Spirituality Matters 2018: July 26th - August 1st

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(July 26, 2018: Joachim and Anne, Parents BVM )
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“To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away…”

William Barclay made the following observation about this Gospel passage:

“Many a person in childhood and schooldays had a smattering of Latin or French or of some other language, and in later life lose every word because he never made any attempt to develop or use them. Many a person had some skill in a craft or game and lost it because he neglected it. The diligent and hard-working person is in a position to be given more and more; the lazy person may well lose even what he has. Any gift can be developed; and since nothing in life stands still, if a gift is not developed, it is lost.”
“So it is with goodness. Every temptation we conquer makes us more able to conquer the next and every temptation to which we fall makes us less able to withstand the next attack. Every good thing we do, every act of self-discipline and of service, makes us better prepared for the next opportunity, and every time we fail to use such an opportunity we make ourselves less able to seize the next when it comes. Life is always a process of gaining more or losing more. Jesus laid down the truth that the nearer a person lives to Him, the nearer to the Christian ideal that person will grow. By contrast, the more a person drifts away from Christ, the less he or she is able to grow in goodness; for weakness, like strength, is an increasing practice.” (Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, p. 67)

St. Francis de Sales put it this way: if we are not moving forward in the practice of virtue, we are falling behind. So it is with a life of devotion: making the effort to do good produces its own reward by expanding our experience of life, whereas neglecting to do good is its own punishment by diminishing our experience of life.

Today, take an inventory of the gifts - and the life - that God has given you. What do you find - growth or decline?

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(July 27, 2018: Friday, Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Hear the parable of the sower….”

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

“Ostriches never fly; hens fly in a clumsy fashion, near the ground, and only once in a while, but eagles, doves and swallows fly aloft, swiftly and frequently. In like manner, sinners in no way fly up towards God, but make their whole course upon the earth and for the earth. Good people who have not as yet attained to devotion fly toward God by their good works but do so infrequently, slowly and awkwardly. Devout souls ascend to him more frequently, promptly and with lofty flights.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

There is something of the ostrich, something of the hen and something of the eagle in all of us. We crawl in God’s paths; we stumble in God’s path; we fall in God’s paths; we walk and sometimes run in God’s paths, and on occasion, we even manage to fly in God’s paths. So, too, there is something of each of the scenarios of the seed in today’s Gospel that applies to us. Sometimes God’s word is stolen from our hearts before it has a chance to grow. Sometimes God’s word springs up quickly in us but withers even more quickly because of our shallowness or hardness of heart. Sometimes God’s word falls to the wayside because we lose heart in the midst of trials and difficulties. Sometimes God’s word is simply overwhelmed by our fears, doubts, anxieties and second-guesses.

But sometimes – just sometimes – God’s word finds a home deep in our hearts – deep in our souls, deep in our lives – and bears a harvest beyond our wildest dreams: thirty, sixty or even a hundredfold.

And so we don’t just hear the parable of the sower, but also – more importantly – we live the parable of the sower! Consider the ways in which the seeds of God’s love might have trouble taking root in your life. More importantly, focus your attention and energy on the ways in which the seeds of God’s love have made a deep, abiding and fruitful home in your mind, heart, attitude and actions!

And do it today!

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(July 28, 2018: Saturday, Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Let them grow together until harvest…”

In the garden of our lives all of us can find both wheat and weeds. It’s really tempting to focus our energy and attention on identifying and removing the weeds, but we do this at the risk of unintentionally removing the wheat as well. Jesus suggests that it is far better to be comfortable with the fact that we have both wheat and weeds in our lives and to allow God to sort them out over time.

Francis de Sales clearly grasped the wisdom of Jesus’ advice. In a letter to Madame de la Flechere, he wrote:

“Don’t be examining yourself to see if what you are doing is little or great, good or bad, provided that it is not sinful and that, in all good faith, you are trying to do it for God. As much as possible do well what you have to do, and once it is done, think no more about it but turn your attention to what has to be done next. Walk very simply along the way our Lord shows you and don’t worry. We must hate our faults, but we should do so calmly and peacefully, without fuss or anxiety. We must be patient at the sight of these faults and learn from the humiliation that they bring about. Unless you do this, your imperfections, of which you are acutely conscious, will disturb you even more and thus grow stronger, for nothing is more favorable to the growth of these ‘weeds’ than our anxiety and overeagerness to get rid of them.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, pp. 161-162)

What’s the bottom line? God loves us just the way we are - weeds and all. Who are we to suggest that God will love us more without them?

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Spirituality Matters 2018: July 19th - July 25th

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(July 19, 2018: Thursday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”

St. Francis de Sales clearly learned from this self-described Jesus. The “Gentleman Saint” is recognized by the universal Church for the great strides that he made in imitating in his own life and in the lives of others the meek, humble Sacred Heart of Christ. In his daily attempts to shepherd the people of his diocese – and many others beyond the confines of Savoy – there is no doubt that he followed and modeled the “meek and humble” Jesus.

In her book St. Francis de Sales and the Protestants, author Ruth Kleinman remarked:

“The special qualities of Francis de Sales’ method of conversion were his gentleness and his humanity. God gave Francis de Sales the incomparable meekness absolutely necessary to soften the bitterness of heresy and to conquer the spirit by touching the heart, making him the master of spiritual persuasion.”

She then adds:

“But his gentleness did not mean softness.”

Francis de Sales was tender toward heretics, while tough on heresy. He was yielding with people seeking spiritual growth, while unrelenting with corrupt clergy or recalcitrant cloisters. He was meek when dealing with sinners, while militant when dealing with sin. Fr. Alexander Sandy Pocetto, OSFS, suggests that in imitating the Sacred Heart of Jesus Francis de Sales learned the importance of being not only a lamb, but also a lion.

Look at the “meek and humble” Jesus himself. He healed the sick; he welcomed the lost; he freed the imprisoned; he forgave sinners; he promoted justice; he called “great” all those who did the will of his Father. But he also drove out demons; he confronted injustice; he called out the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes; he turned over the tables of the moneychangers; he even once referred to Peter as “Satan”.

While the meek and humble Jesus didn’t look for a fight, he wouldn’t duck one, either, not when it came to promoting the Kingdom of God, the things of God, the values of God and the love of God.

Today, let us ask God to help us to continue to learn from his Son. When it comes to our daily attempts to be people who strive to be both firmly gentle and gently firm, may Jesus teach us how and when to be lambs – and lions – of God.

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(July 20, 2018: Apollinarius )
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“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“That saying, so celebrated among the ancients – ‘know thyself’ – even though it may be understood as applying to the knowledge of the greatness and excellence of the soul (so that it might not be debased or profaned by things unworthy of its nobility) it may also be taken as referring to the knowledge of our unworthiness, imperfection and misery. The greater our knowledge of ourselves, the more profound will be our confidence in the goodness and mercy of God, for between mercy and misery there is so close a connection that the one cannot be exercised without the other. If God had not created man He would still indeed have been perfect in goodness, but He would not have been actually merciful, since mercy can only be exercised towards the miserable.” (Select Salesian Subjects, 022, pp. 46 - 47)

We see this dynamic at work in today’s Gospel, but not in quite the way that Francis de Sales intended. The Pharisees observe Jesus’ disciples feeding themselves by picking the heads of grain. Blinded by their own self-perceived “greatness and excellence,” the Pharisees considered this activity to be work, something strictly forbidden on the sabbath. As we’ve seen in many other places throughout the Gospels, seeing Jesus’ disciples – or Jesus himself, for that matter – being merciful (that is, being generous) to others on the sabbath made the Pharisees miserable. If they had really known themselves - that is, their own unworthiness, imperfection and misery - the Pharisees would have approved and applauded Jesus for doing the right thing, regardless of when, where or with whom he did it. Instead, they seized on every opportunity they could to condemn Jesus for it.

Isn’t it amazing, how someone doing what is right can bring out the worst in others? As we’ll see in tomorrow’s continuation of Chapter 12 of Matthew’s Gospel, the Pharisees’ misery rises ultimately to the level where they decide to put Jesus to death.

Well, what about us? Have we ever seen somebody else doing something merciful and generous at a time or in a place or in a way with which we did not agree and attempted to discredit them?

Put another way, who would we like others to see and experience in us – the merciful Jesus or the miserable Pharisee?

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(July 21, 2018: Lawrence of Brindisi, Priest )
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“Woe to those who plan iniquity, and work out evil on their couches…”

Oh, come on! Who actually plans iniquity? Who actually sits around and plans on doing evil?

How about those who gossip? How about those who bad-mouth others or who disparage others in speech? In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:

“To scoff at others is one of the worst states in which a mind can find itself. God detests this vice and in past times inflicted strange punishments on it. Nothing is so opposed to charity – and much more to devotion – than to despise and condemn one’s neighbors. Derision and mockery are always accompanied by scoffing, and it is therefore a very great sin. Theologians consider it one of the worst offenses against one’s neighbor of which a person can be guilty. Other offenses may be committed with some esteem for the person offended, but this treats a person with scorn and contempt.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 27, pp. 195-196)

We all know from our own experience that speaking negatively about others is all too easy. Be it planned or spontaneous, God is very clear: woe to those who engage in evil things, evil things like bad-mouthing others.

Today, what strategies might we employ to avoid woes like these?

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(July 22, 2018: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Rest a while...”

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Not only might it make Jack dull, but it also might cripple Jack’s attempts at being happy, healthy and even holy!

Make no mistake. Growing in holiness - making real in our own lives the love of the God in whose image and likeness we are created - is serious business. It requires hard work; it requires discipline; it requires self-examination; it requires commitment.

As Francis de Sales would say, it requires devotion.

Salesian spirituality also recognizes the value of relaxation, of taking “time out”, of “catching your breath” and making time for play. In fact, relaxation is not only permissible, but it is also necessary!

Francis de Sales claimed: “It is actually a defect to be so strict, austere and unsociable that one neither permits oneself nor others any recreation time”. His Introduction to the Devout Life (1609) contains ample evidence of the Gentleman Saint's appreciation of the important role that rest and recreation play in the pursuit of a fully human, God-centered life. He said: “From time to time we must recreate in mind and body. Take the air, go for a walk, enjoy a friendly chat, play music, or sing or hunt…are such honest diversions that the only thing needed to utilize them well is simple prudence, which gives to all things their rank, time, place and measure”.

To be balanced, we need to know our limitations. We need to know when it’s time to say “enough”, if only for a little while. St. Jane once wrote in the context of a letter to a member of her community: “I must run, for I have little leisure and my arm and hand are starting to tire and hurt, even though I’ve just begun to write. I’m not able to do as much as I used to”.

In his book Touching the Ordinary, Robert Wicks identifies practices that can help us establish and maintain a balanced life: get enough sleep, eat right, practice leisure and pace yourself. Learn to laugh; focus on values; practice self-appreciation; be involved, but not too involved; have a support group; escape on occasion; be spontaneous; avoid negativity; establish good friendships and practice intimacy.

Our Lord Jesus Christ spent virtually his entire public ministry meeting the needs of others: healing, teaching, feeding, challenging and forgiving - in short, working. But the Gospels that document Christ's work ethic also clearly document those times when he withdrew from his activities to rest, to renew, to enjoy another’s hospitality and to spend time with friends. All these ways were helpful in rededicating himself to doing the Will of God.

There are plenty of ways for us to achieve balance between work and play, livelihood and leisure, pay and play. Consider them in a personal, prayerful manner. Choose those consistent with the state and stage of life in which you find yourself at this time. Realize that as your life changes, so too may your means for achieving this happy, healthy and holy balance.

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(July 23, 2018: Bridget, Religious )
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“You have been told what the Lord requires of you: do the right and love goodness and walk humbly with your God…”

In a letter to “a person of piety”, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The more humility costs you, the more graces it will give you. Continue then to discipline your heart by humility and exalt it by charity…Study this lesson deeply, for it is the one lesson of our sovereign Master: ‘Learn of me because I am meek and humble of heart.’ How happy you will be, if you resign yourself fully to the will of Our Lord. Yes, for this holy willing is all good and its execution all good. There is no better path to walk other than under His providence and guidance.” (Living Jesus, p. 145)

Humility is not about having no life; humility is about laying down our lives – giving our lives – in the service of others. Of course, “laying down our lives” can sound overwhelming, especially when we consider the dramatic way in which Jesus laid down his life on the cross of Calvary. As St. Francis de Sales constantly reminds us, however, for most of us this giving of our lives gets played out in little, ordinary ways: like doing what is right and loving what is good.

We know what the Lord requires of us: to walk humbly with God, that is, to do what is right and to love what is good in our relationships with others.

And to know true happiness in the process!

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(July 24, 2018: Sharbel Makhluf, Priest)
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“Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, sister and mother…”

In the opinion of William Barclay, this selection from Matthew’s Gospel offers us an expanded notion of the ties that bind - a new way of looking at kinship, family and friendship. He wrote:

“True kinship is not always a matter of flesh and blood relationship. It remains true that blood is a tie that nothing can break and that many people find their delight and their peace in the circle of their families. But it is also true that sometimes a man’s nearest and dearest are the people who understand him least, and that he finds his true fellowship with those who work for a common ideal and who share a common experience. This certainly is true – even if Christians find that those who should be closest to them are those who are most out of sympathy with them, there remains for them the fellowship of Jesus Christ and the friendship of all who love the Lord.”

Barclay says that this expanded notion of family – of home – is founded on three things:

  1. A common ideal. People who are very different can be firm friends, if they have a common ideal for which they work and toward which they press.

  2. A common experience and the memories that come from it. When people have passed together through some great experience – and when they can together to look back on it – real friendship begins.

  3. Obedience. There is no better way of showing the reality of love than the spirit of obedience.
In a conference to the Visitation Sisters, Francis remarked:

“Let us hear and follow the voice of the divine Savior, who like the perfect psalmist, pours forth the last strains of an undying love from the tree of the cross, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ After that has been said, what remains but to breathe forth our last breath and die of love, living no longer for ourselves but Jesus living in us? Then, all the anxieties of our hearts will cease – anxieties proceeding from desires suggested by self-love and by tenderness for ourselves that make us secretly so eager in the pursuit of our own satisfaction…Embarked, then, in the exercises of our own vocation and carried along by the winds of this simple and loving confidence we shall make the greatest progress; we shall draw nearer and nearer to home.” (Living Jesus, p. 430)

As members of Jesus’ family, let us do our level best to be obedient, that is, to listen to the voice of God in our lives and act upon what we hear. May we celebrate the kinship, friendship and love that come with following the will of our heavenly Father and experience the ties that truly and tenaciously bind us together.

Today!

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(July 25, 2018: James, Apostle )
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“Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant…”

Francis de Sales once wrote:

“‘Borrow empty vessels, not a few,’ said Elisha to the poor widow, ‘and pour oil into them.’ (2 Kings 4: 3-4) To receive the grace of God into our hearts they must be emptied of our own pride…” (Living Jesus, p. 149)

It’s all-too-easy to fill our hearts – our precious earthen vessels – with all kinds of earthly treasures, things that – as good as they might be – aren’t really treasures at all - at least, not where God is concerned. The less space occupied in our hearts by things that merely pass for treasure, the more room we make available in our hearts for the real, heavenly treasure that is truly precious - the love of God. Recall the words of St. Francis de Sales in a conference (On Cordiality) he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation: “We must remember that love has its seat in the heart, and that we can never love our neighbor too much, nor exceed the limits of reason in this affection, provided that it dwells in the heart.” (Conference IV, p. 56)

The story of Zebedee’s sons illustrates the importance of being very careful about what we store in our hearts. Notwithstanding their intimate relationship with Jesus, they set their hearts on a treasure that was not in Jesus’ power to grant: places of honor in His Kingdom. He responds to this request (made on James and John’s behalf by their mother, no less, who apparently also had her heart set on honor for her sons as well) by challenging them to set their hearts not on the desire for honor but on opportunities to serve the needs of others…and so to have honor beyond their wildest dreams!

Jesus tells Zebedee’s sons that the chalice from which they will drink (the same chalice from which Jesus drank every day) is an invitation to experience the greatness that comes from being a servant. Francis de Sales wrote:

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

Today, how ready and willing are we to drink from that same chalice today?

Spirituality Matters 2018: July 12th - July 18th

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(July 12, 2018: Thursday, Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

What could be more humbling than to consider all the good that God has, is and will do done for us? Well, perhaps even more humbling is the realization that God’s goodness, mercy and generosity come without cost or condition. Insofar as we are created from nothing, we have done nothing to deserve God’s overwhelming blessings, gifts and love. They are unconditionally free gifts!

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation on the virtue of generosity, Francis de Sales remarked:

“We must indeed keep ourselves humble because of our imperfections, but this humility must be the foundation of a great generosity. Humility without generosity is only a deception and a cowardice of the heart that makes us think that we are good for nothing and that others should never think of using us in anything great. On the other hand, generosity without humility is only presumption. We may indeed say, ‘It is true I have no virtue, still less the necessary gifts to be used in such and such an endeavor,’ but after that humble acknowledgement we must put our full confidence in God as to believe that He will not fail to give His gifts to us when it is necessary to have them, and when He wants us to make use of us, provided only that we forget ourselves in praising faithfully His Divine majesty and helping our neighbor to do the same so as to increase His glory as much as lies in our power.” (Living Jesus, p. 152)

On one level it is true to say that we are “nothing”, creatures that we are. But because of the God who has created us, each and every one of us is – in God’s eyes – marvelous to behold. What a humbling, empowering gift!

What better way to say “thank you” for such gift than to freely and generously share who we are and what we have with one another?

Today!

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(July 13, 2018: Henry, Emperor )
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“Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say…”

In a letter to Jane de Chantal in 1606, Francis de Sales wrote:

“I cannot think of anything else to say to you about your apprehension of your particular troubles, nor of the fear of being unable to bear it. Did I not tell you the first time I spoke to you about your soul that you pay too much attention to what afflicts or frightens you? You must do so only in great moderation! People frequently reflect too much about their troubles and this entangles thoughts and fears and desires to the point that the soul is constricted and cannot be itself. Don’t be afraid of what God has in store for you – love God very much for He wants to do you a great deal of good. Carry on quite simply in the shelter of your resolutions and reject anticipations of your troubles as simply a cruel temptation…Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself, but if terror should seize you cry out loudly to God. He will stretch forth his hand towards you – grab it tightly and go joyfully on your way.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 124 -125)

Francis de Sales recommends that we begin every new day with what he calls a “preparation of the day”. Consider all the things you may need to accomplish today. Think about the people and situations that you may encounter today. When you finished, does anything, place or person you may face today make you worry, anxious or fearful?

Then, take hold of God’s hand, and do your best to go joyfully through your day!

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(July 14, 2018: Kateri Tekakwitha )
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“Do not be afraid…”

In the same letter that we considered yesterday, Francis de Sales wrote to Jane de Chantal concerning the issues of worry, anxiety and fear. We read:

“Don’t philosophize about your trouble – don’t argue with it. Quite simply, continue to walk straight on. God would not allow you to be lost while you live according to your resolutions so as not to lose him. If the whole world turns topsy-turvy, if all around is darkness and smoke and din, yet God is still with us. So, if we know that God lives in the darkness and on Mount Sinai which is full of smoke and surrounded with the roar of thunder and lightning, shall not all be well with us as long as we remain close to him? So, live wholly in God, and do not fear. Jesus in his goodness is all ours; let us be all his. Let us cling to him with courage!” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 124 -125)

This exhortation is very challenging! After all, who can say that they have never been afraid, worried or anxious? Doesn’t even the Book of Proverbs (9:10) claim that “fear (of the Lord) is the beginning of wisdom?” Some things should scare us!

Let’s look at it this way. While we may have our share of fears in life, it is critical that we try our level best to avoid becoming people who are fearful and remain people who are joyful!

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(July 15, 2018: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

“In Him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things, according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory we who first hoped in Christ.”

St. Francis de Sales once traveled to Bellevaux with a young priest where he relived his first days as a missionary in the Chablais. The residents were very timid and wary. The two could not get any lodging, no wine and no seats on which to sit. The two had to eat poor bread for which they paid enormously - a little cheese, a little water, having no table other than the ground - no tablecloth other than their own cloaks.

Francis said: “Here is the real apostolic life, the life where one can imitate in some fashion the poverty of Jesus Christ and his Apostles. I am accustomed to this because for two or three years I experienced the same cruelty from the residents in various villages.”

Even with these setbacks or because of them, Francis loved the people whose pastor he was. He gave everyone a fraternal welcome and led them in apostolic generosity, which he himself practiced. He put into practice: “It is better to be humble with the poor than to share booty with the proud”. (Proverbs. 16: 19) He knew the apostolic spirit: “He is close to the broken-hearted; he soothes the dejected spirit”. (Proverbs 33:19)

Francis listened to God's voice and added his own to the Lord's. His keen intellect and educational background prepared him for how to argue, yet he was able to turn aside hatred. Francis had a great desire to debate the Protestant ministers, but few took up the challenge. A few in his audience secretly took notes from his sermons, copied them, and passed them around Geneva. At first there was little response, but with the passage of time came a great many conversions to the faith.

One can do a great deal in his or her own style of preaching, teaching and working. It is a great gift to allow the Lord's Spirit to work in us and others, and not to be discouraged by hardships, disappointments, and our own way of wanting to get things done. Many great people, who have gone before us, have shown us the way.

Francis de Sales showed the power of the virtue of hope. A hope which eventually produced great fruit, due to the insight, vigor and determination of a saint who was unwilling to allow frustration and pain from preventing him from preaching the word of the Lord.

May we be emboldened, enlightened and – when necessary – encouraged by his example.

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(July 16, 2018: Our Lady of Mount Carmel )
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“Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink
because he is a disciple - Amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

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

“Little daily acts of charity, a headache, toothache or cold, the ill humor of a husband or wife, this contempt or that scorn, the loss of a pair of gloves, a ring or a handkerchief, the little inconveniences incurred by going to bed early and getting up early to pray or attend Mass, the little feelings of self-consciousness that comes with performing good deeds in public – in short, all such little things as these when accepted and embraced with love are highly pleasing to God’s mercy. For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful people a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves constantly each day it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches only if you use them well…Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, whereas little ones are frequent.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 214 - 215)

Jesus - as it were - throws cold water on the notion that serving God is limited to doing great things for others. As Francis de Sales clearly understood, the point that Jesus makes is that serving God, more often than not, is displayed in our willingness to do little things for one another with great love.

Francis de Sales tells us that we can store up vast spiritual riches by enriching the lives of others in simple, ordinary ways.

Today, how might we store up such riches?

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(July 17, 2018: Tuesday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom,
it would have remained until this day.”

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

“Put your hand to strong things, by training yourself in prayer and meditation, receiving the Sacraments, bringing souls to love God, infusing good inspirations into their hearts and in fine, by performing big, important works according to your vocation. But never forget to practice those little, humble virtues that grow at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of your family with all the tasks that go with such things and with all the useful diligence that will not allow you to be idle.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 35, pp. 214 - 215)

The selection from today’s Gospel suggests why Jesus emphasized the importance of doing little things for other people as illustrated also in yesterday’s Gospel selection. Jesus had firsthand experience of how some of his contemporaries were left cold and unconvinced by even some of the greatest deeds that he performed. Put another way, Jesus discovered that even the greatest of deeds are powerless in the presence of hardened hearts. Mind you, the selective stubbornness of some folks did not deter Jesus from doing great things, but Jesus doubtless enjoyed great success in his ministry by performing little deeds as well - visiting people in their homes, walking and talking with people and just simply being with other people.

In our own lives there may be times when our love for God and others may require us to perform “important works” associated with the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Chances are, however, that the challenge to do big things won’t present itself frequently. However, never forget that time-honored saying to which most – if not all – of us can relate.

Little things mean a lot.

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(July 18, 2018: Camillus de Lellis, Founder and Priest )
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“Judgment will be with justice, and the upright of heart shall follow it...” (Responsorial Psalm)

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines judgment as “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing an idea that is believed to be true or valid without positive knowledge.” Synonyms include: belief, conclusion, conviction, determination, diagnosis, eye, mind, notion, opinion, resolution, sentiment, verdict and view.

OK. Then, it should be obvious that a world without judgment (and things akin to it) would be a pretty chaotic place. We need to be able to make determinations, draw conclusions, form opinions and develop views in order to make our way through life. The challenge (presented to us in today’s Responsorial Psalm) is to render judgments that are just and to avoid the temptation to make judgments that are rash.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “How offensive to God are rash judgments! The judgments of the children of men are rash because they are not the judges of one another, and when they pass judgment on others they usurp the office of our Lord. Such judgments are rash because the principal malice of sin depends on the intention and counsel of the heart. They are rash because every man has enough on which he ought to judge himself without taking it upon himself to judge his neighbors…fear, ambition and similar mental weaknesses often contribute to the birth of suspicion and rash judgment.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 28, p. 196-197)

What is the cure for rash, unjust judgments? “Drink as deeply as you can of the sacred wine of charity. It will set you free from the perverse moods that cause us to make such tortured judgments, for whoever wants to be cured must apply remedies not to one’s eyes or intellect but to one’s affections. If your reflections are kind, your judgments will be kind; if your affections are charitable, your judgments will be the same.” (Ibid, pp. 198-199)

What is Francis de Sales’ advice for those dedicated to judging justly? “Those who look carefully into their consciences are not very likely to pass rash judgments. Just as bees in misty or cloudy weather stay in their lives to prepare honey, so also the thoughts of good men do not go out in search of things concealed among the cloudy actions of their neighbors. It is the part of an unprofitable soul to amuse itself with examining the lives of other people.” Duly note, however, an important caveat that Francis wrote: “I except those who are placed in charge of others, whether within a family or in the state. For them a great part of their duties consists in inspecting and watching over the conduct of others. In such cases as these, let those responsible for others discharge their duty and make judgments with love.” (Ibid, pp. 200-201)

If/when you need to make judgments, avoid the temptation to do so rashly. If/when you need to make judgments, do so justly.

That is, with love!

Spirituality Matters 2018: July 5th - July 11th

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(July 5, 2018: Elizabeth of Portugal)
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“Why do you entertain such evil thoughts in your hearts?

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales claimed that impugning the motives of others is a primary source of much of the sin and iniquity with which our world is plagued.

We witness slander when someone falsely imputes crimes and sins toward another person. We witness slander when someone reveals others’ secret faults, or exaggerates faults that are already obvious to everyone. We witness slander when someone ascribes evil motives to the good deeds that another does or attempts to minimize - or deny them - all together.

In today’s Gospel, we witness such slander in action. Perhaps slander in thought only, but slander nonetheless.

After forgiving the sins of a paralyzed man, Jesus is palpably aware of what was going through the minds of the scribes – they secretly assumed that such action made Jesus guilty of blasphemy, that is, of usurping the power and authority of God. They were determined to turn any good that Jesus did into something bad. Well, Jesus response is swift and twofold – he calls them out for their secret, distorted thinking and then powerfully proves by what power and authority he forgives sins by healing the same man of his physical paralysis.

Would that Jesus could have healed the attitudinal paralysis of the scribes so easily, a paralysis stemming from the slanderous manner with which they viewed Jesus, because when they weren’t falsely accusing him of assorted crimes and sins, they attempted to minimize – or discredit entirely – the good that he accomplished and the healings that he performed.

What is the moral is this Gospel?

The answer - there are far worse ways of being incurably paralyzed other than being unable to walk.

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(July 6, 2018: Maria Goretti)
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“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

In today’s Gospel, we are considering two related – but remarkably different – notions of what it means to be God-like. We are considering two related – but remarkably different – models for growing in holiness.

The tension between mercy and sacrifice is not something invented by Jesus, but it is as old as the Hebrew community itself. Actually, it is as old as the human family itself (Cain and Abel – Abraham and Isaac). But Jesus does make this issue front and center in his ongoing struggle with the Scribes and Pharisees.

Under the paradigm of SACRIFICE, holiness is all about proving my fidelity to God. It is all about showing God that I love God enough to go without food for a day, to slaughter a bull, to walk so many miles in my bare feet or to donate $5 million to my church’s capital campaign. Mind you, none of these things are wrong per se, but when holiness is understood almost exclusively as sacrifice, the danger is that it may ultimately lead to loving God to the exclusion of loving my neighbor.

The ancient Israelite prophets frequently criticized their people for somehow attempting to pit the love of God against the love of neighbor. In the prophet Isaiah, we hear:

“The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have more than enough burnt offerings, or rams and the fat of fattened animals. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.” (1: 11 – 17)

By contrast, the MERCY paradigm of holiness emphasizes the need to integrate the two components of Jesus’ Great Commandment exemplified in the words of 1 John 4:12:

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and love is made complete in us.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but loving God and loving neighbor can never be separated. They are indeed two indispensable sides of the very same coin. The goal of holiness that we pursue in praying, fasting, singing songs of praise, donating blood making meals for the homeless and every other act of piety and mercy is not to prove anything to God but to give God complete influence over our hearts.

Sacrifice can be extremely beneficial when it is a means for submitting ourselves more completely to God’s mercy and not a substitute for it. For example, fasting can teach us to be aware of our own hungers and our need for God to feed us as a remedy for the pride of self-sufficiency. However, if God indeed desires mercy over sacrifice, the commands that God gives us are not intended to be tests of our loyalty to God but rather a pathway for allowing His reign of mercy to reign in our hearts - a reign expressed through our exercise of mercy toward one another.

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(July 7, 2018: Saturday, Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?”

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

“If you can stand fasting, you will do well to fast on certain days in addition to those prescribed by the Church. Besides the usual effects of fasting, namely, elevating our spirits, keeping the body in submission, practicing virtue and gaining greater reward in heaven, it is valuable for restraining gluttony and keeping our sensual appetites and body subject to the law of the spirit.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 185)

From a Salesian perspective, there is a place for fasting in the spiritual life. However, fasting is not the only method for “elevating our spirits, keeping the body in submission, practicing virtue and gaining greater reward in heaven.” So is work!

Francis continued:

“Both fasting and labor mortify and subdue the flesh. If your work is necessary for you to contribute to God’s glory, I prefer that you endure the pains of work rather than that of fasting. Such is the mind of the Church…One man finds it difficult to fast, while another is called to care for the sick, visit prisoners, hear confessions, preach, comfort the afflicted, pray and perform similar tasks. These latter disciplines are of greater value than the first: besides subduing the body, they produce much more desirable fruits.” (Ibid, pp. 185 – 186)

Why didn’t Jesus’ disciples fast? It seems they were too busy contributing to God’s glory by serving the needs of others.

There are two ways of contributing to God’s glory: fasting (doing without) and laboring (doing).

Today, which way will you pursue today?

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(July 8, 2018: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”

The account in today’s Gospel is but one of many episodes in which Jesus experienced rejection. People “took offense” at him because of his dedication and devotion to doing God’s Will in his own life. So strong was this resistance and rejection in his native place that “he was not able to perform any mighty deed” there.

The temptation that Jesus faced – the temptation we all face – is to be more concerned about being accepted by others than to stick to our convictions, when confronted by rejection. We are tempted to dilute the truth, to lower our standards and to avoid anything that “rocks the boat”. We are tempted to win friends at all costs, but unfortunately we lose ourselves in the process.

St. Francis de Sales, the gentleman saint, was a man who tried his best to speak and live the truth of the Gospel in a humble, gentle and friendly way. For all his powers of persuasion, though, he, also experienced rejection. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he writes:

“As soon as people see that you wish to follow a devout life they aim a thousand darts of mockery and detraction at you. The most slanderous of them will slander your devotion as hypocrisy, bigotry and trickery. Your friends will raise a lot of objections which they consider very prudent and charitable: they will tell you that you will become depressed, lose your reputation in the world, become unbearable, grow old before your time, and that your affairs at home will suffer. They will say that you can save your soul without going to such extremes.” (Part IV, Chapter 1)

Ouch! It seems (by some standards, at least) that the Good News is not always so good - or, a least, not very easy - for the folks who try to live it!

To be sure, we sometimes need to look for the kernels of truth that may be contained in criticism and rejection. Are we arrogant? Are we strident? Are we too pushy or stubborn? Is it really God’s Will that we are promoting or is it our own? Still, if our conscience is clear, how do we deal with rejection?

Francis de Sales’ advises: “Be firm in your purposes and unswerving in your resolutions. Perseverance will prove whether you are sincerely sacrificing yourself to God and dedicating yourself to living a devout life.” He concludes: “The world may hold us to be fools.” Like Jesus, rejection is a price – however painful – that we must sometimes be willing to pay.

And so today, if rejection comes our way, how will we deal with it?

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(July 9, 2018: Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs )
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“Courage! Your faith has saved you…”

How many times does Jesus make this statement (or ones similar to it) in the context of performing a miracle? Some might interpret his words as gratuitous. They might view these words as Jesus’ attempt to make the beneficiaries patronize them into thinking that they contributed – somehow, even in some small way - to the releasing of His life-changing power.

Those who would interpret Jesus’ words as patronizing would be wrong – dead wrong.

When Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you”, He is simply speaking the truth. The two miracles in today’s Gospel illustrate this point. In both cases (an official with a dead daughter and a woman with a chronic illness) the story that ends with the daughter being raised from the dead and the woman being cured from her hemorrhage were set into motion because someone had the courage to approach Jesus with a request and/or an intuition: “Come, lay your hand on her, and she will live” and “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured”.

What if the official had been too proud to ask Jesus for help? What if the woman had been too ashamed to reach out to Jesus? Fortunately for them, each of them was (1) humble enough to acknowledge their need, and (2) courageous enough to ask for help.

How about us? Are there any needs that we (or those we love) have that we believe only Jesus has the power to address? Are we humble enough to name those needs for ourselves? Are we courageous enough to bring those needs to Jesus?

Do you believe your faith in Jesus can save you?

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(July 10, 2018: Tuesday, Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"At the sight of the crowds his heart was moved…”

In commenting upon the Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn…” William Barclay wrote: “It is first of all to be noted about this beatitude that the Greek word for to mourn – used here – is the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language. It is the mourning that is used for mourning for the dead, for the passionate lament for one who was loved…it is defined as the kind of grief that takes such a hold on a man that it cannot be hidden. It is not only the sorrow which brings an ache to the heart; it is the sorrow which brings the unrestrained tear to the eyes…” ( The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 93)

In the case of Jesus, it is this sorrow that moves his heart and releases miraculous power!

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales cites one of two virtues associated with mourning or sadness: “Compassion”. ( IDL, Part IV, Chapter 12, p. 253) At the sight of the man with a dead daughter and the woman with a chronic illness in yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved: the woman was cured, and the girl was raised. In today’s Gospel Jesus’ heart was deeply moved as He taught in synagogues, proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom, and cured every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved. Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size and scale of the neediness that He himself was encountering in others, Jesus asked His disciples to pray that God send more laborers for His harvest. In tomorrow’s Gospel, Jesus’ heart will move Him to go a step further with this request: He himself will commission his disciples to be those very laborers.

Whenever Jesus’ heart was moved by the sight of others’ needs, power was released in Him. The people were taught; the sick were healed; the possessed were freed; the lost were found and the dead were raised. These actions are at the heart of compassion, because it’s not enough merely to feel sorry for someone else’s plight. Compassion requires that we do something to address another’s plight. Compassion is more than just feeling; compassion is about doing.

Today, are we willing to take our rightful place as laborers for God’s harvest? At the sight of other people’s needs, will our hearts – like the heart of Jesus himself – be moved to meet their needs? In other words, will we respond with compassion?

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(July 11, 2018: Benedict, Abbot )
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“Sow for yourselves justice, reap the fruit of piety.”

Wikipedia defines piety as “a virtue that can mean religious devotion, spirituality or a combination of both. A common element in most conceptions is humility.” Merriam-Webster defines piety as (1) “the quality of being religious or reverent,” and (2) “the quality of being dutiful.” Synonyms include: “devoutness, godliness, religiousness and devotion.”

In a letter to Madame de Limojon, Francis de Sales wrote: “I have said this to you in person, madam, and now I write it: I don’t want a devotion that is bizarre, confused, neurotic, strained, and sad, but rather, a gentle, attractive, peaceful piety; in a word, a piety that is quite spontaneous and wins the love of God, first of all, and after that, the love of others.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 156)

As Francis de Sales understood it, piety is less a function of how many prayers we say, how many spiritual exercises we perform or how many hours we spend on our knees (although these things do have their place!). No, piety is more about being devout, about being “dutiful,” that is, about honoring what is due to God and honoring what is due to our neighbor.

In other words, piety is about justice; piety is about doing what is right.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, (Book XI, Chapter 3, p. 202) Francis observed: “Of all virtuous actions we ought most carefully practice those of religion and reverence for divine things. Such are the acts of faith, hope and holy fear of God. We must often speak of heavenly things, think of eternity and sigh for it, frequent churches and sacred services, read devout books and observe the ceremonies of the Christian religion…” Provided, of course, that all these nourish “sacred love.”

Today, do you want to reap “the fruit of piety”? Then, sow justice for God and sow justice for others.

Spirituality Matters 2018: June 28th - July 4th

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(June 28, 2018: Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr)
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“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “You must be ready to suffer many great afflictions for our Lord, even martyrdom itself. However, as long as divine Providence does not send you great, piercing afflictions…bear patiently the slight inconveniences, the little inconveniences and the inconsequential losses that daily come to you…All such little trials when accepted and embraced with love are highly pleasing to God’s mercy.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

When it comes to entering the Kingdom of God, talk is cheap. As we see clearly in the example of Abram, Sarai, and so many others in the selections from the Book of Genesis that we have been hearing this week, there’s a lot less lips service involved with following God’s will and a great deal more hearing – to say nothing of doing it!

How far are we willing to go this day in attempting to follow the will of God – by doing it?

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(June 28, 2018: Vigil Mass of Peter and Paul, Apostles)
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“Their message goes out through all the earth…

Tomorrow, the Church celebrates the lives and legacies of two of its greatest Apostles: Peter and Paul. Great as these men were, however, their lives illustrate the fact that you don’t have to be perfect to be a follower of Jesus.

Of Saint Peter, Francis de Sales wrote: “St. Peter was chosen to be the chief of the Apostles, although he was subject to so many imperfections that he even committed some after he had received the Holy Spirit, because, notwithstanding these defects, he was always full of courage, never allowing himself to be dismayed by his shortcomings.” (Conferences, Number IV, Page 63)

Francis expounds upon this duality of Peter’s nature in his Treatise on the Love of God. “Who would not marvel at the heart of St. Peter, so bold among armed soldiers that out of his entire master’s company he alone takes his sword in hand and strikes out with it? Yet a little afterwards among ordinary people he is so cowardly that at the mere word of a servant girl he denies and detests his master.” (Book X, Chapter 9, p, 167)

There are lessons to be gleaned from the life of St. Paul, too. Francis observed: “He fights for all people, he pours forth prayers for all people, he is passionately jealous in behalf of all people, and he is on fire for all people. Yes, he even dared more than this for ‘those according to the flesh,’ so that, if I dare to say so, he desires by charity that they may be put in his place with Jesus Christ. O perfection of courage and unbelievable spirit!” (Treatise, Book X, 16, pp. 188 – 189)

Of course, as in the case of Peter, Paul also has his shortcomings. In a letter of encouragement to a sister of the Visitation, Francis wrote: “Do not be ashamed…any more than St. Paul who confessed that there were two men in him, one rebellious to God and the other obedient to God.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 224.)

Indeed, their message – as we see so clearly in their lives and as we hear in their words – continues to go out through all the earth. And this message could not be any clearer or more relevant now than it was nearly two thousand years ago: “God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness…” (Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer: Martyrs, Roman Sacramentary)

God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness to the power and promise of his love. Weak as they were, God chose Peter and Paul in their time to be heralds of the Good News.

And yes, God chooses us in our time. The Lord chooses us as we are – imperfections, cracks, warts and all – and makes us something strong, beautiful, powerful and passionate for God…and for one another.

Let God’s message – and yours – go out through all the earth, especially to those with whom you will share your life this very day and every day.

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(June 29, 2018: Peter and Paul, Apostles)
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“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul – Apostles.

Of Saint Peter, Francis de Sales wrote: “St. Peter was chosen to be the chief of the Apostles, although he was subject to so many imperfections that he even committed some after he had received the Holy Spirit, because, notwithstanding these defects, he was always full of courage, never allowing himself to be dismayed by his shortcomings.” (Conferences, Number IV, Page 63)

Francis expounds upon this duality of Peter’s nature in his Treatise on the Love of God. “Who would not marvel at the heart of St. Peter, so bold among armed soldiers that out of all of his master’s company he alone takes his sword in hand and strikes out with it? Yet a little afterwards among ordinary people he is so cowardly that at the mere word of a servant girl he denies and detests his master.” (TLG, Book X, Chapter 9, p, 167)

Now let us turn our attention to some of what Francis de Sales said about St. Paul. “He fights for all people, he pours forth prayers for all people, he is passionately jealous in behalf of all people, and he is on fire for all people. Yes, he even dared more than this for ‘those according to the flesh,’ so that, if I dare to say so, he desires by charity that they may be put in his place with Jesus Christ. O perfection of courage and unbelievable spirit!” (Treatise, Book X, Chapter 16, pp. 188 – 189)

Of course, as in the case of Peter, Paul, too, has his shortcomings. In a letter of encouragement to a sister of the Visitation, Francis wrote: “Do not be ashamed…any more than St. Paul who confessed that there were two men in him, one rebellious to God and the other obedient to God.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 224.)

“I competed well; I have finished the race.” Paul wrote these words, but they could also be said of Peter. But note well – they both finished well. By contrast, look at their earlier track records. Peter was called “Satan” by Jesus and Peter denied Him three times. While Paul, he began his public life by persecuting the early Church as Saul. Neither man’s resumes were particularly impressive!

When it comes to being an apostle, a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ, perhaps this is the most important thing to remember – as imperfect as we are, where we’ve been isn’t nearly as important as where we are going with the grace of God and the support of one another.

All’s well that ends well!

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(June 30, 2018: First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church)
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“Only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I, to, am a man subject to authority…”

In a sermon about St. Joseph and the Holy Family, Francis de Sales observed:

“Shall we dare to say that we can very well govern ourselves, and that we have no need of the help and direction of those whom God has given to us for our guidance, not esteeming them, indeed, capable enough for us? Tell me; was the Angel in any way superior to Our Lord or to Our Lady? Had he a better intellect or more judgment? By no means! Was he more qualified for the work of guidance? Was he endowed with any special or peculiar grace? That could not be, seeing that Our Lord is both God and man, and that Our Lady, being His Mother, had, in consequence, more grace and perfection than all the Angels together; nevertheless the Angel commands and is obeyed. See what rank is observed in the Holy Family! No doubt it was the same as it is among sparrow-hawks, where the hen-bird rules and is superior to the male.”

“Who could doubt for a moment that Our Lady was much superior to St. Joseph, and that she had more discretion and qualities more fit for ruling than her spouse? Yet the Angel never addresses himself to her as regards anything that has to be done, either as to going or coming, or whatever it might be. Does it not seem to you that the Angel commits a great indiscretion in addressing himself to St. Joseph rather than to Our Lady, who is the head of the house, as possessing the treasure of the Eternal Father? Had she not just reason to be offended by this proceeding and by this mode of treatment? Doubtless she might have said to her spouse: ‘Why should I go into Egypt, since my Son has not revealed to me that I must go, still less has the Angel spoken to me on the subject?’ Yet Our Lady makes no such remark; she is not in the least offended because the Angel addresses himself to St. Joseph; she obeys quite simply, knowing that God has so ordained it. She does not ask: ‘Why?’ It is sufficient for her that He wills it so, and that it is His pleasure that we should submit without hesitation. ‘But I am more than the Angel,’ she might have said, ‘and more than St. Joseph.’ No such thought occurs to her.”

“Let it, then, be enough to know that God wishes us to obey, without occupying ourselves with considering the capability of those whom we are called upon to obey. In this way we shall bring down our minds to walk simply in the happy path of a holy and tranquil humility which will render us infinitely pleasing to God.”

This observation is a great insight that Francis de Sales offers regarding the virtue – and practice – of obedience. The essence of obedience (from the Latin meaning to listen) is not doing simply what we’re told to do, but also obedience is recognizing that each person in our lives has a unique role to play in helping us to become the people that God wants us to be. The centurion displayed the virtue of obedience less by telling Jesus to give him an order and more by his recognizing who Jesus was in his life. And, as the Gospel clearly illustrates, this obedience was an obedience with which Jesus was not only well pleased – He was almost awestruck!

How might we imitate the great example of the centurion in our attempts to be obedient, that is, to listen to the voice of Jesus today?

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(July 1, 2018: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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"God did not make death, nor does God rejoice in the destruction of the living."

"Just as you excel in every respect, so may you excel in this gracious act also…”

Death is an unavoidable part of life. In truth, long before each of us takes our last breath, we will experience many little deaths throughout our lives: occasions of loss, disappointment, surrender and letting go.

Francis de Sales offers this advice to all people who, while celebrating God's gift of life, also accept the reality of death: “How worthwhile it is really to understand that we are only given this life so as to gain eternal life! Without this knowledge we fix our affections on what is in this world through which we are passing; when it comes to leaving it we are dismayed and full of fear. Believe me, if we are to live happily during this pilgrimage we must keep alive before our eyes the hope of arriving in our homeland where we shall stay for all eternity.” (Selected Letters by Elizabeth Stopp, p. 261)

Life is full of so many people, relationships, gifts, blessings, challenges and endeavors that enhance and nourish the human spirit! How do we truly, fully and completely enjoy them without clinging to them?

The answer - by being generous!

So, look no further than to the example of Jesus himself. Jesus, the Son of God, the one in whom, through whom and for whom all things exist, “made himself poor so that we might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8) Jesus did not cling to all that was good and blessed here on earth for his own consumption or satisfaction. No, his satisfaction was found in generously sharing all of whom he was and what he possessed with others. Jesus conquered sin and death precisely because he had committed himself to the path of generosity during the course of his life.

In the face of limitation, in the face of setback, in the face of sin and in the face of surrender we are tempted to cling exclusively to all the good that God gives us. However, Jesus shows us another way. Insofar as we are willing to respond to the experiences of loss and letting go by generously sharing ourselves with others, we are destined to conquer death and come to understand what it means to truly live.

If there is anything that we truly possess and never lose in this life, let it be our commitment to perform good works, to make real and tangible the richness of God's love in us, and to generously share God's love and good works with one another.

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(July 2, 2018: Monday, Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You sit speaking against your brother; against your mother’s son you spread rumors…Shall I be deaf to it ? I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.” (Responsorial Psalm)

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

“Never slander anyone either directly or indirectly. Beware of falsely imputing crimes and sins to your neighbor, revealing his secret sins, exaggerating those that are manifest, putting an evil interpretation on his good works, denying the good that you know belongs to someone or 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, p. 202)

Let’s say that we are making progress in refraining from saying anything against other people that would either exaggerate their vices or diminish their virtues. Let’s say that our consciences are clear because we are making strides in refraining from bad-mouthing other people or putting other people down. Are we in the clear? Not quite! At least, not in St. Francis de Sales’ opinion, for in the same chapter he stated:

“When you hear anyone spoken ill of, make the accusation doubtful if you can do so justly. If you cannot, excuse the intention of the accused party. If that cannot be done, express sympathy for that person change the subject of conversation, reminding yourself and others that those who do not fall into sin owe it all to God’s grace. Confront the slanderer in a mild way and tell of some good deed of the offended party if you are aware of any.” (Ibid, pp. 205-206)

Do you want to rid the world of rumors? It isn’t enough to refrain from spreading them ourselves, but we must also be willing to speak up when we hear them spread by others.

Today, if you hear something uncharitable, say something! Like God, don’t be deaf to it – address it!

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(July 3, 2018: Thomas, Apostle)
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"Unless I see the mark of the nails…I will not believe.”

In the same chapter (“On Slander”) to which we referred during yesterday’s homiletic reflection, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Do not say that so-and-so is a drunkard even though you have seen him intoxicated, or that so-and-so is an adulterer even if you saw him in his sin, or that so-and-so is incestuous because he has been guilty of a certain depraved deed. A single act is not enough to justify the name of vice...To deserve the name of a vice or a virtue, there must be some advance in an act and it must be habitual. Hence it is untrue to say that so-and-so is bad-tempered or a thief simply because we once saw him in a fit of anger or guilty of theft…We must not draw conclusions from yesterday to today, nor from today to yesterday, and still less to tomorrow.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 29, p. 202)

So why is it, then, that we continue to refer to the Apostle whose life and legacy we celebrate today as “Doubting Thomas”. It has been nearly two thousand years since he declared to his peers what it would take for him to believe that Jesus was risen. Why should we vilify Thomas for being honest? Why should we beat up on Thomas for speaking from his heart?

Jesus certainly didn’t!

Jesus didn’t scold Thomas for his declaration. Jesus didn’t refuse Thomas’ request. Quite the contrary! Jesus showed him his hands and his side, and said, in effect: See my wounds? You bet! Touch my hands and side? Absolutely! If that’s what it’s going to take to convince you that I’m real, Thomas, then by all means do it!” It was then that Thomas believed that the person who was standing in front of him was the same Jesus with whom he walked for three years - the same Jesus, who spent his ministry meeting people where they were, now offered the same courtesy to him.

In the closing scene from the film Red Dragon, Dr. Hannibal Lector’s character opined: “Our scars have the power to remind us that the past was real.” Perhaps Thomas intuited that only the scars left by Jesus’ humiliation, passion and death could convince him that Jesus had conquered death! Perhaps this is what prompted Thomas’ request. Perhaps that’s why Thomas had the courage to speak his truth despite the giddy euphoria of the other Apostles who had previously seen Jesus. Can you really blame Thomas for not taking their word?

Come to think of it, it is remarkable that the experience of resurrection did not remove the wounds of Jesus - the lasting marks of pain, disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection, humiliation, abandonment, suffering and death. Notwithstanding these wounds, however, 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 only suffering.

Maybe it’s time for us to retire the moniker “Doubting Thomas” and replace it from this day forward with “Believing Thomas”!

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(July 4, 2018: Independence Day)
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“Seek good and not evil, that you may live; Hate evil and love good, and let justice prevail at the gate; Let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream.”

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary…to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Do you want to have Life, and to have Life in abundance? Do you want to experience true Liberty? Do you want to experience lasting Happiness? Then serve God! Show in your own life – and in the lives of others – the power and promise that comes with giving homage to God! How can we do that?

(1) Seek good by pursuing and promoting the God-given, unalienable gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with others, and

(2) stop evil by confronting and containing anything that threatens these same God-given, unalienable gifts.

Using the language of the Salesian tradition, we are most free when we pay homage to God by treating ourselves and others with profound respect and reverence.

And isn’t this self-evident!

Spirituality Matters 2018: June 21st - June 27th

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(June 21, 2012: Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious)
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“Thy will be done…”

In a sermon on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Francis de Sales preached:

“People who, like Martha, are desirous and anxious to do something for Our Lord believe they are very devout and believe that this eagerness is a virtue. However, this is no so, as He Himself would have us understand. Only one thing is required, that is, to have God and possess Him. If I seek only Him, what does it matter to me if I have to do one thing or another? If I desire only His will, what will it matter to me if I have to do one thing or another? If I desire only His will, what will it matter to me whether I am sent to Spain or to Ireland? If I seek only His cross, why should I be troubled if I am sent to the Indies, or to old countries or to new countries, since I am certain that I shall find it everywhere?” (Living Jesus p. 436)

These words are not mere pious platitudes coming from the mouth of the Gentleman Saint. His life is filled with illustrations of how Francis de Sales practiced what he preached. In reflecting upon an offer he received to become a coadjutor to Cardinal de Retz in Paris, he wrote to Madame Angelique Arnauld:

“I am, and shall be and ever want to be at the mercy of God’s divine providence. I want to hold no rank except that of a servant and a follower…I am again invited to go to Paris under advantageous conditions. I said that I would neither go there nor stay here unless to follow the will of God. This country (Savoy) is my home according to my natural birth; according to my spiritual birth, my home is the Church. I shall willingly go or stay wherever I can best serve the latter without attaching myself to the former.” (Ibid, p. 438)

In a Conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales once quipped: “While all the saints have saved their souls (by following God’s will) they have done so in very different ways…” (Conference XIX, p. 365) All of us are called to follow the will of God, but no two of us are called to follow God’s will in exactly the same way. All of us are called to put ourselves as the disposal of God’s plans, and God’s plan may take each of us in a variety of different directions. Of course, the one constant in the midst of life’s twists and turns is the God whose will we try to accomplish!

Today, how might God ask us to follow His will?

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(June 22, 2018: John Fisher, Thomas More, Martyrs)
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“Store up treasures in heaven…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life (in a chapter entitled, “We must be Faithful to both Great and Little Tasks”), Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Sacred Spouse implies that He is pleased to accept the great deeds of devout persons, that their least and lowest deeds are also acceptable to Him, and that to serve Him as He wishes we must have great care to serve Him well in both great, lofty matters and in small, unimportant things. With love we can capture His heart by the one just as well as by the other…For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves from moment to moment it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches if only you use them well.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

Do you want to store up treasures in heaven? Do good things for God – be they little or great – as often as you can on this earth.

Each and every day!

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(June 23, 2018: Saturday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not worry about your life…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life (in a chapter entitled, “We must be Faithful to both Great and Little Tasks”), Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Sacred Spouse implies that He is pleased to accept the great deeds of devout persons, that their least and lowest deeds are also acceptable to Him, and that to serve Him as He wishes we must have great care to serve Him well in both great, lofty matters and in small, unimportant things. With love we can capture His heart by the one just as well as by the other…For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves from moment to moment it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches if only you use them well.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

Don’t worry about whether or not you are making great progress in the spiritual life. Don’t worry about not measuring up! Don’t worry about not being perfect! Just simply – with trust and confidence - do good things for God – be they little or great – as often as you can on this earth.

In the process you will slowly – but surely - store up treasures not only in heaven, but also right here, right now on this earth.

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(June 24, 2018: Nativity of John the Baptist)
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“I make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Francis de Sales wrote:

“I have often wondered who is the most mortified of the saints that I know, and after some reflection I have come to the conclusion that it was St. John the Baptist. He went into the desert when he was five years old, and knew that our Savior came to earth in a place quite close by, perhaps only one or two days’ journey. How his heart, touched with love of his Savior from the time he was in his mother’s womb, must have longed to enjoy Christ’s presence. Yet, he spends twenty-five years in the desert without coming to see our Lord even once; and leaving the desert he catechized without visiting him but waiting until our Lord comes to seek him out. Then, after he has baptized Jesus, he does not follow him but stays behind to do his appointed task. How truly mortified was John’s spirit! To be so near his Savior and not see him, to have Him so close and not enjoy His presence! Is this not a completely detached spirit, detached even from God himself so as to do God’s will, and to serve God, as it were to leave God for God, and not to cling to God in order to love him better? The example of this great saint overwhelms me with its grandeur.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, Page 74)

“How truly mortified was John the Baptist’s spirit.” What does Francis de Sales mean? The American Heritage Dictionary defines mortify as “to discipline by self-denial or self-inflicted privation.” John did, indeed, discipline himself. He denied himself many things in order to be faithful to his understanding of the person God wanted him to be: a light to the nations, a light to highlight the coming of Jesus.

Think about it: John spends his entire life preparing to announce Christ’s coming. Despite growing up in the same general area, John meets Christ only once – when John baptized him at the Jordan River – and then remains behind as Jesus recruited others to be his apostles and disciples! John never sees his cousin again before dying in prison at the hands of one of King Herod’s executioners.

John was faithful to the role God wanted him to play in the plan of salvation. John played that role supremely well. Listen to what Jesus himself said: “I tell you the truth: among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11: 11) “Yet,” Jesus continues, “Anyone who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” John shows us that being faithful to God’s will often requires that we deprive ourselves of the desire to “have it all” and to dedicate ourselves to discerning – and embracing – our unique roles in God’s plan of salvation.

In ways unique to our states and stages of life, God calls us also to be “a light to the nations.” Are we prepared to practice the discipline required to be that light?

Beginning today!

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(June 25, 2018: Monday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you…”

In his commentary on today’s selection from the Gospel of Matthew, William Barclay wrote:

“Many a time the Rabbis warned people against judging others. ‘He who judges his neighbor favorably,’ they argued, ‘will be judged favorably by God. They decreed that there were six great works which brought a person credit in this world and profit in the world to come – namely, study, visiting the sick, hospitality, devotion in prayer, educating children in the Law and thinking the best of other people. The Jews believed that kindliness in judgment was nothing other than a sacred duty.” ( Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 119-120)

“There is hardly anyone who has not been guilty of gross misjudgment; there is hardly anyone who has not been the victim of someone else’s misjudgment. And yet, the fact is that there is hardly any commandment of Jesus which is more consistently broken and neglected than temptations to judge other people.” (Ibid)

There are three great reasons why we should not judge other people:

  1. We are rarely impartial in our judgment.
  2. Not one of us is so perfect as to presume to judge any other person.
If these reasons aren’t enough to curb our tendency to judge other people, then heed Jesus’ warning: “The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”

In that case, if we can’t refrain from judging others, it might be in our best interest to judge people in the most positive light, that is, to presume the best in others.

With the hope that God – in his mercy – will look for and see the best in us.

* * * * *
(June 26, 2018: Tuesday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life…”

Striving for perfection or growing in holiness or “living Jesus” is a formidable challenge. Embracing a life of virtue requires strength and courage. Renouncing sin requires strength and courage. Turning a deaf ear to temptation requires strength and courage. On any given day, our progress in devotion is marked by both success and failure.

However, this striving to be holy is made even more difficult when we attempt to be holy in a way that doesn’t fit our state or stage of life - a way of living that doesn’t fit who we are. While we are all indeed called to be holy, we are not called to be holy in the in exactly the same way as others. Francis reminds us:

“Devotion (holiness) must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the prince the widow the young girl and the married woman. I ask you, is it fitting for a bishop to want to live a solitary life like a monk? Or for a married man to want to own no more property than a monk, for a skilled workman to spend his whole day in a church, for a religious to be constantly subject to every sort of call in service to one’s neighbor, which is more suited to the bishop? Would not such holiness be laughable, confused and impossible to live?” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 2)

Francis de Sales put it another way in a Conference (On the Virtues of St. Joseph) to the early Visitation community: “Some of the saints excelled in one virtue, some in another, and although all have saved their souls, they have done so in very different ways, there being as many different kinds of sanctity as there are saints.” (Conference XIX, p. 365) A more contemporary reflection on this issue comes from Nobel prize-winning author and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “There are a thousand and one gates leading into the orchard of mystical truth. Every human being has his or her own gate. We make a mistake of wanting to enter the orchard by any gate other than our own.” (Night, Page 3)

To be sure, if there is indeed one model of Christian holiness, we find that model in Jesus Christ, the one in whom all of us are consecrated. But to be holy - as Jesus is holy - is not about trying to be like someone else. Rather, being holy is about having the strength, integrity and courage to be who God wants each one of us to be, precisely in the places, circumstances and relationships in which we find ourselves each day.

Today, where will you find your gate to holiness?

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(June 27, 2018: Cyril of Alexandria)
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“By their fruits you will know them…”

Imagine yourself walking through a lush forest in which you encounter a variety of fruit-bearing plants. What would you expect to find along the boughs of an apple tree? Why, apples, of course! What would you expect to find hanging from the branches of a peach tree? Peaches, no doubt! What would you expect to find near the top of a banana tree? Clearly, you’d look for bananas! You approach grape vines. What would you expect to find throughout them? You’d hope to see grapes!

In the opening chapters of 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 his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one according to his position and vocation.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 3)

Insofar as we are “living plants of the Church,” what kind of fruit(s) should we be producing? He offers some ideas in a letter he wrote four hundred years ago to Mademoiselle de Soulfour: “Let us practice those ordinary virtues suited to our littleness…patience, forbearance toward our neighbor, service to others, humility, gentleness of heart, affability, tolerance of our own imperfections and similar little virtues…” (LSD, p. 98)

Today, how will other people describe us by the fruits that they discover growing in and from us today?

Spirituality Matters 2018: June 14th - June 20th

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(June 14, 2012: Thursday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift…”

There is no question that Jesus raises the bar in today’s Gospel. Essentially, he says: Don’t even think about offering something to God without first offering the opportunity to be reconciled with another. However, Jesus isn’t exactly blazing a trail with this admonition. After all, in the Book of the Prophet Hosea we read, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (6:6) Indeed, Jesus references this quote four chapters later in Matthew’s Gospel when He states: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’”. (9: 9-13)

The single biggest obstacle to our complying with Jesus’ command is making the mistake of waiting for the “right” time or the “perfect” moment to be reconciled with another person. The longer we wait, the more difficult it may be to muster the strength to give/grant forgiveness. Likewise, the longer we wait the more time our injuries have to fester or deepen, making it all the more difficult to “bury the hatchet.” Francis de Sales’ advice when it comes to forgiveness and reconciliation? “Fresh wounds are quickest healed”.

There is no better way to avoid remembering you have something against someone else than to not allow much time to pass between the injury and the remedy. As sinners, what better way is there to become righteous than through our commitment to give and grant forgiveness? For those called by Jesus, what better offering could we possibly make to God than to be reconciled with one another as quickly – and as deeply - as possible?

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(June 15, 2018: Friday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord…” (Responsorial Psalm)

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

“God has drawn you out of nothingness to make you what you are now and has done so solely out of his goodness. Consider the nature that 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”. (IDL, Part I, Chapter 9, p. 95)

We know that we don’t always live up to our God-given goodness. We know we fall short. We know we fall down. We know that we even drag others down with us.

Francis de Sales tells us not to give up. Francis de Sales tells us to keep trying. Francis de Sales tells us to keep moving. Be stouthearted (that is, be courageous and determined) and wait for the Lord. In the meantime, try your level best to be the good person that God created you – and redeemed you – to be!

* * * * *
(June 16, 2018: Saturday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the Evil One.”

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity and dissimulation: such things are dangerous…As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul. No artifice is nearly as good or desirable as honest, plain dealing. While worldly prudence and carnal artifice belong to the children of this world, the children of God walk a straight path and their hearts are without guile.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

We are children of God. May our efforts - just this day - to both speak the truth and to also walk in the truth enable us to talk the talk – and to and walk the walk - of Jesus Christ!

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(June 17, 2018: Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed…”

Today’s readings help us to keep things in perspective. Make no mistake – we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. While we are charged with a tremendous duty - advancing the kingdom of God - the most effective means to accomplish this great calling is to pay attention to detail – that is, by doing little things with great love.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales made the following exhortation:

“Put your hand to strong things, by training yourself in prayer and meditation, receiving the sacraments, bringing souls to love God, infusing good inspirations into their hearts and, in fine, by performing big, important works according to your vocation. But never forget…those little, humble virtues that grow like flowers at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick, taking care of your family, with all the responsibilities that accompany such things and with all the useful diligence which prompts you to not stand idle.”

“Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, but little ones are frequent…you will profit greatly in God’s sight by doing all these things because God wishes you to do the.” (III, 35, pp. 214 – 215)

God gives each one of us a rich abundance of means proper for our salvation. By a wondrous infusion of God’s grace into our minds, hearts, attitudes and actions, the Spirit makes our works become God’s work. Our good works - like planting miniscule mustard seeds here or like scattering small seeds there - have vigor and virtue enough to produce a great good because they proceed from the Spirit of Jesus.

As it turns out, little things really do mean a lot in the eyes of God. In fact, they mean everything!

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(June 18, 2018: Monday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He refused to let me have his vineyard…”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines presumptuous as: “Overstepping due bounds (as of propriety or courtesy); taking liberties.”

The story from today’s selection from the First Book of Kings illustrates how one person’s desire can all-too-quickly become an obsession…with disastrous results. Ahab had his heart set of acquiring Naboth’s vineyard. When Ahab’s offer to purchase Naboth’s property was rebuffed, he couldn’t let it go. Undeterred, Ahab and his wife plotted to have Naboth first discredited and subsequently stoned to death. Once dead, Ahab could easily acquire Naboth’s property. Ahab felt entitled to take liberties with others. He believed that other people’s possessions were his for the taking, notwithstanding the fact that other people weren’t offering their possessions! Having little or no sense of boundaries, this presumptuous behavior – as we shall see tomorrow – ended badly for all concerned.

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

“I think you will agree that what I about to describe is both unjust and unreasonable…we want our neighbor to give up his property and take our money for it. Is it not more reasonable that we simply allow him to keep his property while he allows us keep our money?” (Part III, Chapter 36, p. 216)

It’s very tempting to tell other people how they should live their lives. It’s all-too-easy to expect other people to make us the center of their universe. In a letter written to Madame Brulart, Francis de Sales counseled: “Don’t sow your desires in someone else’s garden. Just cultivate your own as best you can.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 112)

By all means follow your dreams and pursue your plans…just remember to extend the same courtesy to everyone else.

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(June 19, 2018: Romuald, Abbot)
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“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

It’s safe to say that we all have enemies. We all have people in our lives that we do not like. We all have people in our lives whose company we avoid. We all have people in our lives that rub us the wrong way. We all have people in our lives that push our buttons. We all have people in our lives that drive us crazy.

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“Antipathies are certain inclinations which excite in us a certain repugnance toward those about whom we entertain these feelings…If I feel a repugnance to conversing with a person whom I know to be most excellent – and from whom I mighty learn much that would do me good – I must not succumb to the antipathy which prompts me to avoid his company. On the contrary, I must discipline myself to listen to the voice of reason telling me rather to seek his company or at least, if I am already in it, to remain there in quiet, peaceful mind…People who are of a harsh, severe disposition will dislike those who are gentle and mild. They will regard such gentleness as extreme weakness, though indeed it is a quality most universally beloved. What remedy is there for these antipathies, since no one, however perfect, can be exempt from them? The only remedy for this evil – as indeed for all other kinds of temptation – is simply to turn away from it and think no more about it…We should never try to justify our reasons for our antipathies, let alone wishing to nourish them. If you have simply a natural, instinctive dislike for anyone, I beseech you to pay no attention to it; turn away your thoughts from it and so trick your mind. When, however, you find these antipathies going too far you must fight against them and overcome them, for reason will never permit us to foster antipathies and evil inclinations for fear of offending God.” (Conference XVI, pp. 298 - 301)

Francis knows the human heart very well. He acknowledges that “this instinctive tendency to love some more than others is natural.” (Ibid) Likes and dislikes are part-and-parcel of life. That said, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Jesus commands us to love those whom we dislike. Jesus commands us to love those who get on our nerves. Like it or not!

Beginning today!

* * * * *
(June 20, 2018: Wednesday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Take care not to perform righteous deeds…that others might see them.”

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

“Humility is the virtue of virtues, but a humility that is generous and peaceable. Preserve a spirit of holy joy which – modestly spreading over your words and actions – gives consolation to the good people who see you, that thus they may glorify God, which is your only aim.” (Living Jesus, p. 150)

Jesus calls us to “perform righteous deeds.” He calls us to live a life of virtue. That said, Jesus cautions us against doing so to win the applause, praise or adulation of others.

Let’s try our level best this day to do the right thing for others. Let’s try our level best to do it for the right reason: to the praise and glory of God!

Spirituality Matters 2018: June 7th - June 13th

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(June 7, 2012: Thursday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The first commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

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

“Many men keep the commandments in the way sick men take medicine: more from fear of dying in damnation than for joy of living according to our Savior’s will. Just as some persons dislike taking medicine - no matter how pleasant it may be – simply because it is called medicine, so there are some souls who hold in horror things commanded simply because they are commanded. By contrast, a loving heart loves the commandments. The more difficult they are the sweeter and more agreeable it finds them since this more perfectly pleases the beloved and gives him great honor. It pours forth and sings great hymns of joy when God teaches it to his commandments and justifications. The pilgrim who goes on his way joyously singing adds the labor of singing to that of walking, and yet by this increase of labor he actually lessens his weariness and lightens the hardship of the journey.” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 5, pp. 67-68)

When you boil it all down, Jesus gives us two – just two – commandments to follow: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. At one and the same time these two commandments are not too much to ask even if they ask us to give them our all!

What better way of taking our medicine to good effect – and being medicinal in the lives of others – than by living these commandments joyfully?

* * * * *
(June 8, 2018: Most Sacred Heart of Jesus)
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“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…”

In a letter (undated) to the Sisters of the Visitation, Jane de Chantal wrote:

“You are, I hope, always striving more earnestly to rid yourself of all that is displeasing to your sovereign spouse and to acquire those virtues which please him. Oh, my dearest sisters, how deeply is this wish engraved in my heart! Show a childlike trust and gentleness toward one another…So courage, dear ones. May all of you together – and each one in particular – work at this and never grow slack. May you all live in harmony with one heart and mind in God…If you imitate Him in all your little trials and make His divine will rule in you, He will fill it with every blessing…I urge you to this once again, for the love of our Savior and by his Precious blood, and with the deep affection of my heart which is all yours in Jesus. (Wright, Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition, p. 95)

God gives us the courage to accept St. Jane’s exhortation and make it our own! God gives us the grace we need to live in harmony with one heart and mind! God gives us the patience to acquire the virtues that please God and serve others!

May God fill us with every blessing - and help us to be a blessing to each other – as He did so clearly through the Sacred Heart of his Son! May Christ indeed dwell in our hearts through faith!

And, in deeds!

* * * * *
(June 9, 2018: Saturday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient…”

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

“Be patient not only with regard to the big, chief part of difficulties that may come to you but also as to things and accidents accompanying them. Many people would be ready to accept trials provided they were not inconvenienced by them. ‘I wouldn’t be bothered by poverty,’ one man says, ‘if it didn’t keep me from helping my friends, educating my children and living as respectably as I’d like.’ ‘It wouldn’t bother me,’ another says, ‘if people didn’t think it was my own fault.’ Another would be willing to suffer patently false reports about him provided that no one believed his detractor. Others are willing to endure part of an evil, so they think, but not the whole of it. They say that they don’t complain about being ill but about their lack of money to get cured or because they are so much bother to those around them. Now I say that we must have patience not merely at being ill but at having the illness that God wishes, where he wishes, among the people he wishes and with whatever difficulties he wishes.” (IDL , Part III, Chapter 3, p. 129)

Many people would be ready to accept trials provided they were not inconvenienced by them. This statements sounds like the restaurant owner who says: “Business would be great if it weren’t for the customers,” or the teacher who opines, “My job would be great if it weren’t for the kids.”

In what ways might I be a “sunshine patriot” when it comes to following Jesus? Do I follow him when it’s easy, but head for the hills when it’s tough? Imagine if Jesus only helped people when it was convenient for him! Where would that have left the people of his day?

Where would that leave us in our day?

* * * * *
(June 10, 2018: Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time))
* * * * *

“Who told you that you were naked?”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales does not equate happiness with self-centeredness, self-absorption or self-obsession. However, Francis does equate happiness with what he calls self-possession. The Gentleman Saint writes:

“It is man’s great happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls.”

What happiness it is to know and accept yourself for who you are in the sight of God! What delight it is to be comfortable – without being complacent – in your own skin! What joy it is to be essentially at home – to be at peace – with the person that God made you to be! Why, it’s the next best thing to Paradise.

Tragically enough, the ability to be at home with ourselves became the first – and the most fundamental – casualty of The Fall. No sooner had Adam and Eve eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge than their natural state – their nakedness, their transparency – became a reproach. They were embarrassed – they were ashamed – of who they were. Literally, they were no longer comfortable in their own skin. Suddenly sullied by self-alienation and self-loathing, Paradise was lost…and life became a burden.

As we know all-too-well, so much of the misery, sin and sadness that plagues the human family to this very day comes from either (1) the inability to be who we really are, or (2) the fruitless attempt to become someone we’re not.

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

“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 should be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose through Creation God made us ‘in his own image and likeness’, whereas through the Incarnation God has made himself in our image and likeness.”

The redemptive grace of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the happiness that comes from possessing our own souls. The restorative power of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the joy of being essentially at home with who we are in the sight of God. Wounded as we are by sin, our practice of devotion – our quest to possess our own souls – no longer comes effortlessly as it originally did in Paradise. It requires perpetual practice; it demands tremendous patience That said, God not only promises us the joy and peace born of this heavenly self-acceptance; God also shows us how to achieve it on this earth in the person of his Son.

Jesus embodies the power of self-possession. Jesus exhibits the joy of self-acceptance. Jesus exudes the peace of self-direction. Who better than Jesus shows us what it looks like to be comfortable in one’s own skin? Who better than Jesus demonstrates what it looks like to invite - and to empower - others to do the same?

Not unlike what he did with our first parents, The Evil One hits us where it hurts. Sometimes Satan tempts us to believe that we can’t possibly be happy by being who we are. Other times, Satan tempts us to believe that we’d be happier if we were someone else – perhaps anybody else – other than who we are. In very deep, dark places within our minds and hearts, each and every one of us is tempted to ask this question:

Sinner as I am, weak as I am, wounded as I am and imperfect as I am, why should I believe that God wants me to be comfortable – at home - in my own skin?

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(June 11, 2018: Barnabas, Apostle)
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“Blessed are...”

How might we experience a blessing in our lives? How might we be a blessing in the lives of others? Some strategies for achieving both might include

  • not clinging to what we have but share it willingly with others
  • being willing to experience the kind of sorrow that leads to compassionate action
  • being humble and gentle enough to see everything as gift
  • making righteousness and justice a priority in our lives
  • a willingness to be generous, especially by acts of forgiveness and reconciliation
  • having hearts that are guileless, open, honest and frank
  • trying to bring others together rather than drive them apart
  • being able to do what is right in the face of misunderstanding, resistance and even hostility
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“To sum up, most holy dilection is a virtue, a gift, a fruit and a beatitude. As a virtue, it makes us obedient to the exterior inspirations that God give us by his commandments and counsels, in fulfillment of which we practice all the virtues. Hence, love is the virtue of all virtues. As gift, dilection makes us docile and amenable to God’s interior inspirations. These are God’s secret commandments and counsels as it were, and in their fulfillment the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are employed. Hence dilection is the gift of gifts. As a fruit in our practice of the devout life, it gives us great relish and pleasure, which are experienced in the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it is the fruit of fruits. As beatitude, it enables us to accept the fronts, calumny, reviling and insults the world heaps upon us as the greatest favors and a unique honor. It also leads us to forsake, renounce, and reject all other glory except that which comes from the Beloved Crucified.” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 19, pp. 252-253)

In short, how do we become Beatitudes of God? The answer - by our attempts each and every day to be a source of blessing in the lives of others.

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(June 12, 2018: Tuesday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry…”

The story from today’s reading from the Book of Kings illustrates the reward that awaits those who trust in God’s care for them. In a conference (“On Hope”) to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“No one ever trusts in God without reaping the fruits of his confidence. Consider, I beseech you, what Our Lord and Master said to His Apostles in order to establish in them this holy and loving confidence: I sent you forth through the world without scrip, money or any provision, either for your food or for your clothing, and did you want for anything? They answered: Nothing. Go, He then said to them, and take no thought what you shall eat or what you shall drink, or wherewithal you shall be clothed …for on each occasion your heavenly Father will furnish you with all that is necessary for you…Do you think that He who takes care to provide food for the birds of the air and the beats of the filed will ever forget to provide all that is necessary for the one who trusts wholly in His Providence?” (Conference VI, pp. 89-90)

Francis de Sales once counseled: “It is far better for us to want what we have rather than to have what we want.” Do we trust that God will always give us what we need but not necessarily always give us what we’d like to have? If it be God’s will, are we willing to content ourselves with the one thing that will never go empty or run dry?

God’s fidelity to – and love for – us!

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(June 13, 2018: Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church)
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“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets...”

Throughout the Gospels Jesus was repeatedly criticized by the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes for not “doing it by the book”. That is, he was accused of abolishing the Law and the prophets by not living by the letter of the Law. In today’s Gospel Jesus responds to that charge by saying not only does He have no intention of abolishing the Law, but also he plans to go one step further – to fulfill the Law.

And how does Jesus fulfill the Law and the Prophets? He does so by being himself, that is, by performing the works of God in accordance with the will of God, and not by the whims of man – a life described by St. Paul as a life lived in “the Spirit”.

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

“The Holy Spirit dwells in us if we are living members of Jesus Christ, who said to his disciples, ‘He who abides in me, and I in him bears much fruit.’ This is because one who abides in him partakes of his divine Spirit, who is the midst of a person’s heart as a living fountain springs up and flashes its waters into everlasting life...Thus, like a little grain of mustard seed, our works are in now ay comparable in greatness to the tree of glory they produce. Still they have the vigor and virtue to produce it because they proceed from the Holy Spirit. By a wondrous infusion of his grace into our hearts he makes our works become his and yet at the same time they remain our own, since we are members of a head of which he is the Spirit…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 7, pp. 211-212)

So, it turns out that the reason that Jesus did not abolish the Law – even the smallest parts of it – is that he embodied the Law, that is, the Law of the Spirit which supersedes (“fulfills”) the letter of the Law. While we, the followers of Jesus, may need to know how to do it “by the book”, the life of Jesus clearly suggests that there is something much more important than the letter of the law and that something is the law of the Spirit, which leads to life.

Today, how can we do our part in fulfilling Jesus’ law of love through our love for one another?

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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(June 3, 2018: Body and Blood of Christ))
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“He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.’”

During the Easter season there is a gradual but purposeful shifting of attention away from the physical, corporeal presence of Jesus in the midst of His apostles and disciples toward His Real Presence in the community that bears His name - Christian. In the Gospels of Easter, Jesus' resurrected, glorified body was frequently not immediately recognized by those who knew Him. In fact, Mary Magdalene thought He was the gardener. Jesus ate cooked fish with his disciples on the lake shore as if to underscore his physical reality - human beings eat and ghosts do not. Doubting Thomas put his hands and fingers into the physical holes left by the nails and the spear, and yet Jesus came into that room without coming through the door! As if to conclude this process of refocusing, this shifting of our attention, eventually the physical body of Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight”.

Today, on this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we return to the Upper Room for the Last Supper and we rightly focus on the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus in His Sacred Body and in His Precious Blood. Our Church has a long and hallowed tradition for awesome reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. This tradition is right and fitting. But always, in addition, the Eucharistic Presence must be related to how we are transformed in ourselves as we assimilate the Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies and into our lives. We believe that we become more and more like Jesus Whom we receive in Holy Communion. We believe that Jesus indwells in our community of faith. Jesus is just as really present in our “gathering of two or three in His Name” as He is in the Word of God or in the Sacred Host and Precious Blood. Each presence is a different mode of presence but each is really and truly the Presence of the Lord Jesus.

And so, we ought to esteem in ourselves those qualities that make us unique and which allow us to contribute uniquely to enfleshing the Body of Christ in the midst of our brothers and sisters - especially those most in need. Saint Francis de Sales often reminds us to be ourselves, “Don't long to be other than who you are, but desire to be thoroughly who you are. Believe me, this is the most important and least understood point in the spiritual life. Be who you are and be that well.”

This advice is not meant to encourage complacency about our faults; rather, it is to affirm our inestimable value in God's eyes and to encourage us to develop our unique talents and gifts for the building up of God's kingdom and the betterment of the lives of those we touch. For some around us, we will be the medium, the ‘matter’ through which they see the face of Jesus. Ours will be the hands that reach out to help, but those we serve will see the hands of Jesus. We will in a real sense become the Body and Blood of Christ and we will “lend ourselves” to Christ for Him to work through us - His Body and Blood.

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(June 4, 2018: Monday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion...”

Life and devotion. Devotion and life. For St. Francis de Sales, these two manifestations of God’s divine power are one in the same. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he observed:

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet is not always love as such. Inasmuch divine love adorns the soul it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to his 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 to do good carefully, frequently and promptly it is called devotion…Good people who have not yet attained devotion fly toward God by their good works but do so infrequently, slowly and awkwardly. Devout souls ascend to him more frequently, promptly and with lofty flights…To be good we must have charity, and to be devout – in addition to charity – we must have great ardor and readiness in performing charitable actions.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

What is the fullness of life? Simply put, the fullness of life is the true love of God. How do we manifest this true love of God? Not simply by doing good (although that is a good start) but by doing good carefully, frequently and promptly.

Today, how will you make use of the gift of God’s divine power today in ways that give life and lead to devotion?

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June 5, 2018: Tuesday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time))
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“Consider the patience of our Lord as salvation…”

If one took a survey of the things that people most frequently confess in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, “losing patience” would probably be near the top of the list. In addition, it is the experience of “losing patience” that often leads to many other things frequently confessed in this Sacrament: e.g., taking God’s name in vain, using obscene language, saying something hurtful and/or doing something hurtful.

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

“‘For you have need of patience that, doing the will of God, you may receive the promise,’ says the Apostle. True enough, for our Savior himself has declared, ‘By your patience you will win your souls. ‘It is man’s great happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls…Do not limit your patience to this or that kind of injury and affliction. Extend it universally to all those God will send you or let happen to you.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Jesus encountered his share of injuries and afflictions during the course of his public ministry, and, no doubt, he also experienced the frustration that comes with those same injuries and afflictions. Yet, Jesus seems to have never lost his cool when dealing with difficult people, situations or circumstances, other than when he drove the money-changers out of the temple. He clearly demonstrated an ability to keep the upper hand over his emotions.

We are called to “Live Jesus!”. We are called to continue Jesus’ saving work in our own day. Have you ever stopped to consider that one of the most practical ways of imitating Christ is to follow His example of patience?

And win our souls in the process?

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(June 6, 2018: Wednesday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I am grateful to God…”

How often do we say “thank you” to God? How often do we take time out to remind ourselves of how generous God has been to us? How often do we think about all the blessings that God has showered – and continues to shower – upon us? Of course, if we took the time required to consider all the things that God has done for us, we wouldn’t have time for anything else!

Francis de Sales offers us no fewer than ten meditations in Part I of his Introduction to the Devout Life. The considerations, affections, resolutions and conclusions contained in each meditation leaves no stone unturned in reflecting upon how good God is to us. A quick review of the things for which we should be grateful includes:

  • Being created
  • Being capable of being perfectly united with God
  • Being destined for eternal life
  • Sharing in God’s grace and glory
  • Enjoying so many gifts of body, mind, heart and spirit
  • Opportunities to serve God
  • Opportunities to serve one another.
Francis de Sales also suggested that from time to time it may be appropriate – even helpful – to take time out and reflect upon our ingratitude. He wrote: “Note how many benefits God has granted you and how you have misused them against their giver. Note especially how many of God’s inspirations you have despised and how many good movements you have rendered useless. Even more than all the rest remember how many times you have received the sacraments: where are the fruits? What has become of those precious jewels with which your beloved Spouse adorned you? Think about such ingratitude…” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 12, pp. 58 – 59)

Recall the great insight from Meister Eckhart: If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Being aware of our ingratitude is a good thing. Being grateful to God is a better thing. Being mindful of God’s love for – and fidelity to – us is the best thing!

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.

* * * * *
(May 30, 2018: Wednesday, Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“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?

* * * * *
(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?

* * * * *
(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!

* * * * *
(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!

* * * * *
(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?

* * * * *
(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!

* * * * *
(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?

* * * * *
(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

* * * * *
(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.

* * * * *
(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?

* * * * *
(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)
* * * * *

“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 )
* * * * *

“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?

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(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!

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(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!

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(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?

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(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.

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(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 )
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“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!

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

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(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!

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(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?