to proclaim – be it in words or deeds – the power and presence of the Risen Jesus in our lives, we shouldn’t be shocked if some folks think we are crazy. For that matter, there may be some days when we also begin to wonder if we aren’t crazy too! Recall the words of St. Francis de Sales who ends this first chapter from Part IV of his Introduction to the Devout Life with this exhortation:

“All this is mere foolish, empty babbling. These people aren’t interested in your health or welfare. ‘If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hates you,’ says the Savior. We are crucified to the world and the world must be crucified to us. The world holds us to be fools; let us hold the world to be mad.”

If people think you’re crazy, then let it be for all the right reasons – most importantly, due to the effects of the love of the Risen Lord in your life!

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(April 3, 2018: Tuesday, Octave of Easter)
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"Why are you weeping?”

In a letter written to Marie Bourgeois Brulart (of Dijon, wife of Nicolas Brulart who became president of the parliament of Burgundy in 1602), Francis de Sales wrote:

“Mary Magdalene is looking for Our Lord and it is Him she holds; she is asking for Him, and it is Him she asks. She could not see Him as she would have wished to see Him; that is why she is not content to see Him in this form and searches so as to find Him in some other guise. She wanted to see Him in robes of glory and not in the lowly clothes of a gardener; but all the same, in the end she knew it was Jesus when he called her by name.”

“You see, it is Our Lord in His gardener’s clothes that you meet every day in one place and another when quite ordinary occasions come your way. You would like Him to offer you different and more distinguished ones, but the ones that appear the best are not necessarily in fact the best. Do you believe that He is calling you by name? Before you see Him in His glory He wants to plant many flowers in your garden; they may be small and humble, but they are the kind that please Him. That is why He comes to you clothed in this way. May our hearts be for ever united to His and our will to His good pleasure! Be of good cheer and let nothing dismay you.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 136)

Sometimes, the reason that we experience sadness and grief in our lives is not because we can’t find the Risen Jesus, but rather, because the Risen Jesus doesn’t always present himself to us in ways that we prefer or expect. As Mary Magdalene herself discovered, we can never predict the situations or circumstances in which Jesus will call us by name.

Regardless of how Jesus may appear to us today, will we recognize His voice should he call us – however unexpectedly – by name? In the meantime, “be of good cheer and let nothing dismay you”.

Alleluia!

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(April 4, 2018: Wednesday, Octave of Easter)
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“The disciples recounted how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of bread…”

“Breaking bread” - we see it in the practice of sharing food; we see it in the practice of sharing drink; we see it in the practice of sharing a meal. These events are quite simple, but it is in the context of such a common, ordinary, and everyday human experience that the Risen Christ chooses to reveal himself.

Of course, the experience of “breaking bread” isn’t limited to sharing physical food and drink. It speaks of relationship, intimacy, welcoming another, being home with another and sharing who we are with others and allowing them to share who they are with us.

In today’s Gospel we need to realize that the two unnamed disciples were communicating with Jesus – were in communion with Him – hours before they actually sat at table with Him. And that “breaking bread” – that communication and communion – brings with it illumination and awareness. As Francis de Sales himself observed: “After the disciples at Emmaus communicated, ‘their eyes were opened’”. (On the Preacher and Preaching, p. 26)

In the space of any given week how many times do we ‘break bread” with others? How often do we stop to think how the Risen Christ may be trying to reveal something of the person He is – and who we are – in the context of these common, ordinary and everyday human experiences in extraordinary ways?

How might our eyes need to be opened today by the experience of communication and communion?

Spirituality Matters 2018: March 22nd - March 29th

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(March 22, 2018: Thursday, Fifth Week of Lent )
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“I am making you the father of a host of nations…”

In a conference (on “Hope”) he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation, St. Francis de Sales remarked:

“Among the praises which the saints give to Abraham, St. Paul places this above all the others: that Abraham believed in hope even against hope. God had promised him that his seed should be multiplied as the stars of the heaven and the sand on the seashore, and at the same time he received the command to slay his son Isaac. Abraham in his distress did not, however, lose hope, but hoped, even against hope, that if he obeyed the command and slew his son, God would not fail to keep His word. Truly, great was his hope, for he saw no possible foundation for it, except the promise which God had given him. Ah, how true and solid a foundation is the word of God, for it is infallible!” (Conference VI, pp. 88 – 89)

What does it really mean when we hope for something? The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines hope as “to wish for something with the expectation of fulfillment”. It defines the theological virtue of hope as “the desire and search for a future good, difficult, but not impossible, to attain with God’s help”, From a theological point of view, there is much more to hope than mere wishful thinking.

In the opinion of St. Francis de Sales, we cannot fully understand the virtue of hope without also understanding the practice of aspiration. In Book Two of his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales distinguishes one from the other: “We hope for those things that we expect to gain through the aid of another, whereas we aspire to those things that we expect to gain through our own resources and our own efforts.” Of the relationship between these two practices, Francis wrote: “Just as those who would try to hope without aspiring are cowardly and irresponsible, so too, those who try to aspire without hoping are rash, insolent and presumptuous.” (Chapter 17)

As people of faith, we hope when we realize that the good things for which we wish ultimately depend on the grace of God. As people of faith, we aspire when we recognize that the good things for which we wish also depend on our own efforts.

Hope against hope, Abraham believed in God. But Abraham also put his belief – and his hope – into action.

Today, can the same be said of us?

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(March 23, 2018: Friday, Fifth Week of Lent )
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“I hear the whisperings of many…”

The more things change, the more they stay the same, especially when it comes to one of the most common kind of all whisperings.

Slander.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Rash judgment begets uneasiness, contempt of neighbor, pride, self-satisfaction and many other extremely bad effects. Slander, the true plague of society, holds first place among them. I wish that I had a burning coal taken from the holy altar to purify men’s lips so that their iniquities might be removed and their sins washed away, as did the seraphim who purified Isaiah’s mouth. The man who could free the world of slander would free it if a large share of its sins and iniquity.”

“Slander is a form of murder. We have three kinds of life: spiritual, which consists in God’s grace; corporeal, which depends on the body and soul, and; social, which consists in our good name. Sin deprives us of the first kind of life, death takes away the second and slander takes away the third. By the single stroke of his tongue the slanderer usually commits three murders. He kills his own soul and the soul of anyone who hears him by an act of spiritual homicide and takes away the social life of the person he slanders.”

“I earnestly exhort you, never to slander anyone either directly or indirectly. Beware of falsely imputing crime and sins to your neighbor, revealing his secret sins, exaggerating those that are obvious, putting an evil interpretation on his good works, denying the good that you know belongs to someone, maliciously concealing it or lessening it by words. You would offend God in all these ways but most of all by false accusations and denying the truth to your neighbor’s harm. It is a double sin to lie and harm your neighbor at the same time.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 29, pp. 201-202)

What else need be said? Or, more to the point – what should no longer be said?

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(March 24, 2018: Saturday, Fifth Week of Lent )
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"They will be my people, and I will be their God."

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“‘I have loved you with an everlasting love. Therefore, I have drawn you, having pity and mercy on you. And I will build you again, and you shall be built, O Israel.’ These are God’s words, and by them he promises that when the Savior comes into the world, he will establish a new kingdom in his Church, which will be his virgin spouse and true spiritual Israelite woman. As you see ‘it was not by’ any merit of ‘works that we did ourselves, but according to his mercy that he saved us.’ It was by that ancient – rather, that eternal – charity which moved his divine providence to draw us to himself. If the Father had not drawn us, we would never have come to the Son, our Savior, nor consequently to salvation.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 9, pp. 123-124)

God’s eternal charity – that is, God’s eternal love – makes us his people. We have done nothing to merit such an honor. It is an absolutely unearned gift. And despite our individual – and collective – sins, failings and infidelities, God demonstrates that – unlike us – he is never fickle and always faithful. God always has been and always will be our God, and we always have been, are and will be God’s people.

What can we do – just this day – to say “thank you” to God for his fidelity to – and love for – us?

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(March 25, 2018: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion)
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“The passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ…”

The Passion of Jesus is certainly an account of the end of his earthly life. But the Passion of Jesus is also something that was demonstrated every day of his earthly life.

  • A passion for human justice

  • A passion for divine justice

  • A passion for doing what is right and good

A passion for challenging others to promote the same

In his Treatise on the Love of God (Book 10, Chapter 16), St. Francis de Sales identifies three levels of such passion.

First, we can have a passion for correcting, censuring and reprimanding others. This passion is perhaps easy because it does not necessarily require those who are passionate about righteousness to actually perform acts of justice themselves. This form of zeal, obviously, can be very attractive because the focus is on what others are not doing. On the other hand, it can become a classic case of “do as I say, not as I do”, because it does not require us to live in a just manner ourselves.

Second, we can be passionate “by doing acts of great virtue in order to give good examples by suggesting remedies for evil, encouraging others to apply them, and doing the good opposed to the evil that we wish to eradicate”. “This passion holds for all of us”, remarked de Sales, “but few of us are anxious to do so”. Sure, it requires work and integrity on our part. We can't simply talk the talk; we must also walk the walk.

“Finally, the most excellent exercise of passion consists in suffering and enduring many things in order to prevent or avert evil. Almost no one wants to exercise this passion”. This passion is willing to risk everything for what is righteous and just, even life itself. "Our Lord's passion appeared principally in his death on the cross to destroy death and the sins of humanity”, wrote St. Francis de Sales. To imitate Jesus' zeal for justice is “a perfection of courage and unbelievable fervor of spirit”.

Jesus certainly challenged the injustice of others. Jesus was willing to promote justice through his own good example. Most importantly, Jesus was willing to go the distance in his passion for justice, even at the cost of his own life.

Passion Sunday - for that matter, every day - begs the question: How far are we willing to go in our passion for justice, that is, for what is right and good?

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(March 26, 2018: Monday, Holy Week )
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“Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my Spirit…”

Obviously, Jesus is the servant whom God upholds. Obviously, Jesus is God’s servant. Obviously, Jesus is one upon whom God has put his Spirit.

Not so obvious? You, too, are the servant that God upholds. You, too, are God’s chosen one. You, too, are one upon whom God has put his Spirit.

How might we be pleasing – not only to God, but also to other people – today?

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(March 27, 2018: Tuesday, Holy Week)
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"The Lord called me from birth; from my mother’s womb he gave me my name...”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Consider that a certain number of years ago you were not yet in the world and that your present being was truly nothing. My soul, where were you at that time? The world had already existed for a long time, but of us there was yet nothing. God has drawn you out of that nothingness to make you what you now are and he has done so solely out of his own goodness and without need of you. Consider the nature God has given you. It is the highest in this visible world. It is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.” (Part I, Chapter 9, p. 53)

From all eternity God chose to create us out of nothing and to make us something…to make us someone. What return can we make other than to stand in awe of God’s generosity towards us?

And to live accordingly!

Today!

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(March 28, 2018: Wednesday, Holy Week)
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“The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue that I might know how to speak to the weary…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“‘If a man does not offend in word, he is a perfect man,’ says St. James. Be careful never to let an indecent word leave your lips, for even if you do not speak with an evil intention those who hear it may take it a different way. An evil word falling into a weak heart grows and spreads like a drop of oil on a piece of linen cloth. Sometimes it seizes the heart in such a way as to fill it with a thousand unclean thoughts and temptations. Just as bodily poison enters through the moth, so what poisons the heart gets in through the ear and the tongue that utters it is a murderer. Perhaps the poison the mouth casts forth does not always produce its effect because it finds its hearers’ hearts guarded by some protective remedy. Still it was not for want of malice that it did not bring about their death. No man can tell me that he speaks without thinking.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 26, pp. 194-195)

People who are weary – people who are tired – people who are worn down – are especially vulnerable to the words that others speak to them.

Today, how will we speak to the weary we encounter?

Spirituality Matters 2018: March 15th - March 21st

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(March 15, 2018: Thursday, Fourth Week of Lent )
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“Moses, his chosen one, withstood him in the breach…”

Moses and Jesus have at least one thing in common: they were willing to go the wall for the people they cared about.

In Moses’ case, he dissuades God from punishing the Israelites out of anger for their infidelity. Moses puts his own life on the line in order to convince God to exercise mercy rather than justice. Moses is an advocate for his people.

In Jesus’ case, he continues to reach out to the poor and marginalized despite the growing hostility of the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus puts His own life on the line in order to convince his religious peers to seek mercy rather than justice. Jesus is an advocate for his people.

How about us? Today, how far are we willing to go to be an advocate for others, especially for those most in need?

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(March 16, 2018: Friday, Fourth Week of Lent )
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“Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us…”

“Obnoxious” is defined as “very annoying or objectionable; offensive or odious.” Synonyms include words like abhorrent, abominable, detestable, disagreeable, disgusting, dislikable or dislikeable, foul, hateful, horrid, insufferable, loathsome, nasty, nauseating, objectionable, obscene, odious, offensive, repellent, reprehensible, repugnant, repulsive, revolting, sickening and unpleasant.

Do you get the idea?

So, why is the just person persecuted for being just? Often times, it is simply because one person’s attempts to do the right thing may shine a spotlight on – however unintentionally – another person’s failure to do the right thing. Of course, we find the perfect example of this dynamic – you know, “no good deed goes unpunished” – in none other than the life and ministry of Jesus himself. Jesus was far less concerned about pointing out others’ wrongdoings; he was more concerned about doing what was right. But on the other hand, Jesus was more than willing to call people out on their bad behavior, but he was much more interested in showing people the path to living a good life. In other words, Jesus didn’t invest much time or energy in laying guilt trips on other people. Other people did that all by themselves. But, rather than experience the guilt as an invitation to make a change in their lives, Jesus’ enemies experienced the guilt as a reason for discrediting, opposing and – ultimately – getting rid of him.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Perish the thought, but it is possible that someone you encounter today may find you to be obnoxious. Of course, that could be because you are doing something wrong. But on the other hand, it could be because you are doing something right. That’s unfortunate, because in a perfect world doing the right thing would never be obnoxious to anyone.

Of course – last we checked, at least – this isn’t a perfect world!

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(March 17, 2018: Patrick, Bishop and Missionary )
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"Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?"

We addressed this issue yesterday, but some things bear repeating. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

The unvarnished anger, resentment and jealously of the Pharisees is on public display in today’s Gospel. Not satisfied with merely bad-mouthing Jesus, they also ridicule anyone who would have the audacity to believe – that is, to accept – Jesus’ message. Their blind, smug belief in themselves – and their disdain for the common man – render the Pharisees totally impervious to considering how God’s plan of salvation might differ from their preconceived notions of God’s plan, to say nothing of Jesus’ role in it. Even Nicodemus – one of their own – gets thrown under the bus for daring to suggest that they should reconsider their perspective or, at the very least, they should give Jesus a fair hearing.

Yesterday, we considered how others might find us obnoxious for doing what is right. Today, we might ask ourselves this question: do we ever find people who do the right thing obnoxious to us? The truth is there might be something of the Pharisees in all of us.

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(March 18, 2018: Fifth Sunday of Lent)
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“We should like to see Jesus.”

“All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me, says the Lord.”

All of us would like to see Jesus…for any number of reasons.

Where do we look for Jesus? Do we look for Jesus up in the sky? Do we look for Jesus in far away places? Do we look for Jesus in special people? Do we look for Jesus in extraordinary experiences? Do we look for Jesus in once-in-a-lifetime events?

Francis de Sales suggests that we start closer to home: “God is everywhere and in every thing. There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not very really present. God is not only in the place in which you find yourself, but God, in a very special way, dwells in the depths of your heart.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, II, 2)

If we want to see Jesus, we must first recognize him in ourselves. After all, we are created in God’s – Christ’s – the Spirit’s – image and likeness. Christ dwells in our minds, hearts, affections, attitudes and actions. Christ dwells in the midst of our daily responsibilities, successes and setbacks. Christ dwells in our spouses, children, parents, families, friends, neighbors, co-workers and classmates. Wherever we “are”, there Jesus “is”.

Lent is a season for sharpening our eyesight, for clearing our vision and for focusing our perception of a God who is with us – always and in all ways!

Lent is also a season in which we are reminded of a very special place in which we can see and experience Jesus - in the act of asking for, receiving and granting forgiveness. As much as Jesus dwells in us because we simply – and powerfully “are”, Jesus is in a very real, tangible and repeatable way present to us in the experience of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption.

And so, ask for the grace to see Jesus more clearly in yourself. Ask for the vision to see Jesus in the events, circumstances and relationships of each and every day. Ask for the wisdom to recognize Jesus in the gift of life and the beauty of creation, with all of its ups, downs and in between. Ask for the faith to know Jesus’ presence in the gift of forgiveness.

Do you want to see Jesus? Then, open your eyes! Open your ears! Open your hearts! Open your minds! Open your attitudes! Open your lives! Allow others to see in you The One for whom you look in others!

Today!

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(March 19, 2018: Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary )
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“Joseph her husband was a righteous man…”

In a conference (The Virtues of St. Joseph) he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation, St. Francis de Sales remarked:

“Now, our glorious St. Joseph was endowed with four great virtues (constancy, perseverance, strength and valor) and practiced them marvelously well. As regards his constancy, did he not display it wonderfully when seeing Our Lady with child, and, not knowing how that could be, his mind was tossed with distress, perplexity and trouble? Yet, in spite of all, he never complained, he was never harsh or ungracious towards his holy Spouse, but remained just as gentle and respectful in his demeanor as he had ever been…..” (Living Jesus, p.184)

Joseph experienced more than a little turmoil in his role as husband and father of the Holy Family. However, being the just and righteous man that he was, Joseph never took out his frustrations on his spouse or on his adopted son. Rather, he accepted life’s ups and downs as the context in which he took such wonderful care of Mary and Jesus in ways that have set the standard for fatherly care ever since.

As so today, we pray: God grant us the grace to imitate the example of St. Joseph. Help us to take whatever comes in life without taking it out on others – especially, on those we love the most.

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(March 20, 2018: Tuesday, Fifth Week of Lent)
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“We have sinned in complaining against the Lord…”

How quickly we forget.

In the first reading today from the Book of Numbers, we witness the complaining, whining and moaning of the Israelites as they continued their journey toward the Promised Land. Sure, the trek had been laborious; sure, the conditions were challenging. Sure, the food and drink was less than desirable. But despite the fact that God had liberated them from the yolk of Egyptian slavery and oppression, the Israelites’ gratitude had clearly waned. Not only had they forgotten what God had done for them, but they also appear to have presumed that the pathway to freedom would be easy.

Dr. M. Scott Peck will probably be best remembered for the opening statement in his book The Road Less Travelled. The first chapter begins with these words: “Life is difficult”. Throughout much of his book, the author maintains that a significant amount of human pain and grief is not the result of difficulties, but rather, much of the suffering and frustration that we experience is the direct result of our tendency to complain about life’s difficulties and our attempts to avoid them altogether. Such complaining and avoidance can lead to – among other maladies – a case of chronic ingratitude.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Complain as little as possible about the wrongs you suffer. Undoubtedly a person who complains commits a sin by doing so, since self-love always feels that injuries are worse than they really are…In the opinion of many – and it is true – constant complaining is a clear proof of lack of strength and generosity. (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 130)

On many levels, we can all relate to the Israelites. We’ve all experienced tough times. We’ve all gotten bad breaks. We’ve all had our share of difficulties and disappointments. We’ve all had moments when we felt that the road to happiness shouldn’t take so much time, effort and energy. We’ve all had the sense that if we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all.

But we also know from our own experience that chronic complaining is toxic. It poisons our perceptions and perspectives. Ultimately, complaining does nothing to address or reduce whatever difficulties we may be facing, be they real or imagined. In fact, chronic complaining usually has the opposite effect of making things much worse for us, as well as, for all those around us.

Today, are you – or someone you know – grappling with chronic complaining? Try applying one of the most powerful remedies of all.

The attitude called gratitude.

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(March 21, 2018: Wednesday, Fifth Week of Lent)
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“The truth will set you free…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Our free will is never as free as when it is a slave to God’s will, just as it is never as servile as when it serves our own will. It never has so much life as when it dies to self, and never so much death as when it lives to itself. We have the liberty to do good and evil, but to choose evil is not to use but to abuse this liberty. Let us renounce such wretched liberty and subject forever our free will to the rule of heavenly love. Let us become slaves to dilection, whose serfs are happier than kings. If our souls should ever will to use their liberty against our resolutions to serve God eternally and without reserve, Oh, then, for love of God, let us sacrifice our free will and make it die to itself so that it may live in God! A man who out of self-love wishes to keep his freedom in this world shall lose it in the next world, and he who shall lose it in this world for the love of God shall keep it for that same love in the next world. He who keeps his liberty in this world shall find it a serf and a slave in the other world, whereas he who makes it serve the cross in this world shall have it free in the other world. For there, when he is absorbed in enjoyment of God’s goodness, his liberty will be converted into love and love into liberty, a liberty infinitely sweet. Without effort, without pain, and without any struggle we shall unchangingly and forever love the Creator and Savior of our souls.” (Treatise 12: 10, pp- 277-278)

The Salesian tradition holds this truth about human freedom. It is not about being able to do whatever we want – that isn’t freedom, that’s license. True human freedom is about being able to do whatever it is that God wants us to do.

Today, how might this truth set you free?

Spirituality Matters 2018: March 8th - March 14th

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(March 8, 2018: Thursday, Third Week of Lent )
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“If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts…”

If you ask a group of people the question, “What is the worst thing that can happen to the human heart”, many folks will almost instinctively respond by answering, “When it breaks”.

However painful a broken heart may be, there is actually something far worse than can happen to a human heart - “When it hardens”.

The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah cites some characteristics or qualities frequently associated with hardening of the heart. These include:

  • Not paying attention or heed
  • Being disobedient
  • Turning one’s back on God and others
  • Being stiff-necked
  • Not listening
  • Not answering
  • Being unfaithful
And in the case of today’s Gospel, we witness a particularly toxic variation on hardening of the heart: refusing to acknowledge the power of God at work in the lives of others and refusing to acknowledge that God can choose to work in the lives of others that often confound – and contradict – worldly wisdom.

Nobody wants a broken heart! However, a broken heart can serve as a kind of spiritual pulse. Wounded as we might be, at least it can remind us that we are still alive! By contrast, a hardened heart ultimately leads to one thing and one thing only - death.

If you hear God’s voice today, with what kind of heart will you listen?

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(March 9, 2018: Friday, Third Week of Lent )
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“Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good…”

The words taken from the Book of the Prophet Hosea are an invitation for Israel to turn away from its collective hardness of heart and to turn their hearts back to where they belong - God. Hardness of heart – perhaps also described as a stubbornness of will or a coldness of spirit – has brought ruin upon Israel. Through the prophet, God invites Israel to experience once again the fullness and fruitfulness that comes from refusing to place other gods before Him.

Hosea challenges Israel to believe that God is fully prepared to forgive all their iniquity. God will forgive them their sins. Israel is assured that God is once again willing to accept offerings from the people. God will accept their sacrificial goods.

On an entirely different level, however, these same words from Hosea cut both ways. After all, doesn’t God expect us to forgive the iniquities of others? Doesn’t God expect us to accept the good in others?

How can we forgive and accept others today, just as God forgives us and accepts the good in us…for all eternity?

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(March 10, 2018: Saturday, Third Week of Lent )
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"O God, be merciful to me, a sinner..."

We are told in today’s Gospel that the man who identified himself as a sinner – and who asked for the mercy of God – is the one who “went home justified,” unlike the Pharisee, who in his smug self-absorption, thanked God for making him better than most other people. While the latter puffed himself up, the former wasn’t necessarily putting himself down, but rather, he was simply speaking the truth.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Nothing can so effectively humble us before the mercy of God as the multitude of his benefits. Nor can anything so much humble us before the justice of God as the enormity of our innumerable off3enses. Let us consider what God has done for us and what we have done against Him; and as we reflect upon our sins – one by one – so let us consider his greater graces in the same order. What good do we have which we have not received from God? And if we have received it, why should we glory in it? On the contrary, the lively consideration of graces received makes us humble, insofar as knowledge of these graces should excite gratitude within us.” ( Select Salesian Subjects, 0048, p. 12)

The Pharisee and the tax collector are a study in contrast due to their different types of accounting. The Pharisee’s accounting of God’s graces in his life left him arrogant and aloof, whereas the tax collector’s accounting of God’s graces in his life left him humble and grateful.

With whom might you have more in common – the Pharisee or the tax collector? Perhaps, something of both?

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(March 11, 2018: Fourth Sunday of Lent)
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“God is rich in mercy…manifested to us in Christ Jesus.”

“We are truly God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance.”

Lent is a time to celebrate the mercy, the generosity and the kindness of God.

We certainly hear echoes of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in St. Francis de Sales’ observations in his Treatise on the Love of God (II, 5) where he writes: “Who now can have any doubt as to our abundant means of salvation since we have so great a Savior, in view of whom we have been made and by whose merits we have been ransomed?”

Francis continues: “Far indeed was Adam’s sin from overwhelming God’s generosity; on the contrary, Adam’s sin aroused God’s generosity all the more and called it forth!”

Lent calls us to proclaim this truth: as much as God loved us by creating us, God loved us even more by redeeming us! As St. Francis de Sales claimed, “The state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence.”

Lent calls us to proclaim this truth that in the face of God’s generosity, we are all-too-frequently stingy, small-minded and small hearted. This is most powerfully displayed when we sin. Ironically, it is only when we truly accept God’s generosity that we are truly able to repent of our sinful affections, attitudes and actions. Francis de Sales asks the question: “Do you not know that the kindness of God should lead you to repentance?”

Lent calls us to “lead the life of good deeds”. Repentance is not merely refraining from sin; but repentance is also about embracing virtue, of doing what is commanded and counseled by God “diligently, frequently and readily with alacrity and cheerfulness”. ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 1)

In what remains of this season, dedicate yourself to thankfulness. Be grateful for God’s mercy, generosity and kindness to you and accept the salvation won for you in Christ! Turn away from those sins that prevent you from experiencing and accepting that generosity in your life. Give testimony to God’s kindness and your repentance by being merciful, generous and kind in your relationships with others. In so doing, you will more convincingly become “God’s handiwork, created in Jesus Christ, to lead the life of good deeds” that God prepared for you – yes, you - from the creation of the world!

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(March 12, 2018: Monday, Fourth Week of Lent )
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“The man believed what Jesus said to him...”

In today’s Gospel, a royal official – whose name we never learn – asked Jesus to save his son, who was apparently near death. Obviously, the fulfillment of this request was going to involve some travelling on Jesus’ part (upwards to a full day, as it turned out!), insofar as the official asked Jesus to “come down” – presumably, to his home – and heal his son. Much to the surprise of the official, Jesus simply tells him – without making the trip to actually visit the boy – that his son has already been saved.

And the official “believed what Jesus said to him”. In other words, he took Jesus at his word…and headed home.

You don’t think it’s a big deal? Then put yourself in the official’s position. Can you imagine what was going through his mind, minutes - then hours - after beginning his long walk back home? He had lots of time to second-guess his decision to simply believe Jesus’ statement. “What was I thinking about?” “Am I crazy?” “Should I have insisted that he come with me?” “Was I stupid to believe him?” “What if my son has died by the time I get home?” “Did I let my son – and my family – down?” “Have I failed?”

Talk about faith! A faith, as it turns out, for which he and his entire family were richly rewarded. St. Francis de Sales once wrote:

“Believe me, God who has led you up until now will continue to hold you in His blessed hand, but you must throw yourself into the arms of His providence with complete trust and forgetfulness of self. Now is the right time. Almost everyone can manage to trust God in the sweetness and peace of prosperity, but only his children can put their trust in Him when storms and tempests rage: I mean to put their trust in Him with complete self-abandonment.” (Select Salesian Subjects, 0130, p. 28)

When it comes to “complete trust and forgetfulness of self” the standard doesn’t get much higher than the one set by the royal official in today’s Gospel.

How does our trust in God today – especially in the midst of our own “storms and tempests” – measure up?

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(March 13, 2018: Tuesday, Fourth Week of Lent)
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“Wherever the river flows, every sort of living…creature shall live…”

Water, water everywhere! That’s how we might summarize the images from today’s reading from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel! The suggestion, of course, is that the reach of God’s power knows no borders or bounds.

In a letter to Mademoiselle de Soulfour, Francis de Sales likewise used the image of water. He wrote:

“Remind yourself that the graces and benefits of prayer are not like water welling up from the earth, but more like water coming down from heaven; therefore, all our efforts cannot produce them, though it is true that we must ready ourselves to receive them with great care, yet humbly and peacefully. We must keep our hearts open and wait for the heavenly dew to fall.” (LSD, p. 100)

Regardless of whether it flows up from the earth or falls down from the heavens, what is more important is to remind ourselves that the water of God’s love is welling up inside each and every one of us and is meant to be shared with all those around us.

Today let it flow!

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(March 14, 2018: Wednesday, Fourth Week of Lent)
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“The Lord is gracious and merciful…”

Gracious. Merciful. These two attributes are deemed synonymous with God in today’s responsorial psalm. And as it turns out, these same attributes – and others like them – are very much a part of the Salesian tradition.

In the book Francis de Sales, Jane de ChantalLetters of Spiritual Direction, we read:

“Chief among the Salesian virtues – and the one that belongs distinctively to this tradition, rather than to the wider contemplative heritage – is douceur. A difficult term to translate, douceur has been rendered in English as ‘sweetness,’ ‘gentleness,’ ‘graciousness,’ ‘meekness, and ‘suavity.’ None of these translations do it full justice. Douceur is a quality of person that corresponds to the light burden offered by the Matthean Jesus to those otherwise heavily-laden. It connotes an almost maternal quality of serving others that is swathed in tender concern. Salesian douceur also suggests a sense of being grace-filled and graceful in the broadest use of the term. This gracefulness extends from external demeanor – polite manners and convivial disposition – to the very quality of a person’s heart, that is, the way in which a person is interiorly ordered and disposed…stressing the harmony, beauty and grace of the whole person and which de Sales saw as reflecting the beauty and harmony of God.” (pp. 63-64)

God is indeed gracious and insofar as we are made in God’s image and likeness, how can we imitate that graciousness today in the hope of reflecting something in our own lives of “the beauty and harmony of God”?

Spirituality Matters 2018: March 1st - March 7th

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(March 1, 2018: Thursday, Second Week of Lent
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“Remember that you received what was good during your lifetime…”

The parable in today’s Gospel does not require a great deal of explanation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is a warning - a stern warning. Acts have consequences; choices have ramifications; decisions have results. What goes around comes around.

However, take note of one detail in the story: the rich man who “dressed in purple and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day” is not condemned because of his good fortune – he is condemned because of his failure to share his good fortune with anyone less fortunate.

Lent is a good time to reflect upon all the good – all the blessings – that God continues to shower upon us. Lent is also a good time to consider how good we are – or aren’t – at sharing our goods with others.

Like Peter, do we have the courage to take our place in God’s plan of salvation?

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(March 2, 2018: Friday, Second Week of Lent
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“When his brothers saw that their father loved him best…they hated him…”

This reading is a famous story from the Book of Genesis. It is a story of a family feud. It is a story of internecine jealousy. It is a story of unspeakable betrayal.

However, in the end, it is a story of God’s unpredictable providence!

Joseph is his father’s favorite. His older brothers hate him for it. Blinded by their resentment and envy, they plot to murder Joseph. At the last moment, however, Reuben has second thoughts. He proposes that they essentially leave their brother to die in the desert (hoping that he might subsequently rescue his brother). At first blush, it seemed that Reuben’s plan might work after all until a caravan of foreigners appeared. The plan is changed again: the brothers – even Rueben, by all accounts – decide to sell Joseph into slavery. This plan provides the brothers with an out: they don’t actually take Joseph’s life, but they can get Joseph out of their lives permanently.

Twenty years later Israel finds itself in the grip of a devastating famine. At the end of their respective ropes, Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt with the hope of finding food and shelter. Imagine their surprise – and shame - when they find themselves face-to-face with the brother whom they had sold into slavery, presumably unto death.

There is a great mystery here to be considered. Absent his brothers’ treachery, Joseph’s kin – and presumably, Joseph himself – might have all been consumed by the famine that swept through Israel twenty years after selling their brother into slavery. How could anyone have anticipated that an act of betrayal could turn into a tale of salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation?

What’s the moral to the story? Sometimes in life good things happen for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes in life even the most loathsome of intentions can produce an inspired turn-of-events. Simply put, God can make miracles out of the worst of circumstances.

Today, reflect on this question: are there any examples of such experiences in your own life?

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(March 3, 2018: Saturday, Second Week of Lent)
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"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them..."

This behavior is the resentment leveled against Jesus in today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke. In response, Jesus proceeds to tell the Pharisees and scribes a parable: the parable of the prodigal son.

The word “prodigal” is defined as “rashly or wastefully extravagant”. Well, that certainly describes the younger son to a tee. After all, he demands an inheritance (to which, as the younger son, he was not entitled) and promptly blows his entire fortune – and all of his supposed friends – on irresponsible living.

The word “prodigal” is also defined as “lavish in giving”. Well, that certainly describes the father. After all, not only does he not rub his younger son’s face in his failure – or treat him like a slave - but he welcomes him back, forgives him, and restores his place and position in the family.

The word “prodigal” is also defined as “lavish in yielding”. Well, that certainly describes the older son, or more to the point, the older son’s struggle. The story ends with the father begging the older brother to let go of his resentment – to set aside his anger – toward his younger brother’s return as well as toward his father’s lavish celebration of the younger brother’s return.

Is there anything in that story to which you can really relate at this point in your life? Is there anyone in the parable with whom you can most closely empathize?

What is your answer? Why?

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(March 4, 2018: Third Sunday of Lent)
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“I, the Lord your God, brought you out of slavery.”

The Ten Commandments served two purposes in the lives of the Israelites: they reminded them of the experience of slavery in the past at the hands of the Egyptians and they offered precepts for avoiding in the future the slavery of sin in all its forms.

Jesus brought us a New Commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you”. While not “abolishing the Law and the prophets”, Jesus’ command to love one another makes it very clear that simply keeping the Ten Commandments alone does not meet the standard that Jesus established. In fact, Jesus frequently criticized the Scribes and Pharisees for burdening others with a slavish interpretation of the Law of Moses.

Francis de Sales certainly understood that while we must observe the commandments and counsels of God without exception, observing the commandments and counsels of God without exception is not enough for those who wish to follow the example of Jesus.

We are called to lead lives of devotion.

Francis explained: “Devotion is that spiritual agility and vivacity that enables us to do what is right and good with alacrity and affection.” Christian perfection challenges us to follow the commandments and counsels of God in ways that promote “a cheerfulness and alacrity in the performance of charitable actions.”

In short, it is the cheerful, enthusiastic and life-giving manner in which we do what is good that enables us to “fulfill the law and the prophets” and to make real in the lives of others the New Commandment - to “love one another”.

Many people “give up” things during Lent. What a perfect time for us to free ourselves from the slavery of minimalism! What a perfect time for us to give up those affections and attitudes that prevent us from doing what is right and good in ways that are positive, cheerful and enthusiastic! What a perfect time for us to recommit ourselves to embracing the freedom of the sons and daughters of God by living – each and every day - Christ’s New Law of Love.

Be holy. Be healthy. And while you are doing that, for God’s sake (as well as for your own sake and for the sake of others) be happy, too!

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(March 5, 2018: Monday, Third Week of Lent )
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“If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it?”

Naaman – a great general and a foreigner – travels to far-off Samaria in the hope of being cured of his leprosy. This powerful man – a force with whom to be reckoned - is prepared to do whatever it takes, regardless of how superhuman or heroic, in order to curry favor with the God of Israel. When he finally reaches the home of Elisha, Naaman is told to simply wash seven times in the River Jordan. Period!

Naaman is furious! Such a remedy seems useless at best, insulting at worst. But someone in his retinue challenges his presumption that God can only work through extraordinary events and actions or that God is only interested in extraordinary events and actions. In effect, a servant says to Naaman, “You know, if the prophet had asked you to do something absolutely impossible you would have done it in a heartbeat. However, when he asked you to do something incredibly ordinary instead, you can’t believe it. Get over it and go wash yourself! Other than your pride, what do you have to lose?”

And the rest – as they say – is history.

There’s something of Naaman the Syrian inside each and every one of us. After all, don’t most of us – if not all of us – believe that if you really want something big – if you love somebody big-time – that you need to do something big in order to achieve something big – and that you have do something big in order to express your big-time love? Francis de Sales reminds us:

“Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, but little ones are frequent.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, p. 215)

Are you looking to do something good for God today? Rather than waste your time waiting around for an opportunity to do something bigger than life, how about turning your attention to everyday life?

With big – that is, great – love!

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(March 6, 2018: Tuesday, Third Week of Lent)
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“Let our sacrifice be in your presence today…”

This line from the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel would suggest that it is possible to sacrifice something without being in God’s presence. But - as we heard so clearly and convincingly from St. Francis de Sales yesterday - it is not possible to sacrifice something apart from God’s presence because there is no place in this world in which God is not truly and fully present.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Although faith assures us of God’s presence we forget about him and behave as if God were far distant from us because we do not see him with our eyes. We really believe that God is present in all things, but because we do not reflect on this fact we act as if we did not believe it.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)

Whatever we might choose to offer and sacrifice to God today, just remember that our offerings and sacrifices are not intended to draw God’s attention to us. Rather, our offerings and sacrifices are designed to draw our attention to God!

Over and over again!

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(March 7, 2018: Wednesday, Third Week of Lent)
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“Observe them carefully…”

What is it that we should be observing carefully? As we hear in the words on the lips of Moses from the Book of Deuteronomy today, it is God’s statutes and decrees that we are to observe carefully.

When we fail to observe God’s laws carefully – regardless of how large or how little God’s laws may be, as Jesus points out in today’s Gospel from Matthew – often times it is not because we are intentionally choosing to break them as much as – once again – we have managed to forget them, and in forgetting them we manage to lose sight of them altogether.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore do not show him the respect they do after being told or reminded of his presence. However, because they do not actually see him, they easily forget his presence and having forgotten it, they still more easily lose the respect and reverence owed to him.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)

Today, do you want to make progress in observing carefully God’s statutes and decrees? You can start - as the Book of Deuteronomy reminds us – by not allowing them to slip from your memory! As the saying goes: “Out of sight, out of mind”.

Big time!

Spirituality Matters 2018: February 22nd - February 28th

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(February 22, 2018: Chair of Peter, Apostle)
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“Who do you say that I am?”

On the web site of the Catholic News Agency, we find the following entry for the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter:

“The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter celebrates the papacy and St. Peter as the first bishop of Rome. St. Peter's original name was Simon. He was married with children and was living and working in Capernaum as a fisherman when Jesus called him to be one of the Twelve Apostles. Jesus bestowed to Peter a special place among the Apostles. He was one of the three who were with Christ on special occasions, such as the Transfiguration of Christ and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was the only Apostle to whom Christ appeared on the first day after the Resurrection. Peter, in turn, often spoke on behalf of the Apostles.”

“When Jesus asked the Apostles: ‘Who do men say that the Son of Man is?’ Simon replied: ‘Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ And Jesus said: ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood have not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you: That you are Peter [Cephas, a rock], and upon this rock [Cephas] I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven’. (Mt 16:13-20) In saying this Jesus made St. Peter the head of the entire community of believers and placed the spiritual guidance of the faithful in St. Peter’s hands.”

This post on the web site continues: “However, St. Peter was not without faults…”

Now there’s an understatement. No sooner does Jesus give Peter a big “shout out” for correctly identifying him as the Christ than Jesus publically – and severely – reprimands Peter for disputing Jesus’ description of Himself as a suffering Messiah. Later on in their relationship, Peter rather lamely suggests erecting three tents while Jesus is transfigured on Mt. Tabor. Still later, Peter impetuously severs the ear of a slave belonging to the chief priests who who came to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane. After protesting his love for Jesus at the Last Supper, Peter denied Jesus not once, not twice but three times. And, of course, while Jesus spent the last hours of his life hanging on the cross, Peter was nowhere to be found.

Jesus may have called Peter “rock”, but the Savior knew Peter also had cracks. While “Chair of Peter” speaks of stability, even Peter might be described as being “off his rocker” from time to time.

However, as imperfect as Peter was, God entrusted the keys of the kingdom to him. And as imperfect as we are, Jesus continues to entrust those same keys – however obvious or innocuous – to each and every one of us.

Today, as we celebrate the “Chair of Peter,” don’t forget that Jesus has likewise prepared a chair – a place, a role – for each and every one of us in continuing the work of God’s Kingdom.

Like Peter, do we have the courage to take our place in God’s plan of salvation?

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(February 23, 2018: Friday, First Week of Lent)
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“You have heard it said…but I say to you.”

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine.
Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world what is fair?
We walk blind and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be.
Bring me a higher love, bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love, where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?

- sung by Steve Winwood

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to a “higher” love. Jesus urges us to avoid practicing or pursuing spiritual minimalism, i.e., looking to do only the bare minimum of what is required or living life by the “good enough” method. Jesus clearly raises the bar when he tells his listeners that it isn’t just enough to avoid killing your neighbor, but you must also avoid growing angry with – or holding a grudge against – your neighbor. Indeed, you must be reconciled with your neighbor.

It isn’t enough to “do no harm”. We must be devoted to doing the good. Jesus’ “higher love” is really at the heart of Francis’ notion of “devotion”. He wrote:

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to God’s Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only make us do good but also do the good carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion…In addition, it arouses us to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired.” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 1)

For his part, St. Francis de Sales also challenges us to avoid spiritual minimalism. It isn’t good enough to avoid lying; we must be truthful. It isn’t good enough to avoid gluttony; we must be disciplined. It isn’t good enough to avoid being parsimonious; we must be generous. It isn’t good enough to avoid injuring others; we must heal others.

And so today, we pray: God, help us to live by a higher standard – help us to practice a higher love.

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(February 24, 2018: Saturday, First Week of Lent)
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"Be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul..."

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to the Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also do this carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Indeed, “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord”!

Carefully, frequently and promptly!

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(February 25, 2018: Second Sunday of Lent)
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“He was transfigured before their eyes and his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than the work of any bleacher could make them.”

Something remarkable happened on that mountain.

Consider the possibility that it was not Jesus who was transfigured. Perhaps it was Peter, James and John who were transformed. Imagine that this account from Mark’s Gospel documents the experience of Peter, James and John as their eyes were opened - their vision widened - enabling them to see without any impediment the virtually blinding light of Jesus’ love that flowed from every fiber of his being.

Indeed, in each and every day of Jesus’ life something of that remarkable brilliance, that remarkable passion and that remarkable glory was revealed to people of all ages, stages and states of life. The shepherds and magi saw it; the elders in the temple saw it; the guests at a wedding feast saw it; a woman caught in adultery saw it; a boy possessed by demons saw it; a man born blind saw it; a good thief saw it.

If so many others could recognize Jesus’ glory in a word, a glance or a touch, why might Peter, James and John have required such extra effort in helping them to see it? Perhaps, it was because they were so close to Jesus. Perhaps, it was because they were with him every day. Perhaps, it was because, on some level, they had somehow taken his glory for granted.

What about us? Do we recognize that same divine glory present in us, present in others, present in creation and present in even the simplest and most ordinary, everyday experiences of justice, truth, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion?

Or do we take it for granted?

St. Francis de Sales saw the Transfiguration as a “glimpse of heaven.” May we grow in our ability, through the quality of our lives, to make that “glimpse of heaven” more clearly visible and available to the eyes – and in the lives – of others. May God help us to recognize the remarkable things that occur every day in our own lives…and in the lives of one another.

Today!

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(February 26, 2018: Monday, Second Week of Lent)
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“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful…”

What does it mean to be merciful as the Father is merciful? As the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel suggests, it is about being generous and loyal. Daniel wrote:

“Lord, great and awesome, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those people who love you and observe your commandments!”

Daniel then proceeds to remind his audience that the Lord also keeps his merciful covenant with those people who rebel against God’s commandments and laws through sin, evil and wickedness. Of course – as we know from our own experience - there is something of both within each one of us, because each one obeys and disobeys God’s commandments. And still, for all that, God remains loyal to us in good times, in bad times and in all the times in between. God stands by us in all things. God loves us no matter what. God is, after all, “compassion and forgiveness”.

Of course, God’s mercy, generosity and fidelity come with some very high expectations. God’s forgiveness should lead us to practice compassion, not complacence. As God doesn’t judge us, so we should not judge others! As God doesn’t condemn us, so we should not condemn others! As God forgives us, so we should forgive others! As God gives to us, so we should give to others! The measure with which we measure to others should measure up to how generously God measures to us…in all kinds of times, places and situations!

Would you like to be “great and awesome” in the eyes of God? Then try to do your level best to be merciful to others today as God is clearly merciful to you!

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(February 27, 2018: Tuesday, Second Week of Lent)
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“Let us set things right…”

Today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah offers us some particularly appropriate and timely advice as we continue to journey through Lent. We are challenged to:

  • Wash ourselves clean
  • To put aside our misdeeds
  • To cease doing evil
  • To learn to do good
  • To be willing to obey
In short, we are called to do the right thing.

Of course, we know from our own lived experience that as hard as we try to do the right thing, we don’t always get it right. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offers us a practical for-instance:

“I constantly advise you that prayers directed against and pressing anger must always be said calmly and peaceably, and not violently. Thus rule must be observed in all steps taken against evil. However, as soon as you see that you are guilty of a wrathful deed, correct the fault right away by an act of meekness toward the person with whom you were anger. It is a sovereign remedy against lying to contradict the untruth upon the spot as soon as we realize that we have told one. So also we must repair our anger instantly by a contrary act of meekness. Fresh wounds are quickest healed, as the saying goes…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 8, pp. 148-149)

So, what is the moral? When it comes to doing good, we can always try our level best to make things right at a later time (but not too late!) in the event that we don’t always get things right the first time.

Lent might be a perfect time to do just that!

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(February 28, 2018: Wednesday, Second Week of Lent)
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“What do you wish…?”

“What’s in it for me?” On some level that’s essentially what the mother of James and John is asking Jesus in today’s Gospel story. Whether her sons put her up to it or she came up with it all by herself, she is basically asking, “Why should my sons follow you? What’s the pay-off?” On the face of it, her request is perhaps reasonable, given Jesus’ prediction of his own falling out with the chief priests and the scribes that will lead to his being condemned, mocked, scourged and crucified. She wants some guarantee that her boys will have something to show for their trouble that she intuits will invariably come.

Really – what mother wouldn’t be concerned?

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

There is no way around it – the experience of enduring injuries, denials and discomforts is part-and-parcel of the life that comes with drinking from the chalice from which Jesus drinks. Following Jesus – who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – isn’t all smiles and sunshine. And somewhere deep down inside ourselves the mother of James and John whispers to us variations of her question to Jesus: “Why are you following Him? What’s in it for you? What do you hope to get out of this?”

“Must good be repaid with evil?” Some days it sure feels that way! Be that as it may, why do we continue to follow Jesus? Why do we drink from the chalice from which He drank?

Today, ask yourself the question: “What’s in it for me?”

Spirituality Matters 2018: February 15th - February 21st

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(February 15, 2018: Thursday after Ash Wednesday)
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“If you are led astray and serve other gods…you will certainly perish…”

Other gods – idols – are defined as “an object of extreme devotion”. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales cautions us from going to extremes when it comes to fasting or any other form of devotion. Beginning with a quote from St. Jerome, he wrote:

“’Long, immoderate fasts displease me very much…I have learned by experience that when an ass’ foal grows tired, it tends to wander away,’ meaning that those who are weakened by excessive fasting easily turn to soft living. Stags run poorly in two situations – when they are too fat and when they are too lean. We are very exposed to temptation both when our bodies are too pampered and when they are too run down, for the one makes the body demanding in its softened state and the other desperate in affliction. Just as we cannot support the body when it is too fat, so, too, it cannot support us when it is too thin. Lack of moderation in fasting and other forms of austerity makes many people’s best years useless for the service of charity. After all, the more some people mistreat the body in the beginning, the more they tend to pamper it in the end. Wouldn’t people do better to have a program that is balanced and in keeping with the duties and tasks their state in life obliges them to do?” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 185)

A word of advice: When it comes to fasting of the body, the mind, the soul or spirit, avoid the temptation of going to extremes.

Today and every day.

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(February 16, 2018: Friday after Ash Wednesday)
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“This is the fasting that I wish…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Both fasting and labor mortify and subdue the flesh. If your work is necessary for you to contribute to God’s glory, I much prefer that you endure the pains of work rather than of fasting. Such is the mind of the Church, for it exempts those who are working in the service of God and our neighbor even from prescribed fasts. One mind finds it difficult to fast, another to take care of the sick, visit prisoners, hear confessions, preach, comfort the afflicted, pray and perform similar tasks. These last sufferings are of far greater value than the first. In addition to disciplining the body, they produce much more desirable fruits…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 186)

And what are these “more desirable fruits”? Isaiah names a few: “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

Today, what is the kind of fasting that God may wish from us? The answer - in general, the sacrifice, discipline and self-mastery that come more from focusing on what we can try to do, rather than on what we can try to do without.

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(February 17, 2018: Saturday after Ash Wednesday)
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"If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech…light shall rise for you in the darkness..."

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. B eon guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say everything that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. You must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purposes, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth.’ As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or slippery soul. No artifice comes close to being so good and desirable as plain dealing …” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Whether in fasting from telling lies – or being committed to telling the truth – what steps can we take today to make the light rise a bit higher and brighter in the darkness for ourselves and others by the type of speech we choose to speak?

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(February 18, 2018: First Sunday of Lent)
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“Jesus was led into the desert…to be tempted by the devil…”

In a reflection entitled “Devils Big and Small”, Blessed Louis Brisson, OSFS observed:

“My children, we read in the Gospel (for the First Sunday of Lent) about the temptation of Our Lord in the desert. He willed to undergo temptations of various kinds - the temptation to sensuality and ease, the temptation to pride and the desire to be the master, and finally the temptation to amass riches.”

“Everyone experiences temptations of one kind or another. Whatever your temptation is, my children, you must stand firm and dismiss it courageously.”

“Sometimes it happens that temptation does not spring entirely from us. I know at times we have the temptation to do something that is forbidden, but this is not all our doing. The tempter, the devil, has a great part in it. Consider what we must do then. Following the example of Our Lord, we must say to the devil, ‘Be gone, Satan!’”

“When this big devil leaves, a little devil stays behind. This little devil seems less annoying and he is more easily accepted than the big devil. He is not so readily dismissed. We willingly listen to him, because he does not suggest very big things. He merely flatters the little, secret inclinations of our self-love.”

“Be very generous, my children. Send away this little personal devil as quickly as the big one. He is more dangerous because he is more suggestive and persistent. He does not appear so bad, but take care. Do what Our Lord did. Say, ‘Be gone, Satan!’ Do not listen to big devils or little ones.”

So today, be it big or small, what is it that bedevils you of which you would like to be freed?

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(February 19, 2018: Monday, First Week of Lent)
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“You shall not…”

Today’s first reading from the Book of Leviticus makes it quite clear: if you want to be holy as the Lord is holy, there are many things that God expects us to avoid. The things on the “do not do” list include:

  • Stealing
  • Lying
  • Slandering
  • Defrauding
  • Cursing
  • Hating
  • Taking revenge
  • Holding grudges
  • Spreading slander
  • Being unjust
  • Being idle
  • Causing others to stumble
While enjoying success in avoiding these vices may be noteworthy, there is more to life than merely refraining from doing bad; there is also the matter of actually doing good! On the topic of how to resist temptations to do wrong, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Despise these assaults and do not deign even to think about what they propose. Let them buzz around your ears as much as they like and flit around you on every side like flies. When they try to sting you and you see that they somehow light on your heart, be content with quietly removing them. Don’t do this by struggling or disputing with the temptations but by performing some actions of a contrary virtue, especially acts of love of God…This is the best way to overcome the enemy in small as well as in great temptations…” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 49, p. 249)

So, in the Salesian tradition, rather than focus on how to avoid the “do not do” list, we’d be better off pursuing the “to do” list:

  • Be generous
  • Be honest
  • Be honest
  • Bless
  • Love
  • Forgive
  • Let go
  • Circulate truth
  • Act justly
  • Get busy
  • Hold others up
In other words, what better way to “shall not” than to “shall do”?

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(February 20, 2018: Tuesday, First Week of Lent)
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“In praying, do not babble like the pagans…”

In the book Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal - Letters of Spiritual Direction, we read:

“The way in which St. Jane de Chantal was drawn by God was a contemplative type of prayer which she referred to as the prayer of ‘simple attentiveness’ or ‘simple entrustment to God’. This prayer consisted in a hidden and quiet waiting, an expectant attention to the presence of God. It was a virtually imageless and wordless type of prayer to which she had been drawn early in her own development.”

“It was this prayer which later became the inner charism of the Order of the Visitation and about which she wrote: ‘When the time comes to present ourselves before His divine Goodness to speak to Him face to face, which is what we call prayer, simply the presence of our spirit before His and His before ours forms prayer whether or not we have fine thoughts or feelings…He is touched with the prayer of a soul so simple, humble and surrendered to His will.’” (LSD, pp. 84 – 85)

Prayer isn’t always about saying a lot to God or doing a lot for God. Sometimes, prayer is simply about being…with God.

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(February 21, 2018: Wednesday, First Week of Lent)
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“There is something greater here…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“‘Woe to you, Corozain! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had have long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes.’ Such is the word of Our Savior. Hear the, I beg you, Theotimus, how the inhabitants of Corozain and Bethsaida, instructed in the true religion, and having received favors so great that they would effectually have converted the pagans themselves, remained nevertheless obstinate, and never wished to avail themselves of those favors, and by an unparalleled rebellion rejected that holy light. In truth, ‘at the day of judgment the men of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba will rise up against the Jews, and will convict them as worthy of damnation: because, as to the Ninevites, though idolaters and barbarians, at the voice of Jonas they were converted and did penance; and as to the Queen of Sheba, she, though engaged in the affairs of a kingdom, yet having heard the renown of Solomon's wisdom, forsook all, to go and hear him. Yet the Jews, hearing with their own ears the heavenly wisdom of the true Solomon, the Savior of the world; seeing with their own eyes his miracles; touching with their own hands his virtues and benefits; they did not cease to harden their hearts and to resist the grace which was so freely and powerfully offered to them. See then again, Theotimus, how they who had less attractions are brought to penance, and those who had more remain obdurate: those who have less occasion to come, come to the school of wisdom, and those who have more, stay in their folly…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 10, pp. 126 – 127)

Why is it that the people you would least expect are the ones who “get it” when it comes to the love of God? They may not be very sophisticated and they might be slow to see the big picture, yet their hearts are touched and changed by their realization of the enormity of God’s love for them. They open their hearts to their own delight!

By contrast, why it is that the people who should know better are frequently enough the very ones who don’t “get it”? They might be very wise and they may have a lot going for them, yet still they never manage to allow the love of God to get through to them. They harden their hearts at their own peril.

In the midst of our day-to-day lives there is, indeed, “something greater here”.

Do we get that?

Spirituality Matters 2018: February 8th - February 14th

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(February 8, 2018: Thursday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children's scraps."

We see a test of wills in today’s Gospel. A local woman is determined to wrest a miracle for her daughter from Jesus, but Jesus seems equally determined to deny her request. While Jesus appears committed to saying “no” to this woman’s plea, the woman appears equally determined to refuse to take “no” for an answer. Clearly, this scene has all the makings of a “Syrophoenician stand-off”.

In both cases, Jesus and the woman are persistent. They are both determined to persevere.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Our Savior attaches to the great gift of perseverance the supreme gift of eternal glory, as He has said, ‘The one who shall persevere to the end shall be saved.’ This gift is simply the sum total and sequence by which we continue in God’s love up to the end, just as the education, raising and training of a child are simply the acts of care, help and assistance…Perseverance is the most desirable gift we can hope for in this life. It is in our power to persevere. Of course, I do not mean that our perseverance takes its origin from our power. On the contrary, I know that it springs from God’s mercy, whose most precious gift it is.” (Book 3, Chapter 4, p. 174)

Jesus credits the Syrophoenician woman’s persistence – her perseverance – for granting her request to heal her daughter.

Today, how determined are we in our attempts to bring our needs – and the needs of those we love – to the Lord?

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(February 9, 2018: Friday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“People brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.”

Jesus was only too happy to grant their request to heal a deaf man with a speech impediment. As we see in the Gospel account today, however, Jesus did much more than simply lay his hand on him. He took him apart from the crowd. Jesus placed his finger in the man’s ears. Spitting, Jesus placed his finger on the man’s tongue.

Jesus healed people in a variety of ways. Sometimes he simply said a word. Sometimes he gave a direct command. Sometimes he followed someone to their home. Sometimes he healed from far away. Sometimes he healed in public. And sometimes – as seen in today’s account from Mark’s Gospel – Jesus’ healing is private: intimately up-close and personal.

Ask yourself this question: how might you need Jesus to heal you today? Then, ask yourself another question: how might Jesus need you to heal someone else today?

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(February 10, 2018: Saturday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“My heart is moved with pity…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Compassion, sympathy, commiseration or pity is simply an affection that makes us share the sufferings and sorrows of ones we love and draws the misery that they endure into our own hearts…” (Book V, Chapter 4, p. 243)

As we see clearly in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ compassion is more than affection; it is more than a feeling. While he clearly makes the neediness of others his own, Jesus does more than that - he does something about the neediness. Jesus satisfies the hunger. Jesus heals the pain. Jesus breaks the chains. Jesus confronts the injustice.

Every time Jesus’ compassionate heart is moved, something good happens to others.

Today, will the same be said for our hearts? Is our compassion more than just a feeling? Does our compassion lead to action?

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(February 11, 2018: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“They shall declare themselves unclean. They shall dwell apart, making their abode outside the camp.”

“Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “Be cured.”

St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life: “There is scarcely anyone without some imperfections.” (Part 3, Chapter 22)

We have a good handle on the imperfections, vices, idiosyncrasies and even the sins of those with whom we work, we play, we neighbor and we live each day.

Most days we overlook them. Some days we put up with them. Other days, we might even make excuses for them. Occasionally, we dwell on – maybe even magnify – them.

However, sometimes it is necessary to draw attention to things in other people that blemish their potential for happiness, health, and holiness. Maybe, we need to take the risk to name the sins, the faults and the wounds in others that prevent them from being more of the person God calls them to be. And maybe, we need to reflect on those social, spiritual, psychological or relational sores of others that rob them of their full citizenship as sons and daughters of the living, loving and saving God.

The Scriptures contrast two very different methods for doing this process. One approach draws attention to others’ sins in order to isolate them, ostracize them or distance them from the community. The other approach – Jesus’ approach – is to draw them even more closely into the life of the community, to create a space in which the ‘unclean’ can experience healing, strength, and a new lease on life.

Ask yourself the question: When you do draw attention to the imperfections, the warts, the blemishes of others, why do you do it? To distance yourself from them? To embarrass them? To humiliate them? Or are you reaching out and/or reaching into the heart of others? Is your goal to create a space of truth in which they can experience healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and strength?

While it may sometimes be necessary to pay attention to the imperfections, the sins or the blemishes of others, it is always necessary for us to be honest about our own sin and weakness. We need to be clear and unambiguous about our own need for healing and forgiveness. We need to be clear about our own need for friends who will not only tell us what we want to hear about ourselves, but who will also consistently have the courage to tell us what we need to know about ourselves.

Today, let us give thanks to God for those friends who do us this wonderful service!

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(February 12, 2018: Monday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly…”

This week we begin another season of Lent.

Someone once suggested that Lent is kind of like a Christian version of New Year: an opportunity to make – and follow through with – resolutions for how we might become the best (or at least, better) version of ourselves.

Pursuing of life of devotion (holiness, health, wellness, etc.) is nuanced by each individual person. After all, Francis de Sales reminds us that devotion adapts itself to the strengths, situations and limitations constitutive of each unique individual. That said, what is common to all people who are serious about growing in holiness is a willingness to do two things: to pursue virtue and eschew vice.

This can be a daunting challenge, especially as we grow older. Some virtues seems more difficult than others to master. Some vices seem nearly impossible to shake. The good news (as we hear in today’s first reading) is that whatever it is that we lack – be it the ability to accomplish good and/or the ability to avoid evil – don’t overlook one of the most important strategies for becoming the best (or at least better) version of yourself - ask God for help! James tells us:

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.”

As we prepare to begin yet another Lenten journey – an opportunity to increase the good and to eschew anything which diminishes the good – may we have the presence of mind and heart to ask God for anything in which we might be lacking.

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(February 13, 2018: Tuesday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“All good giving and every perfect gift is from above…”

Tomorrow we begin yet another season of Lent, a period of time during which many of us will – among other things – engage in fasting. Of course, fasting is not an end in itself, but rather it is a means to an end. As such, fasting is one of a number of means at our disposal for pursuing in our own unique ways the common vocation to which God calls each and every one of us – to be holy people, to live holy lives. (Francis de Sales calls holiness “devotion”; contemporary spiritual writer Matthew Kelly describes holiness as being “the best possible version of ourselves.”)

Regardless of how you image, define or understand what it means to be holy, Francis de Sales is very clear that if you are going to employ fasting as a means of growing in holiness, you can’t settle for half measures. When it comes to fasting, he says that you have to be “all in”. He observed:

“Your fasting should be entire and universal. That is, you should submit all of the members of your body and the powers of your soul to fasting. Keeping your eyes lowered, keeping better silence, or at least keeping it more punctually that usual, mortifying your hearing and your tongue so that you will no longer hear or speak of anything vain or useless, keeping your will in check and maintaining your spirit of the crucifix with some holy or humbling thoughts: if you do all this, your fast will be universal, interior and exterior, for you will be disciplining both your body and your spirit.” (Living Jesus, p. 110)

A word of caution may be appropriate here. It is very tempting to see Lent as a season during which we do things (e.g., fasting, giving up and doing without) for God in very deliberate and intentional ways. Perhaps this very attitude should be the primary focus of our fasting – to refrain from thinking that holiness is all about what we do. After all, when you get right down to it (as today’s first reading reminds us), holiness is less about what we are doing for God and far more about what we allow God to do in us:

“All good giving and every perfect gift is from above…”

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(February 14, 2018: Ash Wednesday)
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Lent is a time when each of us is challenged to recognize our need for conversion. We are invited to closely examine our relationship with God, ourselves and one another. Simply put, Lent asks us to name those sins, vices, weaknesses -- anything -- that may prevent us from growing in thought, word and deed in our God-given dignity.

A popular way of ritualizing this inner journey is to "give up" something for Lent. Some refrain from tobacco; others eschew alcohol; still others pass up all desserts. Some of us may give up something good during Lent; some of us may give up something bad during Lent, and still others may give up a combination of both.

Using traditional language, Lent is a time for fasting. Fasting, however, is only half of the story. Lent, in its fullest expression, is also a season for feasting!

In their book A Sense of Sexuality, (Doubleday 1989) Drs. Evelyn and James Whitehead remind us that "fasting, at its finest, is neither solely punishment nor denial. We fast not only to avoid evils but to recapture forgotten goods." Put another way, “the 'no' of fasting is fruitful only if we have some deeply valued 'yes' in our life." The arduous discipline of feasting complements our fasting; we need something for which to fast.

That's right. Feasting requires no less discipline than fasting. The discipline of feasting celebrates well and heartily the God-given blessings that we enjoy without engaging in selfishness and excess.

Lent, then, is as much a matter of “doin”’ as it is of "doing without". St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

“Both fasting and working mortify and discipline us. If the work you undertake contributes to the glory of God and to your own welfare, I much prefer that you should endure the discipline of working than that of fasting.”

He continued:

“One person may find it painful to fast, another to serve the sick, to visit prisoners, to hear confessions, to preach, to assist the needy, to pray, and to perform similar exercised. These latter pains have as much value as the former.”

Whether through fasting or feasting, turning away from sin or turning toward virtue, these forty days of Lent are about our “insides”: our heart, mind, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, hopes and fears. It is the journey of the soul and spirit. “As for myself,” says Francis de Sales, “it seems to me that we ought to begin with the interior.”

And so we pray: God give us the grace to make a new beginning with the first of these forty days....and with every day that will follow hereafter.

Spirituality Matters 2018: February 1st - February 7th

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(February 1, 2018: Thursday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Do you seriously wish to travel the road to devotion? ‘A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality, and those who fear the Lord find him.’ As you see, these divine words refer chiefly to immortality, and for this we above all else have this faithful friend who by advice and counsel guides our actions and thus protects us from the snares and deceits of the wicked one. For us such a friend will be a treasure of wisdom in affliction, sorrow and failure. He will serve as a medicine to ease and comfort our hearts. He will guard us from evil and make our good still better. You must have a guide (or companion) on this holy road to devotion.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 4, p. 46)

When Jesus sent his followers out to preach the Good News, he did not send them out alone. Jesus used the “buddy system,” sending them out together, in pairs. In the mind of God being a disciple of Jesus has nothing to do with being a lone wolf.

Today, what is the lesson for us? The road of life is sometimes lonely enough without trying to travel it alone. Just as in the case of the first disciples we, too, – disciples of Jesus – need to stick together.

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(February 2, 2018: Presentation of the Lord)
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"Since the children are people of blood and flesh, Jesus likewise has a full share in these..."

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that He wills all of us to be saved that no one can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose, God made us ‘in his own image and likeness’ by creation, and by the Incarnation God has made himself in our image and likeness, after which he suffered death in order to ransom and save all mankind.” ( Treatise on the Love of God, Book 8, Chapter 4)

We are probably somewhat familiar with the notion that through creation we are made in God’s image and likeness. In contrast, we are probably far less familiar with the notion that God - through the Incarnation - made Himself in our image and likeness. Familiar or not, both are true.

St. Francis de Sales was captivated by the notion that God loved us so much that He not only came among us, but he also became one of us! God took on our very nature! In the person of Jesus, God gained and experienced first-hand knowledge of what it means to sleep, to wake, to work, to rest, to dance, to cry, to mourn, to struggle, to succeed and to dream. In these actions Jesus not only redeems what it means to be human, but Jesus also celebrates what it means to be human - to be human as God dreams.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews likewise believed this truth. He writes that “Jesus had a full share” in blood and flesh...and “had to become like his brothers (and sisters) in every way.” In this way, Jesus could not only redeem us but also he could truly understand us.

This truth is indeed a great mystery and a supreme expression of intimacy. God so loved us that he took on our nature…He made himself into our image and likeness – the truest and best nature as God intended from the beginning of time. In a manner of speaking, through the Incarnation God shows us how to be comfortable in our own skin. How? By showing us that God is comfortable in our skin in the person of his son, Jesus Christ!

Put simply, it is in God’s nature to meet us where – and how – we are.

Today, how can we imitate God’s example through our willingness to meet others where and how they are?

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(February 3, 2018: Blaise, Bishop and Martyr)
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"His heart was moved…for they were like sheep without a shepherd..."

In today’s Gospel we hear that Jesus’ heart was moved by the sight of the crowd who “were like sheep without a shepherd.” In other words, the people were lost.

“Lost” is defined as:

  • not made use of, won, or claimed
  • no longer possessed or no longer known
  • ruined or destroyed physically or morally
  • taken away or beyond reach or attainment
  • unable to find the way
  • no longer visible
  • lacking assurance or self-confidence
  • helpless
  • not appreciated or understood
  • obscured or overlooked during a process or activity
  • hopelessly unattainable
It’s safe to say that we all have the experience of being “lost” from time-to-time. Sometimes, we might experience being “lost” in any number of ways for long periods of time. Fortunately for us, one of the reasons that Jesus became one of us was to find the lost.

Consider yourself found!

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(February 4, 2018: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Is not our life on earth drudgery?”

Let's face it. Try as we might to always look at the bright side of life, each and every one of us have times in our lives when we would answer Job's question with a resounding "yes."

The burdens of life are real. Setbacks in life are painful. Headaches - and heartaches - are a part of being human. We need to be honest. We need to name and address those areas of our lives in which we feel weighed down and burdened. However, wallowing in or dwelling upon the negative can be far more dangerous and debilitating to our spiritual, emotional, psychological, social and mental health than the troubles themselves.

Francis de Sales observed that dwelling on the burdens of life “upsets the soul, arouses inordinate fears, creates disgust for prayer, stupefies and oppresses the brain, deprives the mind of prudence, resolution, judgment and courage, and destroys its strength. In a word, such sorrow is like a severe winter that spoils all the beauty of the country and weakens all the animals. It takes away all sweetness from the soul and renders it disabled.”

What is the best remedy for melancholy, for the temptation to focus only on what is wrong, what is broken and what is painful? The combination of prayer, good works, and good friends:

Prayer – “Prayer is a sovereign remedy for it lifts up the soul to God who is our joy and consolation."

Good works – “By means of sorrow the evil one tries to make us weary of doing what is good, but if he sees that we won't give up on doing good, then he will stop troubling us.”

Good friends – “Humbly and sincerely reveal to another all the feelings, affections and suggestions that proceed from your sadness. Try to talk to spiritual friends frequently and spend time with them as much as you possibly can during this period” of dryness.

St. Francis de Sales claimed “the evil one is pleased with sadness and melancholy because he himself is sad and melancholy and will be so for all eternity. Hence, Satan desires that everyone should be like himself.” Hence, the expression “misery loves company”.

In the face of life's burdens and difficulties let's do our level best to deprive the evil one of our company and walk in the company of prayerful, positive and proactive people.

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(February 5, 2018: Monday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“They begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.”

People continued to bring the sick – and themselves – to be healed by Jesus. The account in today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark provides an interesting detail: those coming to Jesus for help believed that if they merely touched his clothing they would experience healing power.

It would seem that just a little bit of Jesus – even the smallest touch of Jesus – went a very long way.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote: “Among sacred lovers there are some who so completely devote themselves to exercises of divine love that its holy fire devours and consumes their life…” (Book VII, Chapter 10, p. 41) Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of this love. His love for others was so intense that even the smallest sampling of it changed forever the lives of those he touched.

Today, can the same be said of our love?

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(February 6, 2018: Tuesday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “Remember that God is not only in the place where you are: God is present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit.” (Part II, Chapter 2, p. 85)

Each of us is a dwelling place of the Lord. By extension, this reality makes each of us a lovely sight to behold in the eyes of God.

Do we see and treat ourselves – and others – in the same way?

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(February 7, 2018: Wednesday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Physicians learn a great deal about a person’s health or sickness by looking at the tongue. In the same way, our words are a true indication of the state of our souls. ‘By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned,’ says the Savior. ‘The mouth of the just man shall meditate on wisdom and his tongue shall speak of judgment.’”

“An evil word falling into a weak heart grows and spreads like a drop of oil on a piece of linen cloth. Sometimes it seizes the heart in such a way as to fill it with a thousand unclean thoughts and temptations. Just as bodily poison enters through the mouth, so what poisons the heart enters through the ear and the tongue that utters it is guilty of murder…” (IDL, p. 193; 195)

Do you want to check the state of your spiritual health? Then start the diagnosis by examining the words that come out of your mouth.

Spirituality Matters 2018: January 25th - January 31st

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(January 25, 2018: Conversion of Paul, Apostle)
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St. Francis de Sales had a special place in his heart for the person whose conversion we celebrate - Paul of Tarsus. Throughout his writings Francis not only refers to Paul by name but Francis also refers to Paul by two titles reserved solely for him: “The Apostle” and “The Great Apostle.”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:

“The glorious St. Paul speaks thus. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, constancy and chastity.’ See how this divine Apostle enumerates these twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit but sets them down as only one fruit. He does not say, ‘The fruits of the Spirit are…,’ but rather ‘the fruit of the Spirit is…’ Charity is truly the sole fruit of the Holy Spirit, but this one fruit has an infinite number of excellent properties…He means that divine love gives us inward joy and consolation together with great peace of heart, which is preserved in adversity by patience. It makes us kind and gracious in helping our neighbor with a heartfelt goodness toward him. Such goodness is not whimsical; it is constant and persevering and gives us enduring courage by which we are rendered mild, pleasant and considerate to all others. We put up with their moods and imperfections. We keep perfect faith with them, as we thus testify to a simplicity accompanied with trust both in our words and in our actions. We live modestly and humbly, leaving aside all that is luxurious and in excess regarding food and drink, clothing, sleep, play, recreation and other such desires and pleasures. Above all, we discipline the inclinations and rebellions of the flesh by vigilant chastity. All this so to the end that our entire being may be given over to divine dilection both interiorly by joy, patience, long-suffering goodness and fidelity, but also exteriorly by kindness, mildness, modesty, constancy and chastity.” (Book 11, Chapter 19)

From what we see in the life of St. Paul, he obviously did more than merely speak of the fruit of the Spirit. He lived it. His life was transformed by it. He shared it as a gift with all those whose lives he touched. Like Francis de Sales, may we not only admire the example of “the glorious St. Paul,” but also let us imitate his example in our own lives. Let us do our level best to embody and share the gift of the Spirit which indeed has so many excellent properties.

Today!

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(January 26, 2018: Timothy and Titus, Bishops)
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“Stir into flame the gift of God that you have…a spirit of power and love and self-control.”

In his preface to his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales himself observed:

“I foresee that many people will say that is it only members of religious communities and persons dedicated to devotion who should give special direction in piety, that such things require more leisure than a bishop in charge of a diocese as large as mine can have, and that such an undertaking is too distracting for a mind that should be employed in matters of importance. For my part, I tell you that it is primarily the duty of the bishop to lead souls to perfection, since their order is as supreme among men as that of the seraphim among angels. Hence their leisure cannot be better employed than in such work. The ancient bishops and fathers of the Church were at last as careful about their duties as we are, yet, as we see from their letters, they did not refuse to take charge of the particular conduct of souls who turned to them for assistance. In this they imitated the apostles who, while working with special and particular affection to gather all men, picked out certain extraordinary ears of grain. Who does not know that Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Onesimus, Tecla and Appia were the dear children of the great St. Paul…?”

Tempted - as very busy people may be - to perceive other people as obstacles to getting things done, Francis de Sales (no doubt inspired as he was with the example of Paul’s willingness to mentor, support and encourage his would-be protégé’s, Timothy and Titus in the work of proclaiming and living the Gospel) reminds us that the work with which each of us is charged is people – God’s people. There is no work, no ministry, and no job so important as to distract us from pursuing what really matters in this life - to lead, encourage and support one another in our quest for perfection.

Francis de Sales reminds us in another section of his Introduction, “This life is only a journey to the happy life to come. We must march on as a band of brothers and sisters, companions united in meekness, peace and love.” This march is our work. This march is our life: to journey together on the paths to perfection, i.e., to bring out the best in ourselves and in one another.

One person – one day – at a time!

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(January 27, 2018: Saturday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Why are you terrified?”

It’s a great question that Jesus proposes to his disciples in today’s Gospel. For our part, we could probably list any number of things in our own lives that have scared, frightened or even terrified us in the past, that could scare, frighten or terrify us in the future or perhaps are scaring, frightening or terrifying us at this very moment. The fact of the matter is that every life comes with its share of things, situations and events that actually should terrify us!

In a letter to Angelique Arnauld, the Abbess of Port Royal, Francis de sales wrote:

“‘Oh, unhappy man that I am,’ said the great apostle, ‘who will deliver me from the body of this death?’ St. Paul felt as if an army, made up of his moods, aversions, habits and natural inclinations had conspired to bring about his spiritual death. Because they terrified him, he showed that he despised them. Because he despised them, he could not endure them without pain. His pain made him cry out this way and then answer his own cry by asserting that the grace of God through Jesus Christ will indeed defend him, but not from fear, or terror, or alarm nor from the fight; rather, from defeat and from being overcome.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, pp. 172-173)

There are things in life that scare, frighten and terrify us for good reason. Jesus is not asking us to never experience these (or other) emotions when they come upon us with good reason; rather Jesus is asking us to remember (as was the case with the disciples in today’s Gospel) that in the midst of whatever storms and surges that we may experience in life, we are never alone!

Jesus is always – and forever – with us.

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(January 28, 2018: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“I should like you to be free of all anxieties.”

Sure! Where do I sign up???

We can certainly appreciate Saint Paul's prayer this Sunday that we should “be free of all anxieties”. Don't we all wish that we could be free of all anxieties? The truth is that all of us worry and fret about things. In some cases, given the challenges that life can throw at us, we should worry if we didn't worry!

Worry is a part of life. Worry challenges us to respond to something in our lives that needs attention, to respond to something that needs to be addressed or to respond to something that needs to be examined and, where possible, to be achieved, remedied or, at least, improved. Of course, we also know from experience that many of the things for which we hope also rely upon the actions of others…including God.

The problem is that worry can turn into anxiety. While worry is usually focused upon specific issues, concerns, people or events, anxiety is a free-floating emotion that can cripple our ability to deal with the challenges of life. “Anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall the soul, sin excepted,” writes St. Francis de Sales. “Anxiety arises from an inordinate desire to be freed from the evil we experience or to acquire the good for which we hope. Yet, there is nothing which so aggravates the evil or impedes the good as anxiety.”

Francis de Sales suggests that we should monitor our anxiety levels: “Consider whether your heart is under your control, or if it has escaped from your hands to entangle itself in some inordinate attachment of love, hatred, envy, avarice, fear, weariness or joy. If it has wandered, go after it and bring it back quite gently to the presence of God.”

Of course, prevention is the best cure. “When you experience the beginning of anxiety, entrust yourself to God. Decide to do nothing of what your desire urges you until the anxiety has passed away completely, unless it is something that cannot be postponed. In such a case you must restrain and control the course of your desire with a gentle and peaceful effort. Above all, act reasonably, not emotionally.”

In the midst of our worldly worries, may God preserve us from anxiety. May we center ourselves in the heart of a loving God as we embrace our daily ups, downs and everything in between. May God help us in our efforts to prevent moments of worry from becoming a way of life.

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(January 29, 2018: Monday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with Him, but Jesus would not permit him…”

The story in today’s Gospel is but one of many occasions in which people – after having encountering Jesus – expressed their desire to follow Him, only to have their request denied. Whether in the case of the man possessed by many demons or in the cases of so many other people whose lives were forever changed by an encounter with Jesus, his directive to “go home” must have been a real let-down.

Especially in the case of John the Baptist!

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal (14 October, 1604), Francis de Sales wrote:

“I have often wondered who is the most mortified of the saints I know, and after some reflection I have come to the conclusion that is was John the Baptist. He knew that our Savior came to earth in a place quite close by, perhaps only one or two days’ journey away. How his heart, touched with love of his Savior from the time he was in his mother’s womb must have longed to enjoy his presence. Yet he spends twenty-five years in the desert without coming to see Our Lord even once; and leaving the desert he stays to catechize without visiting him but waiting until Our Lord comes to seek him out. Then when he has baptized him he does not follow him but remains behind to do his appointed task…The example of this great saint overwhelms me with its grandeur.” (Conference XIV, p. 259)

It is easy to forget that after their encounter in the River Jordan during which John baptized Jesus, John remained behind while Jesus moved on. Yet, who would deny that John was, nevertheless, a follower – a disciple – of the Lord? As it turns out, there is more than one way to follow Jesus. While some announce what the Lord has done for them in unfamiliar or faraway places, others announce what the Lord has done for them right in their own homes and neighborhoods.

Just this day, whether it is in a place half-a-world away or right in your own back yard, how can you “follow” Jesus by giving witness to others for all that the Lord has done for you?

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(January 30, 2018: Tuesday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Please come and lay your hands on her…If I but touch his clothes I will be cured.”

People continued to approach Jesus on behalf of the sick – and on behalf of themselves – to be healed by Jesus. The account in today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark provides an interesting detail: folks coming to Jesus for help believed that if Jesus merely touched them or if they merely touched Jesus, they would experience healing power.

It would seem that just a little bit of Jesus – even the smallest touch of Jesus – went a very, very long way.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote: “Among sacred lovers there are some who so completely devote themselves to exercises of divine love that its holy fire devours and consumes their life…” (Book VII, Chapter 10, p. 41) Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of this love. His love for others was so intense and intentional that even the smallest sampling of it changed forever the lives of those he touched or as in the case of the woman burdened with a hemorrhage, those who touched him.

Today, how might the same be said of our love today. How can we – even in small ways – be sources of God’s healing power for others?

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(January 31, 2018: John Bosco, Priest and Founder)
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In his pamphlet about the life of St. Francis de Sales entitled A True Nobleman, Philip J. Pascucci, SDB wrote:

“One of Don Bosco’s nine resolutions when he was ordained to the priesthood was: ‘The sweetness and charity of St. Francis de Sales will guide me in everything.’ Francis de Sales was by nature (his biographers tell us) sensitive, somewhat irritable and hot-tempered, but, by dint of patient striving, day after day from his early years, Francis succeeded in mastering his disposition to such an extent that he became known as the gentle, kind and meek saint. Don Bosco knew from his own experience and the experience of others that his followers would need an outstanding model of these virtues in the difficult work which they would have to accomplish among (troubled and troublesome) youth. The model he chose for his followers had to be Francis de Sales.” (Page 32)

Today, how might we follow the example of John Bosco in following the example of St. Francis de Sales? How might God be calling us this day to allow the “sweetness and charity” of St. Francis de Sales to guide us in what we think, how we feel, what we say and how we relate with, for and about one another, especially with those people whom we experience as troubled or troublesome?

Spirituality Matters 2018: January 18th - January 24th

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(January 18, 2018: Thursday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Hearing what Jesus was doing, a large number of people came to him…”

As word of Jesus’ reputation for helping those in need spread, we are told in today’s Gospel that lots of folks from lots of places travelled lots of distances to see him, to behold his face, to hear his voice, to experience his healing power and know his love.

In one of his Conferences to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales remarked:

“It is very good for us to know and feel our misery and imperfection, but we must not allow that to discourage us; rather, our awareness of our miseries should make us raise our hearts to God by a holy confidence, the foundation of which ought to be in Him…The throne of God’s mercy is our misery; therefore, the greater our misery the greater should be our confidence in God.” (Living Jesus, page 45)

Today’s Gospel challenges people in need not to avoid God but to pursue God. Awareness of our sinfulness should not drive us away from God but should draw us closer to God. Have confidence that God will help you. Have confidence that God will heal you. Have confidence that God will empower you.

Why? Because God loves you! How? In the person of his Son, Jesus.

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(January 19, 2018: Friday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He sent them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons…”

This scene from the third chapter of Mark’s Gospel is a major event in the relationship between Jesus and his Apostles/Disciples: he gives them the power to preach and to drive out demons! Their apprenticeship – as it were – is over.

Well, perhaps not completely over.

In Matthew’s Gospel (17: 10 – 21) and in Luke’s Gospel (9: 37 – 45) a man asks Jesus to save his son from a demon. The interesting detail here is that the man comes to Jesus only after some of Jesus’ own disciples (names unknown or, at least, unmentioned!) failed in their attempts to drive the demon out. While some of Jesus’ followers may have been appointed to drive out demons, it would appear that having the power did not always guarantee success.

We might not think about it much, but by virtue of our creation (made as we are in God’s image and likeness) we are disciples of Jesus. We, too, are appointed to preach and to drive out demons. Oh, these demons may not resemble those described in the Scriptures, but they are nonetheless very real. They are evil spirits that plague countless people on any given day. These demons have many names, including: hatred, resentment, anxiety, sadness, jealousy, despair, loneliness, frustration, anger, envy, cynicism and hopelessness. While we (like Jesus’ first disciples) may not always be successful, we are called to do our level best to drive out these demons (or, at least, reduce their effect) through our attempts to embody the spirits of confidence, hope, joy, contentment, solidarity, gratitude, reconciliation and love in our relationships with others.

Or, perhaps, by our efforts to drive out those same demons in ourselves!

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(January 20, 2018: Saturday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

In a perfect world, being true to yourself – being the person that God wants you to be – should be its own reward. But as even Jesus discovers in today’s Gospel, being true to yourself – being the person that God wants you to be – can bring with it some unwarranted and unwelcomed resistance and rejection.

Especially from family, friends and other loved ones!

Only three pages into his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales deals with this phenomenon head-on. “The men who discouraged the Israelites from going into the Promised Land told them that it was a country that ‘devoured its inhabitants.’ In other words, they said that the air was so malignant it was impossible to live there for long and its natives such monsters that they ate men like locusts. It is in this manner that the world vilifies holy devotion as much as it can. It pictures devout persons are having discontented, gloomy, sullen faces and claims that devotion brings on depression and unbearable moods.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 2)

In short, others may tell you that any attempt to live a holy life is just plain crazy!

In St. Francis de Sales’ opinion, being the kind of person that God wants you to be is not only not crazy but it is, on the contrary, the sanest decision you could ever make. He suggests: “Devotion is true spiritual sugar for it removes discontent from the poor, anxiety from the rich, grief from the oppressed, pride from the exalted, melancholy from the solitary and exhausting from those in society. It serves with equal benefit as fire in winter and dew in summer. It knows how to enjoy prosperity and how to endure want. It makes honor and disgrace alike useful to us. It accepts pleasure and pain with a heart that is nearly always the same, and it fills us with a marvelous sweetness.” (Ibid)

Are you crazy to live a life of devotion? From Jesus’ perspective, you’d be crazy not to do so!

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(January 21, 2018: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The world as we know it is passing away.”

Francis de Sales wrote:

“God preserves this great world amid constant change, wherein day turns into night, night into day, spring into summer, summer into autumn, autumn into winter and winter into spring. One day is never perfectly like another: some are cloudy, some rainy, some dry and some windy. Such variety gives great beauty to the universe.”

Every person and every generation need to come to grips with the fact that our lives are always changing. No matter how good things may have been in former times or how good they may be right now, there is always more yet to come. The security of “what is” needs to be open to the uncertainty of “what may come”.

Put another way, we need to constantly reform, refashion and renew our lives.

This change goes against our grain. It’s so easy to cling to what we know. It’s so easy to believe that we’ve learned all we need to learn. It’s so easy to think that there aren’t any more ways in which we can grow. We are tempted to say that we know, have learned and have grown enough.

On the other hand, Jesus invites us to believe in the Good News, that is, to believe in the power of God’s constant, unchanging love that calls us to learn more about God, ourselves and one another. Jesus calls us to believe that the willingness to reform our lives (with the help of the Holy Spirit) can help us to experience in the changing circumstances, events and relationships of our daily lives more of the justice, the freedom, the reconciliation and the peace that will be unchanging in heaven.

So, be willing to change. Be willing to grow. Be willing to learn. Be willing to reform. Be willing to be transformed. Believe that the power of the Reign of God can help you to become more of the person that God calls you to be. Turn away more convincingly from what is evil. Embrace more deeply what is good. In words and example, challenge and encourage one another to do the same.

While the world as we know it is passing away, Jesus promises us that the best is yet to come. Together, you and I can make the best of what is yet to come a reality in our own day by recognizing the opportunities that God provides in each and every present moment for our reformation, our transformation and our growth.

Believe in this Good News! Pass it on to others!

Today!

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(January 22, 2018: Day of Prayer - Legal Protection of Unborn Children)
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In his popularization of Bishop Camus’s accounts of the life and legacy of St. Francis de Sales (in The Spirit of Love) C.F. Kelley wrote:

“St. Francis de Sales would often say to me (Camus) how much better it would be to accommodate ourselves to others rather than to want to bend everyone to our own ways and opinions. The human mind is like pulp, which takes readily any color with which it is mixed. The great thing is to take care that it not be like the chameleon, which, one after the other takes every color except white.” (Select Salesian Subjects, p. 122, 0523)

St. Francis de Sales’ preferred approach for evangelizing was to meet people where they lived. As his Catholic Controversies clearly demonstrate, however, the “Gentleman Saint” had no hesitation in pointing out instances in which he believed people were objectively wrong. While seeking to accommodate others’ ways and opinions as a strategy for winning them over, attempts at persuasion can never be made at the expense of one’s own principles or core beliefs.

The debate regarding Roe vs. Wade and its impact in the United States shows no signs of waning. In addition, debate often denigrates into wholesale divisiveness, even ad hominem attacks. With this unfortunate state of affairs surrounding what is a life or death situation in mind, Jane de Chantal’s advice to a fellow Visitandine sister is especially relevant:

“I am convinced, and experience has taught me, that nothing so wins souls as gentleness and cordiality. Follow this method, for it is the spirit of our blessed Father. Curtness in words or actions only hardens hearts and depresses them, whereas gentleness encourages them and makes them receptive…” (LSD, page 247)

Discussions about how best to legally protect unborn children appear to produce little or no consensus. Arguments for and against “legislating morality” seem to have no end. In the meantime, there is nothing to be lost – and perhaps much to be gained – by continuing to pray that “liberty and justice for all” will, in fact, be just that - for all, including unborn children.

Today, may God help us to put that prayer into action with as much poignant purpose – and gentle persuasion – as we can.

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(January 23, 2018: Tuesday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Whoever does the will of God is brother, and sister and mother to me.”

What is God’s will? In more than a few places throughout the Gospels, Jesus is quite clear when He says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.

What does it mean to be merciful? Jesus is very specific in Luke 6: 36 – 38: “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful. Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Pardon and you will be pardoned. Give and it shall be given to you. Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will they pour into the folds of your garment. For the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”

To be sure (as we see in the reading from the Second Book of Samuel), making sacrifice – making offering – has its place in following the will of God. However, as the example of David clearly indicates, offering goods to God should also lead to our offering goods to others.

  • Doing the will of God is not limited to what we can offer solely to God.

  • Doing the will of God is also about making the sacrifices involved in not judging and not condemning.

  • Doing the will of God is also about making the sacrifices required in pardoning and giving.

  • Doing the will of God is also about making the sacrifices involved in doing our level best to recall throughout each day that “the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you”.
Thirty – sixty – one hundredfold!

Do you want to be known as “brother, sister and mother” to Jesus? Do you want to be recognized as a member of Jesus’ family?

Then, do the will of God by putting into to practice this maxim from St. Francis de Sales: “The measure of love is to love without measure.”

Today!

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(January 24, 2018: Francis de Sales: Bishop, Founder, Doctor of the Church)
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Prv 16: 16-2    : Ps 34: 2-3, 4 and 6, 9 and 12, 14-15     JAS 3:13-18     Mk 5: 23-28

“A patient person is better than a warrior, and those who master their tempers are stronger than one who would capture a city.”

So close, yet so far.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that that’s how Francis de Sales might have characterized his feelings regarding one of his greatest hopes that remained sadly unfulfilled - the return of Catholicism to the city of Geneva. Notwithstanding his success in the Chablais Region during the first four years of his priesthood, his pivotal prominence as Bishop of Geneva, his reputation as a man who could reach minds and soften hearts, his gift for shuttle diplomacy, and as one who “befriended many along the road to salvation,” the full restoration of his See remained frustratingly beyond his reach.

It’s easy to overlook, but Francis de Sales isn’t remembered for always having had the “Midas Touch”. It’s not like every initiative or endeavor that the “Gentleman Saint” touched turned to gold or ended with overwhelming success. Nevertheless, the Church recognizes him as a spiritual giant, precisely because of his willingness to master the city of his own temper, to curb the city of his own enthusiasm and to discipline the city of his own passion in pursuing God and the things of God by choosing to focus his energies on evangelizing those whom he could reach rather than becoming embittered about those he could not reach. True to Fr. Brisson’s assessment of the Salesian method for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, Francis de Sales met people where they were – not where they weren’t.

Not unlike Our Lord Himself!

On the Feast day of the “Bishop of Geneva” let us ask for the grace to imitate his example! May we experience the self-mastery that is even “better than a warrior” by focusing our energies and effort on everything that is within our power to do for the love of God and neighbor, and to let go of whatever is not.

~ OR ~

We offer for your reflection on this feast day of Francis de Sales the forward of a fifty-four page devotional booklet published in 2008 in the United Kingdom (written by a J. Barry Midgley) regarding the life and legacy of “The Gentleman Saint”.

"In some ways the Age in which St. Francis de Sales lived has similarities to our own. Then, as now, the world was experiencing dramatic change, and the mind of the Church was necessarily focused on spiritual, intellectual and institutional renewal: correcting aggressive heresy, reaffirming doctrine and practice, and preserving the ministerial priesthood that is at the heart of Catholic life. The Church continues to work for the revival of evangelization and the conversion of nations, withstanding secular assaults on faith, reversing the dilution of doctrine and protecting the accessibility of the sacrifice of the Mass. In every season, the 'Barque of Peter' navigates some stormy waters but, thankfully, there are saints like Francis de Sales whose eager and powerful intercession does not diminish with the passing of time."

"God - in His kindness - provides every season with holy men and women to encourage God's people, and the Holy Spirit breathes an impetus to refresh faith, doctrine, religious leadership and energy in the mission Christ delegated to His people. Francis de Sales is a luminous example of the local apostle who preserves and teaches the faith received by the twelve Apostles personally from Our Lord. As a bishop, his priorities were to preach the Gospel, to preside at Mass, to care for the clergy and to ensure that spiritual centers of liturgical and cultural excellence stimulated hope and the practice of devotion. Francis helped those entrusted to his care understand that prayer opens the mind and heart to God's word and to respond to his (Francis') belief that everyone plays a part in God's plan of salvation through a personal conception of His Son. Indeed, Francis de Sales truly was a fascinating figure, so balanced, courageous, sensible and devout: another 'man for all seasons.'"

"I am grateful...for a renewed appreciation of this wonderful man."

Through the example and intercession of St. Francis de Sales, may each of us - in ways fitting to the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves - strive to be "balanced, courageous, sensible and devout" in our efforts to "Live Jesus”.

To be - in word, in deed - people for all seasons…in every season!