Spirituality Matters 2017: December 21st - December 27th

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(December 21, 2017: Thursday, Third Week of Advent)
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“Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one and come!”

Today’s selection from the Song of Songs – and the entire Song of Songs, for that matter, had a profound influence on St. Francis de Sales. In an article entitledThe Interpretation of the Song of Songs in St. Francis de Sales - How a Saint Learned the Lessons of Love, Anthony J. Ceresko, OSFS wrote:

“St. Francis de Sales represents one of the more notable examples of those who discovered in the Song’s language and imagery the appropriate medium for reflecting on the experience of love. Reading his Treatise on the Love of God, for instance, we appreciate how well he learned “lessons of love” from the Sage of the Song. We marvel at how his gentle guidance led others to drink deeply of that love as well. Francis' introduction to the Song, indeed his introduction to theology, came in 1584, when he was barely seventeen years old. His father had sent him to Paris to complete his university studies in preparation for taking a doctorate in civil and canon law at Padua, in Italy. Although his father foresaw a career in politics and public service for him, Francis harbored in his heart the desire to serve the Church as a priest. He had persuaded his father to allow him to receive tonsure when he was twelve. And in Paris, in addition to his classes in the humanities, he also attended lectures in theology.”

“The first such course he followed was the series of lectures on the Song of Songs given in 1584 by the celebrated Benedictine, Gilbert Genebrard, professor of Hebrew at the Royal College. Both the lectures and Genebrard himself made a profound impression on the youthful student. Lajeunie notes, ‘Francis found both in the sacred text and in the commentary, inspiration for his whole life, the theme for his masterpiece [the Treatise on the Love of God], and the first and best source of his optimism.’ For Genebrard, the Canticle is ‘a dramatic love story composed in bucolic style.’ The effect of Genebrard's interpretation of the Song on Francis was immediate: ‘The history of the world and its salvation was therefore a love story. And the young student was carried away by the idea.’”

“Francis gives a clue to his life-long love affair with the Song in the more than seven hundred citations of the Song listed in the ‘Index’ to the twenty-seven volumes of his collected works. Further, the three verses of the Bible that Francis most often quotes also come from the Song: 1:3 (‘Draw me and I will run in the odor of your ointments’), 8:6 (‘Love is strong as death, jealousy as firm as hell’), and 1:1 (‘Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth, for better than wine are your breasts’). John K. Ryan, the author of a popular translation of the Treatise, comments: ‘All but a few books of both the Old and New Testament are quoted by him, and in most instances, not once but many times.... But the books he uses most are the Psalms and the Canticle of Canticles. Out of the 106 verses that make up the Canticle, 63 are quoted and some of them so often as to make a total of 179 references.” ( http://web1.desales.edu/assets/salesian/PDF/Ceresko-Song.pdf )

Just a handful of days remain before we celebrate the Solemnity of Christmas - one of the greatest moments in the greatest love story of all - God’s love for us.

Today, how can we prepare to receive the God who loves us so much?

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(December 22, 2017: Friday, Third Week of Advent)
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“He has looked upon his lowly servant…and has done great things for me: holy is his name.”

Mary’s great hymn – the Magnificat – is a testimony to her profound sense of humility. But her humility – her sense of being a “lowly servant” – should not be confused with self-deprecation. In truth, Mary’s humility has a lot less to do with her nothingness and a lot more to do with God’s “everything-ness”! Mary’s humility – her being overwhelmed by the generosity of God – empowers her to generously say “yes” to God’s invitation to her to become the Mother of the Messiah.

In his Conference “On Generosity,” St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Humility which does not produce generosity is undoubtedly false, for after it has said, ‘I can do nothing, I am only absolute nothingness,’ it almost immediately gives way to generosity of spirit which says, ‘There is nothing - and there can be nothing - that I am unable to do, so long as I put all my confidence in God who can do all things.’ Buoyed up by this confidence, it courageously undertakes to do all that is commanded.” (Living Jesus, pp. 152-153)

This humility – and its corresponding spirit of generosity – describes Mary to a tee.

Today, can the same be said of us?

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(December 23, 2017: Saturday, Third Week of Advent)
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“Lift up your heads and see: your redemption is near at hand…”

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

“God displays in a marvelous manner the incomprehensible riches of his power in the vast array of things that we see in nature, but he causes the infinite treasures of his goodness to show forth in an even more magnificent way in the unparalleled variety that we see in grace. In a holy excess of mercy, God is not content in solely with granting to his people, that is, to the human race, a general or universal redemption whereby everyone can be saved. God has diversified redemption in many ways, so that while God’s generosity shines forth in all this variety, the variety itself, in turn, adds beauty to his generosity…” TLG, II, Chapter 6, p. 116)

What a powerful statement! God’s redemption is not generic and it is not one-size-fits-all. God redeems us personally, individually and by name. In the next-to-last chapter of his Treatise, Francis remarked: “Consider how Jesus took on the task of redeeming us by his death, ‘even to death upon a cross’. The Savior’s soul knew each of us by name and surname…” (XII, Ch. 121, p. 280)

So, when we pray the words of the psalmist - your redemption - those words really mean your redemption. They do not mean someone else’s redemption - not the redemption of the person to your right or left, not the salvation of folks before or behind you.

Yours!!

So, lift up your head; lift up your heart! See your redemption near at hand…a redemption – a gift – that is crafted specifically for you….out of love for you, for the same God who redeems you by name created you by name.

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Spirituality Matters 2017: December 14th - December 20th

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(December 14, 2017: Thursday, First Week of Advent)
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“The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness…”

Anger is defined as “a strong feeling of being upset or annoyed because of something wrong or bad; the feeling that makes someone want to hurt other people, to shout, etc.; the feeling of being angry”. (From the Middle English, affliction, anger, from Old Norse angr grief; akin to Old English enge narrow, Latin angere to strangle, Greek anchein.) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anger

Regardless of how we define it, we know anger when we see it. We know anger when we hear it and when we feel it. It is, after all, part of the experience of being human.

But as Scripture tells us, anger is also part of being divine. How many times do we hear references to God’s anger, God’s wrath and God’s fury? But note the qualification made in today’s responsorial psalm: God is slow to anger – almost as if to suggest that God only grows angry as a last resort. Even then, the same Scriptures tell us that God’s anger does not endure because divine anger always gives way to the even greater power of divine mercy, divine compassion and divine forgiveness.

What a contrast with human anger! How often are we quick to anger! How frequently is anger the first emotion for which we reach! How long we remain angry! How often our anger takes on a life of its own! In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales counseled:

“I say to you: this life is an earthly journey to the happy life to come. We must not be angry with one another along the way; rather, we must march on as a band of brothers and companions united in meekness, peace and love. I state absolutely and make no exception: do not be angry at all if that is at all possible. Do not accept any pretext whatever for opening your heart’s door to anger. St. James tells us positively and without reservation that ‘the anger of man does not work the justice of God.’” ( IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, pp 146 – 147)

Just today, let us do our level best to live without anger. Should we become angry, let it be the last to arrive and the first to depart. In the event that anger comes our way, may it give way to meekness, peace and love.

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(December 15, 2017: Friday, Second Week of Advent)
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“You’re damned if you do; you’re damned if you don’t.”

That pretty much sums up the message in today’s Gospel selection from Matthew. John the Baptizer got criticized for his being aloof and austere; Jesus got criticized for being a down-to-earth man of the people.

As we know, there’s just no pleasing some people.

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

“Does anyone fail to see that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and well-disposed to its own children but rigorous towards the children of God? We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it. It is so demanding that it can’t be satisfied. ‘John came neither eating or drinking, says the Savior, and you say, ‘He has a devil.’ ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking,’ and you say he is ‘a Samaritan.’ If we are ready to laugh, play cards or dance with the world in order to please it, it will be scandalized at us, and if we don’t, it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy…” (IDL IV, Ch. 1, p. 236)

There’s an old saying germane to this experience: if you attempt to be all things to people, you end up becoming nothing to nobody. On any given day, follow the example of both John and Jesus: “be who you are, and be that as best as you can”.

Come what may!

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(December 16, 2017: Saturday, Second Week of Advent)
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“You were destined…to put an end to wrath…to turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons.”

Advent is the season during which we are challenged “to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks”. (Isaiah 2:4) In this season we are challenged to lay down our arms and to let bygones be bygones.

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

“When your mind is tranquil and without any cause for anger, build up a stock of meekness and mildness. Speak all your words and do all your actions – whether little or great –in the mildest way you can: not merely with strangers but also among your own family and neighbors. As soon as you recognize that you are guilty of a wrathful deed, correct it as soon as possible by an act of meekness toward the person with whom you were angry.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 8, p. 149)

This season of peace – which is unlike any other season – reminds us of our relationships in which peace is lacking. We are reminded of fences that need to be mended, hatchets that need to be buried and wounds that need to be healed with fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, neighbors, co-workers and friends.

During this Advent season to whom do our hearts need to turn?

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(December 17, 2017: Third Sunday of Advent)
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“He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”

In today’s Gospel we hear again a clear, certain and firm statement over and over again that he is not the Messiah and that he gives testimony to the light but he is not the light.

John the Baptist renounces the titles of Messiah, Elijah and the prophets. He defers to Christ. This theme is present in the servant song in the first reading from Isaiah which has richly influenced the Christology of the New Testament and the ministry of Jesus.

Francis de Sales considers John the Baptist to be one of the greatest saints because his life and mission were not to draw the attention of people to himself but to point to another. In his Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent, the Doctor of Love - in speaking of John the Baptist - states, “He did not want to draw disciples to himself, but only to his Teacher, to whose school he now sends them so that they might be instructed personally by Him.” ( The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Advent and Christmas, edited by Lewis S. Fiorelli OSFS)

Jane de Chantal also comments on the example of humility we find in John the Baptist.

“I would say that St. John never spoke in a more admirable manner than when he was asked who he was, for he always relied by a humble negative; and when he was obliged to answer positively, he said that he was only a voice, as much as to say that he was nothing; word in truth, well worthy of a prophet and of the great among them […].” (“Exhortation XV”, St. Jane Frances Frèmyot De Chantal: Her Exhortations, Conferences and Instructions, Translated by Katherine Brègy)

In this holy season of Hope and Expectation, we can focus our attention on the model of John the Baptist who pointed the way to Christ. On our daily “earthly pilgrimage” to the fullness of the Kingdom, our lives and witness to Christ should not draw attention to ourselves, but lead others to come to know and to encounter Christ. Like John, we are His messengers and ambassadors.

Today, in a spirit of humility, may we recognize that God uses each of us as His instruments to proclaim the Good News to others.

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(December 18, 2017: Monday, Third Week of Advent)
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“He shall reign and govern wisely; he shall do what is just and right in the land…the Lord our justice.”

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

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and your neighbor in yours, and then you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell and buy justly…A man loses nothing by living generously, nobly and courteously with a royal, just and reasonable heart. Resolve to examine your heart often to see if it acts toward your neighbor as you would like your neighbor to act toward you were you in your neighbor’s place. This is the touchstone of true reason.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

Today, how can we imitate “the Lord our justice”? Let us start by examining our hearts. How well are we doing “what is just and right in the land”? Are we doing what is right, just and reasonable in our relationships with others?

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(December 19, 2017: Tuesday, Third Week of Advent)
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“Now you will be speechless and unable to talk…because you did not believe my words.”

Poor Zechariah!!! You can hardly blame him for having a follow-up question for Gabriel in the wake of the latter’s pronouncement that Zechariah and his wife will have a son, and not just any old son at that, but one who will embody the spirit and power of Elijah! All Zechariah wanted to know was how this is supposed to happen to a couple who are apparently pretty advanced in years.

For raising the question, Gabriel renders Zechariah mute until his pronouncement comes to pass.

Meanwhile, earlier in the same Gospel – the same chapter of the same Gospel, for that matter – when Mary asks a question of Gabriel concerning his prediction that she will be the mother of the Messiah, Mary receives no rebuke.

Look at the parallels - the angel Gabriel appears to both Mary and Zechariah; both Mary and Zechariah are troubled by their respective annunciations; both ask for some clarification around the annunciation (i.e., “How will this happen?”); both receive additional information and assurances, but it is only Zechariah who seems to incur the angel’s displeasure, and he suffers accordingly. (Of course, all this changes later when Zechariah indicates that his son is to be named “John.”)

The difference seems to be indicated by Gabriel himself. He criticizes Zechariah not for questioning him, but for not believing him! In the case of Zechariah, it appears that his question was less a question and more a statement of disbelief, whereas Mary’s question was an expression of overwhelming wonderment and awe.

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

“When God gives us faith, God enters into our soul and speaks to our mind. He does this not by way of discussion but by inspiration. So pleasantly does God propose to the intellect what it must believe that the will thereby receives such great complacence that it incites the intellect to the truth and acquiesce in it without any doubt or opposition whatsoever…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 14, p. 138.)

In the end, things worked out well for both Mary and Zechariah: each acquiesced to the manifestation of God’s will in their lives, albeit at a different pace and with a different pattern! Each played pivotal roles in God’s plan of salvation. While both questions and disbelief can serve as means of increasing our faith in their own unique ways, perhaps Gabriel’s underlying message is simply this: don’t allow your legitimate questions to rob you of your faith and trust in God’s love for you…or your ability to say “yes” to that love with trust and with faith.

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(December 20, 2017: Wednesday, Third Week of Advent)
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“Ask for a sign from the Lord your God…”

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance of making such a request of God? Who wouldn’t say “yes” to the opportunity for God to display His power for us and/or for someone whom we love? Yet, in today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Ahaz balks when given the opportunity of a lifetime: he takes a pass. He backs away, saying, “I will not tempt the Lord”.

Why do you think he backed away? Perhaps Ahaz’s reluctance is rooted in his intuition that signs from the Lord often require changes in the one who asks for the sign in the first place! Under those circumstances, his circumspection makes a whole lot more sense. Remember the admonition? “Be careful what you pray for…”

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

“Devout discussions and arguments, miracles and other helps in Christ’s religion do indeed make it supremely credible and knowable, but faith alone makes it believed and known. It brings us to love the beauty of its truth and to believe the truth of its beauty by the sweetness it diffuses throughout our will and the certitude it gives to our intellect. The Jews saw our Lord’s miracles (signs) and heard his marvelous doctrines, but since they were not disposed to accept the faith, that is, since their wills were not susceptible to the sweet and gentle faith because of the bitterness and malice with which they were filled, they remained in their infidelity. They saw the force of the proof but they did not relish its sweet conclusion…” (TLG, II, Chapter 14, pp. 139 – 140)

As people of faith, we should feel free enough to ask God for signs. However, we must be prepared to consider - and follow - the directions in which those signs may challenge us to go.

Spirituality Matters 2017: December 7th - December 13th

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(December 7, 2017: Thursday, First Week of Advent)
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“A strong city have we; he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.

On this new day on our Advent journey, we listen to these words from Blessed Louis Brisson:

“Father Chevalier, my moral theology professor, used to say to us, ‘Do you believe that Our Lord became human merely to redeem the world? He became human that we might partake of His life, of His body, of His soul, of His divinity and of His happiness.’ And who is this Model, this life and this Happiness - The Word-Made-Flesh Himself!”

“The Savior, Jesus Christ – the One Whom we attempt to reproduce in ourselves and Who is living in us – accomplishes this divine redemption in us. He gives us the grace to do this. He is our Exemplar, our Model. He walks before us. We have only to put our feet in His footprints. Thus, we will bring about our complete redemption.” (Cor ad Cor, pp. 18, 19)

We have a “strong city” in the person of Jesus Christ! In Christ we find walls and ramparts in which we find not only protection, but also experience “His life, His body, His soul, His divinity and His happiness”.

Today, how might Jesus be inviting us to be a “strong city” in the lives of others? How might we become a source of support and protection for others and help them to experience the life and happiness rooted in a life in and with Jesus?

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(December 8, 2017: Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“She became mother of all the living...”

This reading from the Book of Genesis ends with the statement: “The man called his wife Eve because she became the mother of all the living”.

Eve is the mother of us all. We all bear traces of her maternity by virtue of the fact that we are impacted by original sin. Eve’s “yes” to the serpent’s temptation continues to affect our lives even to this day.

Good for us that another woman is likewise “the mother of all the living”. However, she is our mother in an entirely different way. Her “yes” affects us in an entirely different way. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Honor, venerate and respect with special love the holy and glorious Virgin Mary who, being the Mother of Jesus Christ our Brother, is also in truth our very mother. Let us then have recourse to her, and as her little children cast ourselves into her bosom with perfect confidence, at all times and on all occasions let us invoke her maternal love whilst striving to imitate her virtues…” (Living Jesus, p. 224)

So, we have – in truth – two mothers. One mother is famous for saying “yes” to the temptation of the evil one; the other mother is famous for saying “yes” to the invitation of the Holy One - both with lasting effects!

Which of our mothers will we imitate today?

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(December 9, 2017: Saturday, First Week of Advent)
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“The Kingdom of heaven is at hand…”

One of the signs that Jesus associates with the Kingdom of heaven being at hand is the driving out demons.

The season of Advent provides each of us with a great opportunity to drive out from our own minds and hearts any number of demons which might plague us. These demons – while not necessarily limited to this list – could include:

  • Anxieties
  • Grudges
  • Bitterness
  • Resentment
  • Old Hurts
  • Unresolved conflicts
  • Unbridled anger
  • Perfectionism
  • Scrupulosity
  • Negativity
  • Ingratitude
  • Presumption
The Kingdom of heaven is at hand! Why not make more room in your life for the Word-Made-Flesh by driving out our demons through some heavy duty spiritual house-cleaning between now and Christmas?

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(December 10, 2017: Second Sunday of Advent)
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“John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance…”

In a sermon given on the Second Sunday of Advent, Blessed Louis Brisson observed:

“The Gospel speaks to us of St. John the Baptist. He was baptizing in the Jordan and when the multitudes came to him and surrounded him, he cried out, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only his messenger. I come to prepare the way. It is He who will give you the baptism that comes from heaven.’ Hearing of the wonders of Our Lord, John sent to Him his disciples who asked Jesus, “Are you He who is to come or shall we look for another?’ Our Lord answered, ‘Report to John what you have seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and blessed are those who are not scandalized in Me.’”

“When the disciples had departed, Jesus said to those around Him, ‘What did you go out into the desert to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Those who dress in this manner are in the palaces of kings. A prophet? Yes, I declare to you, a prophet and more than a prophet, for it is written of him, ‘I send before you my angel who will prepare the way for you.’ Thus the people understood then that the words of John the Baptist and the words of Our Lord were in agreement.’”

“My children, we are in Advent. Jesus is going to come into our hearts. Let us cry out to Him in all truth every day, as St. John called out to Him by his desires, ‘Come Lord. Be our strength. Come not only into our hearts but also into the hearts of all whom we love and for whom we pray.” ( Cor ad Cor, p. 21)

Amen.

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(December 11, 2017: Monday, Second Week of Advent)
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“Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak. Say to those whose hearts are frightened: be strong, fear not!”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus fulfills the prophet Isaiah’s words by his prophetic actions. First, Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man; second, he heals the man’s paralysis.

The Season of Advent provides us with a wonderful opportunity to consider the ways – any ways – in which we might be suffering from any form of paralysis: spiritual, emotional, social - and perhaps - even physical. In what ways might our minds be feeble or week? In what ways might our hearts be frightened?

Whether on our own or with the help of others, let us approach the Lord in our neediness. Let us ask for His forgiveness. Let us ask for His strength. May He open our eyes, ears and hearts to the wonders of His power! May our tongues – and lives – give witness to His love!

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(December 12, 2017: Our Lady of Guadalupe)
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“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

In his book This Saint’s for You! Thomas Craughwell writes:

“On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego – a Nahua Indian who had recently converted to Christianity – was on his way to Mass when he heard singing on the summit of Tepeyac Hill. Curious to discover the source of the music, he followed a trail up the hill and at the summit met a young woman: dark-skinned, beautifully dressed and standing amid dazzling light. Speaking to Juan in Nahuatl (his own language), she introduced herself and instructed him to go to the bishop of Mexico City and tell him to build a church in her honor on the spot. Twice he attempted to persuade the bishop to do as Mary had asked; twice, the bishop turned him away. Juan wasn’t surprised that the bishop didn’t take him seriously: after all, he was a poor peasant. Juan urged Mary to ask someone with more status to deliver her message. Instead, Mary promised to give the bishop a sign that would prove to everyone for all time that what Juan Diego has reported was true. So, she commanded him to return to Tepeyac and gather flowers there. At the top of the hill he discovered gorgeous Castilian roses, growing six months out of season. He picked the flowers until his cloak was full. Them he carried them back to Marty, who took each rose in her hand before replacing it in Juan Diego’s cloak.”

“Tucking the edges of his cloak so that not a single rose would fall out, Juan hurried to the bishop’s palace where he was meeting with some of his chaplains and several servants. Juan entered the room and said, ‘You asked for a sign. Now look.’ He opened his cloak and the magnificent roses cascaded onto the floor. But more astonishing than the roses was the image on his cloak: a perfect portrait of the Virgin Marty as Juan had seen her, beautifully dressed and with the dark complexion of an Indian. The bishop became convinced and built a church on Tepeyac Hill and enshrined the miraculous image over the high altar.” (This Saint’s for You!, pp. 370 – 371)

We can all relate to Juan Diego. After all, haven’t each of us wondered from time to time in our lives how – or why – God has chosen us to be instruments of His will, sources of His hope and bearers of His Good News? Haven’t we ever suggested – perhaps not in so many words – that God would do better in selecting people with “more status” to give voice to God’s will for the people He loves and cherishes so much?

Juan Diego - however reluctantly – became convinced that what was spoken to him by the Lord (through His mother!) would be fulfilled. How much do we need to be convinced that what we speak on behalf of the Lord will be fulfilled?

And, yes, even through us!

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(December 13, 2017: Lucy, Virgin and Martyr)
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“They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar as with eagles’ wings…”

God will never “grow faint or weary” when it comes – as Jesus says in today’s Gospel – to giving us rest. Put another way, our weariness is not an obstacle to God’s transforming, empowering and inspiring love. In fact, our weariness is an entrée to that transforming, empowering and inspiring love. As the Preface for the Eucharistic Prayer for Martyrs in the former Sacramentary reminded us, “God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness to him…”

Our ongoing need for divine comfort, healing and strength reminds us of Francis de Sales’ teaching on the kinds of people who should approach, celebrate and receive the Eucharist. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:

“Two classes of people should communicate frequently: the strong lest they become weak, and the weak that they may become strong; the sick that they may be restored to health, and the healthy lest they fall sick. Tell them that for your part you are imperfect, weak and sick and need to communicate frequently with him who is your perfection and strength…” (Part II, Chapter 21)

Seen with the eyes of faith, our weariness should not be the cause for shame. In fact, seen with the eyes of God, all that may wear us down and make us weary perfectly prepares us to be sustained, renewed and invigorated by the God who is always with us!

Today, let us learn from our meek and humble Jesus and as we find comfort and rest in him, let us offer that same comfort and rest as needed to one another.

Spirituality Matters 2017: November 30th - December 6th

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(November 30, 2017: Andrew, Apostle)
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“At once they followed him...”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell writes:

“Andrew and his brother Peter were sitting in their fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee, repairing their nets, when Christ called to them, saying, ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Although the brothers did leave their boat to follow the Lord, they never stopped catching fish: it was how they supported themselves and their families.”

“Time and time again the Gospels take us back to the Sea of Galilee: on one occasion, Jesus climbed into Peter and Andrew’s boat to preach to a crowd on the shore; on another, while the brothers and some of the other disciples were out fishing, they saw Jesus advancing toward them by walking on the water. After a long night of fishing and catching nothing, Christ urged the brothers to go out to the deepest part of the sea and lower their nets one more time. This time the catch was so great that the fishing nets broke and Peter and Andrew had to signal to their fellow apostles and business partners James and John to come help them haul in the fish. And, when there was nothing for the crowd of five thousand to eat, it was Andrew who brought forward a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish, which Christ multiplied to feed the multitude…with much leftover to boot.”

“Tradition says that St. Andrew carried the Gospel to Greece. At the town of Patras he was arrested and tied to an X-shaped cross. The legend claims that it took him three dies to die, and the entire time he hung on the cross St. Andrew preached to all who passed by.” (p. 179)

Andrew - once a fisherman, always a fisherman. A fisherman doesn’t get to pick the day, time, situations or circumstances in which he fishes. He simply fishes, come what may. A fisherman jumps at the chance to make a catch; he will drop whatever else he might be doing in pursuit of his livelihood. Such an avocation requires tenacity, patience, determination and a willingness to go with the flow. Perhaps that’s Jesus why Jesus called Andrew to become one of his apostles/disciples, because such qualities could come in quite handy when it came to preaching the Good News.

Jesus calls each of us - in our own unique ways - to be fishers of “men.” To what degree does Jesus see in us some of the same qualities that he saw in Andrew?

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(December 1, 2017: Friday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Consider the fig tree and all other trees…”

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

“The cross is the root of every grace received by us who are spiritual grafts attached to our Savior’s body. Having been so engrafted if we abide in him, then by means of the life of grace he communicates to us we shall certainly bear the fruit of glory prepared for us. But if we are mere inert sprigs or grafts on that tree - that is, if by resistance we break the progress and effects of His mercy - it will be no wonder if in the end we are wholly cut off and thrown into everlasting fire as useless branches.”

“God undoubtedly prepared paradise only for such as he foresaw would be his. Therefore, let us be his both by faith and by our works, and he will be ours by glory. It is in our power to be his, for although to belong to God is a gift from God, yet it is a gift that God denies to no one. God offers it to all people so as to give it to such as will sincerely consent to receive it. He gives us both his death and his life: his life so that we may be freed from eternal death, his life so that we can enjoy eternal life. Let us live in peace, then, and serve God so as to be his in this mortal life and still more so in life eternal.” (TLG, Part III, Book 5, pp. 178-179)

Francis de Sales insists that our future depends heavily upon our present. At any given moment we can think, feel and act in ways bring us closer to either (1) redemption or (2) damnation. It all comes down to how deeply grafted we are onto the heart – and the cross – of Christ.

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(December 2, 2017: Saturday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy and that the day catch you by surprise like a trap...”

The readings selected for these remaining days of the waning liturgical year emphasize the “end times” - the final judgment and the importance of being on the lookout for when that climactic moment will occur.

In a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde, St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Persevere in this great courage and determination which keeps you lifted high above temporal things, making you pass over them like a happy halcyon bird lifted safely above the waves of the world which flood this age. Keep your eyes steadfastly fixed on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on; and as they pass, they themselves pass us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But meanwhile – in these passing moments – there lies enclosed as in a tiny kernel the seed of all eternity. In our humble little works of devotion there lies hidden the prize of everlasting glory; the little pains we take to serve God lead to the repose of a bliss that can never end.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 236)

Be watchful! Be alert! Be on the lookout! Avoid carousing, drunkenness and anxiety in all their forms. However, don’t limit your vigilance to the last moment of your life; rather, expand your vigilance to include every moment of your life! In so doing, you might not only avoid having your last day catch you like a trap, but rather, you will be able to transform every day into an opportunity to grow in your knowledge and love of God, your neighbor and yourself now – and forever.

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(December 3, 2017: First Sunday of Advent)
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“Be watchful! Be alert!”

In a reflection upon the season of Advent, Blessed Louis Brisson, OSFS observed:

“Advent means coming. It is a time set aside to prepare for Christmas. These four weeks of Advent represent the four thousand years which preceded the coming of the Messiah. Throughout these many years the prophets announced the coming of Our Lord.”

“There are two advents of Our Lord. The first is His great advent when he came to this earth to save us. He willed to come to us little, humble and unknown. He was born poor to show us that poverty is no disgrace. He willed to be a working man to teach us to love work as He loved it.”

“The second advent of Our Lord is made in our hearts. Every time that we have a good thought, every time that we take the Good Lord with us, every time that we make an act of fidelity - every time that we tell God that we are all His - an advent takes place. Our Blessed Savior visits our souls.” (Cor ad Cor, p. 13)

As we prepare for Jesus’ first advent, we should do our level best to “be vigilant at all times.” We should be on the lookout for the legions of Jesus’ second advents. On any given day many opportunities come our way to have good thoughts, to harbor good feelings, to develop good attitudes and to do goods things, especially with and toward other people.

When these opportunities come – and with them, Jesus himself – will we be ready to receive them? Will we be ready to make good use of them?

Come – O come – Emmanuel!

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(December 4, 2017: Monday, First Week of Advent)
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“I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”

On day two of our Advent journey toward the Solemnity of the Incarnation, listen to the words of Blessed Louis Brisson, OSFS:

“Man sinned as was driven from the earthly paradise. The merciful God promised a Savior, a Redeemer. But God did not tell us what kind of Redeemer he would send to save us. Most of the prophets, in announcing His coming, do not appear to have been concerned with the details. However, in His infinite mercy, God decided that the Redeemer should be none other than the Divine Word itself, His own Eternal Son. He would take our human nature and become one of us in order to make reparation for the offense committed against God, and also to serve as a model for us.” (Cor ad Cor, p. 13)

Clearly, since the fall of Adam and Eve, none of us is worthy to have God enter under our collective roofs. Driven out of Eden, our ancestors no longer felt at home with God. It is, therefore, all the more remarkable that in the fullness of time that God chose to make his home within each and every one of us by taking on our nature in the person of His Son, Jesus. We are no longer strangers or orphans; we have found our new home in Christ.

Following Jesus’ example, how can each of us just this day make more of a home for Jesus within our minds, hearts and lives for others?

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(December 5, 2017: Tuesday, First Week of Advent)
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“The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…”

In today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we hear of the seven gifts associated with the presence and action of the Holy Spirit.

In a sermon preached during the last few years of his life to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales offered the following prayer:

“God grant us his gift of fear, that we might serve him as his dutiful children; his gift of piety, that we might give him due reverence as our loving father; his gift of knowledge, that we may recognize the good we ought to do and the evil we should avoid; his gift of fortitude, that we may bravely overcome all the difficulties we shall meet in trying to be good; his gift of counsel, that we might discern and choose the best ways of living a life of devotion; his gift of understanding, that we may divine the beauty and value of faith’s mysteries and the Gospel principles; and finally, his gift of wisdom, that we may appreciate how lovable God is, that we may experience and thrill to the delight of that goodness of his which is more than our limited minds can fathom. O, the happiness that will be ours if we accept these precious gifts!” (Pulpit and Pew, p. 158)

What are the signs associated with our making good use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Isaiah cites several:

  • Not judging by appearance or hearsay
  • Judging the poor with justice
  • Deciding aright for the afflicted
Today, how might you make good use of the Holy Spirit’s gifts?

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(December 6, 2017: Wednesday, First Week of Advent)
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“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd...”

Today’s Gospel offers us two things for our consideration. One is the virtue of compassion; the other is the anatomy of compassion. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:

“Compassion, sympathy, commiseration or pity is simply an affection that makes us share in the sufferings and sorrows of those we love. It draws the misery of others into our own heart. Hence it is calledmisericordia, that is, misery of heart.” (Living Jesus, p. 38)

The virtue of compassion is clearly displayed in Jesus. When he looks at those he loves – the people who had been with him for three days – “his heart is moved with pity” for they had had nothing to eat for all that time. Jesus experiences “misery of heart” when confronted with the neediness of the crowds.

The anatomy of compassion is also clearly manifested in Jesus. First, Jesus recognizes the needs of those he loves (they were hungry). Second, Jesus’ heart is moved by the needs of those he loves. Third, Jesus acts. Rather than simply stopping at being “moved with pity”, he does whatever it takes to meet the needs of those he loves.

By contrast, the disciples’ compassion appears to come up short. While they, too, recognize the needs of the crowds - and while their hearts similarly are moved by the neediness of the crowds - the disciples seem overwhelmed by the enormity of the needs and appear to be more interested in doing whatever it takes to send the crowds away to fend for themselves.

You have to wonder: for whom was this miracle of compassionate action performed? Was it done for the crowds who had been with Jesus just three days or was it done for the disciples who had been with Jesus long enough to know better than to doubt him?

How well does the anatomy of compassion work in us? How willing are we to recognize the needs of those we love? How willing are we to allow our hearts to be moved by the needs of those we love? How willing are we to try to do something – however extraordinary, however sublime – to meet the needs of those we love?

When it comes to imitating the compassion of Christ, two-out-of-three merely won’t do. We must also do something!!!

Spirituality Matters 2017: November 23rd - November 29th

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(November 23, 2017: Miguel Pro, Priest and Martyr)
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“If this day you only knew what makes for peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.”

Have you ever noticed throughout many of the stories in Scripture how often people recognized God-given opportunities to do something good only after the fact? While hindsight is better than having no sight at all, there are certain limitations that come with recognizing how God has been active in one’s life only after subsequent reflection. This pattern gets played out time and time again in numerous accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. People frequently did not recognize what Jesus had done for them or who had been with them, until after the fact.

It’s safe to say that this occurrence is a pretty common human experience. In a scene from the movie Field of Dreams (1989), Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (played by Burt Lancaster) observes:

“You know, we just don't recognize life's most significant moments while they're happening. Back then I thought, ‘Well, there'll be other days.’ I didn't realize that that was the only day.”

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

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

The aim of the Spiritual Directory – the goal of the Direction of Intention – is to help us to acquire foresight when it comes to recognizing the activity and presence of God in our lives. Through our efforts to anticipate the variety of ways in which God may choose to reveal himself, may we recognize God’s divine activity and presence as it actually occurs in each and every present moment – whether significant or insignificant – and not only after the fact.

And so, be on the lookout for how God may invite you to be instruments of His peace - today!

OR

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(November 23, 2017: Thanksgiving)
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“He fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him…”

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

“Consider that a certain number of years ago you did not yet exist. God has drawn you out from nothingness so as to make you what you are now and has done so solely out of his own goodness. Consider the nature God has given you. It is the highest in this visible world, is capable of eternal life and able to be perfectly united with God’s Divine Majesty…God has placed you in this world not because God has any need of you but because God wishes to exercise his goodness in you by giving you his grace and glory. For this purpose God has given you intelligence to know him, memory to be mindful of him, will to love him, imagination to picture his benefits to yourself, eyes to see His wonderful works, and tongues to praise him, just to mention a few…Consider the corporeal benefits that God has bestowed on you: the body itself, all goods provided for its maintenance, health, comforts friend, supporters and other helps… By noting each and every particular blessing you will perceive how gentle and gracious God has been to you.” (IDL, Part I, Chapters 9- 11, pp. 53 -57)

How can we possibly even begin to give thanks for everything that God has given – and continues to give – to us? Francis de Sales offers this suggestion - just as God has been gentle and gracious to us, may we strive to be equally – or at least, somewhat – as gentle and gracious to others on this Thanksgiving Day…and every day!

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(November 24, 2017: Andrew Dung Lac and Companions, Martyrs)
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“My house shall be a house of prayer…”

This quote from today’s Gospel goes much deeper than talking about a building. This quote has little or nothing to do with why we should be quiet in church. From a Salesian point of view, this quote goes to the heart of what it means to be human.

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

“God is not only in the place where you are, but God is also present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit. He enlivens and animates it by his divine presence, for he is there as the heart of your heart and the spirit of your spirit. Just as the soul is diffused throughout the entire body and is therefore present in every part of the body but resides in a special manner in the heart, so also God is present in all things but always resides in a special manner in our spirit.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 85)

God dwells in a very particular way within the heart – within the spirit and soul – of each and every one of us. Using the words from the Communion Rite, notwithstanding that we may be unworthy to have God enter “under our roof,” God is very much alive and at work in the very core of our being, enlivening us and animating us to meet the demands, challenges and invitations that come our way each and every day.

Each us, then, is a house of prayer. Each of us is a particular manifestation and expression of the God in whose image and likeness we are created. And insofar as prayer is a dialogue, our fundamental vocation is to be engaged in conversation with God as we try our level best to bring out the best in our little corners of the world.

Today, how can we be that house of God in the lives of one another?

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(November 25, 2017: Saturday, Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob…is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

In his commentary on this passage from the Gospel of Luke, William Barclay makes the following observations:

“The Sadducees came with this question about who would be the husband in heaven of the woman who was married to seven different men. They regarded such a question as the kind of thing that made belief in the resurrection of the body ridiculous. Jesus gave them an answer which has a permanent valid truth in it. He said that we must not think of heaven in terms of earth. Life there will be quite different, because we will be quite different. It would save a mass of misdirected ingenuity – and not a little heartbreak – if we ceased to speculate on what heaven is like and left such things to the love of God.” (pp. 250-251)

But Barclay’s commentary is not limited only to the message of Jesus. He also draws attention to the method of Jesus, using arguments to which ordinary people could relate. “Jesus used arguments that the people with whom he was speaking could understand. He talked to them in their own language. He met them on their own ground, and that is precisely why the common person heard him gladly.”

Fr. Brisson believed that the first step in any worthwhile endeavor – be it preaching, teaching or evangelizing – is to meet people where they are…just as Jesus did.

Ho might we imitate the message – and method – of Jesus in our own interactions with others just this day?

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(November 26, 2017: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe)
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“As for you, my sheep, says the Lord God, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.”

St. Francis de Sales wrote: “Consider that last sentence passed on to the wicked: ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his companions.’ Weigh well these heavy words. Depart, he says. It is a word of eternal abandonment that God utters to those unhappy souls and by it he banishes them forever from his face. He calls them cursed…Consider the contrary sentence passed on the good. Come, says the Judge. Ah, this is the sweet word of salvation by which God draws us to himself and receives us into the bosom of his goodness…O welcome blessing, which includes all blessings!” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 14)

The parable in today's Gospel is very clear. There will be a final judgment. What is also clear is that both those who did good and those who did not do good failed to recognize how the seeds of this last judgment were planted in their everyday interactions with others. Re-read the text: both groups asked the question, “When did we see you…when did we welcome you…when did we visit you…when did we give you…?” Right up until the last day, both groups failed to grasp the intimate relationship between God’s judgment of us and our relationships to one another. In particular, both groups failed to recognize the connection between the love of God and performing simple, ordinary acts of love for others.

This parable challenges us to recognize that in the eyes of God the final judgment is not a one-time event. In the eyes of the God who judges justly this judgment is an ongoing, daily event. God is extremely interested in judging how we use each moment of our lives, not simply the last one.

But while this parable speaks volumes about God's judgment, it also has a lot to say about our own judgment. In the end the final judgment is heavily impacted by the kind of judgment we use in relating to one another, day in and day out in the most unique, as well as the most ordinary, of life's events, circumstances, responsibilities and demands.

What do our affections, attitudes and actions toward others every day say about the final disposition of our souls? What does the way we live our lives on earth say about our lives in the hereafter?

You be the judge.

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(November 27, 2017: Monday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“She has offered her whole livelihood…”

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

“The esteem in which humility holds all good gifts, namely, faith hope and charity, is the foundation of generosity of spirit. Take notice that the first gifts of which we spoke belong to the exercise of humility and the others to generosity. Humility believes that it can do nothing, considering its poverty and weakness as far as depends on ourselves. On the contrary, generosity makes us say with St. Paul, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.’ Humility makes us distrust ourselves, whereas generosity makes us trust in God. You see, then that humility and generosity are so closely joined and united to one another that they are and never can be separated.” (Conferences, “On Generosity” pp. 75-76)

We see this humility and generosity on display in today’s Gospel. Whereas some wealthy people who contributed to the temple treasury were relying more on themselves for their welfare (they made sure that they had plenty for themselves in reserve) before giving to others. The poor widow – we are told – gave all that she had to the treasury without squirreling something away for herself first, suggesting that she was relying more on God for her welfare. The wealthy contributed with conditions, but the widow contributed without conditions.

Today, whether we have a lot or a little, what steps can we take to store up riches less for ourselves and more for others?

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(November 28, 2017: Tuesday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“When you hear of wars and insurrections do not be terrified…”

In this age of 24-7 news cycles, one could be forgiven for being “terrified: from time to time. After all, we never seem to get a break. Whether around the corner or around the world, we are constantly exposed to a never-ending dose of unsettling news reports - stories of violence, accounts of revenge and descriptions of disasters. One could make the argument that you would have to be crazy to be unconcerned or unaffected by the daily reports of economic, social, political and/or military turmoil!

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

“With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil than can happen to a soul. Just as sedition and internal disorders bring total ruin to a state and leave it helpless to resist a foreign invader, so also if our hearts are inwardly troubled and disturbed they lose both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues they had acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy. He then uses his utmost to fish – as they say – in troubled waters.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, pp. 251-252)

Francis de Sales believed that people should be informed. We should be aware – and where applicable, concerned – about the things that are happening around us. More importantly, however, is the need to know what is happening inside of us. We need to know the state of our minds and hearts. After all, sometimes the effects of the “wars and insurrections” that may surround us are nothing in comparison with the “wars and insurrections” that rage within us!

Trouble is a part of life. Don’t make it worse by allowing it to trouble you on the inside to the point where you can’t manage it on the outside – not only for your own sake but also for the sake of those who depend on you.

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(November 29, 2017: Wednesday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Give glory and eternal praise to him...”

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

“The soul that takes great pleasure in God’s goodness…desires that His name be always more and more blessed, exalted, praised, honored and adored. In this praise due to God the soul begins with its own heart...The soul imitates the great Psalmist who considered the marvels of God’s goodness, and then on the altar of his heart immolated a mystic victim: the utterances of his voice in hymns of psalms of admiration and blessings.” ( Living Jesus, p. 286)

When’s the last time you gave “glory and eternal praise” to God for everything that God does in your life and in the lives of others?

Today, how can you persevere in your efforts to bless, exalt, praise, honor and adore God for his goodness today? Not just in words, but also in deeds!

Spirituality Matters 2017: November 16th - November 22nd

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(November 16, 2017: Thursday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The Kingdom of God is among you…”

In today’s Gospel we hear: “Asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus said in reply, ‘The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ The Kingdom of God is among you.”

Jesus seems to be saying that the Kingdom of God isn’t about finding a thing, place or location, because in the context of the Gospel, the Kingdom of God is a person - in this case, the person of Jesus Christ.

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

“God is in all things and in all places. There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are we find God present.”

He continued:

“God is not only in the place where you are but also in a most particular manner in your heart – in the very center of your spirit. Just as the soul is diffused throughout the entire body but resides in a special manner in the heart, so, too, God is present in all things but always resides in a special manner in our spirit.” (IDL, Part Two, Chapter 2, pp. 84-85)

So, where would you expect to find the Kingdom of God today? Try looking for it in the Body of Christ - look for it within yourself and look for it within others.

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(November 17, 2017: Elizabeth of Hungary – Wife, Widow and Religious)
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Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Elizabeth of Hungary: wife, mother, widow and religious.

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

“St. Elizabeth, daughter of the King of Hungary, often visited the poor. For recreation among her ladies she sometimes clothed herself like a poor woman, saying to them, ‘If I were poor I would dress in this manner.’ O God, how poor was…this princess in the midst of all her riches and how rich was their poverty!” (IDL, Part III, Ch. 15)

The richness of poverty. Interesting concept.

In the Salesian tradition, poverty of spirit (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for to them belongs the kingdom of heaven”) is less about doing without; rather, it has a lot more to do with how generous I am with what I have. Elizabeth didn’t serve those without by renouncing what she had. No, she served the poor by placing what she had at their disposal.

Today, how might we practice poverty and know the true richness – and wealth – that flows from that practice?

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(November 18, 2017: Saturday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says…”

And what did the unjust judge say? Essentially, he said this: “I will do justice to this woman just to get her off my back.”

Have you ever done something good simply to get someone else to stop bugging you? Have you ever done the right thing just to get someone else to go away? Have you ever done the just thing just to get someone else to shut up?

Let’s face it. Isn’t it true that sometimes we do the right thing for a less-than-admirable motive?

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

“Let us purify all our intentions as best we can. Since we can diffuse throughout all various acts to sacred motive of divine love, why should we not do so? On all occasions we will reject every kind of vicious motive, such as vainglory and self-interest, and consider all the good motives we can have for undertaking the act before us so as to choose the motive of holy love - which is the most excellent of all – and to flood it over all other motives, steeping them in the greatest motive of all....” (TLG , Book XI, Book 14, p. 237)

One might ask, “So, am I supposed to wait until my motives are totally pure before I attempt to do something right?” The Lord knows that if that were the case, then the world would really be out of luck! In a perfect world we would always do what is good, righteous and just for only good, righteous and just reasons. But insofar as this is an imperfect world, we should not cease our attempts to do what is good for goodness sake. Rather, we should acknowledge the need to purify our intentions even as we struggle to live our lives with other people in a reasonable, just and equitable manner.

May God give us the courage we need just this day to not only do the right thing but also to do the right thing for the right reason!

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(November 19, 2017: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Well done. You are an industrious and reliable servant. Since you were dependable in a small matter, I will put you in charge of larger affairs. Come, share your master’s joy.”

“Judgment Day”. The term has as a sense of finality to it, doesn’t it? Well, it should!

St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Consider the majesty with which the sovereign Judge will appear, surrounded by all the angels and saints. Before him will be borne his cross, shining more brilliantly than the sun, the standard of mercy to the good and of punishment to the wicked. By his awful command, which will be swiftly carried out, this sovereign Judge will separate the good from the bad, placing the one at his right hand and the other at his left. It will be an everlasting separation and after it these two groups will never again be together. When this separation has been made and all consciences laid bare we will clearly see the malice of the wicked and the contempt they have shown for God, and we will also see the repentance of the good and the effect of the graces they received from God. Nothing will lie hidden.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 14)

In the next life, nothing will be hidden. In this life, one thing in particular should never be hidden - our God-given gifts, abilities, talents, skills and graces.

Today's Gospel issues this stern and stark warning: we must not return unused the gifts (no matter how great or small) that God gives us.

To be sure, to invest these gifts in the lives of others requires our willingness to take risks. There are few guarantees in life. We cannot be certain on any given day how well we will use our gifts, to say nothing of whether or not our gifts will be appreciated, honored, accepted or welcomed by others. Still, we must endeavor to take prudent care of and make good use of our God-given time, talents and treasure in this effort, but the risks that we take in generously sharing ourselves with others should not be rash or reckless.

But as risky as naming, embracing and investing our gifts might be, we must never allow the anxieties of an uncertain world to tempt us to do the unthinkable - to bury our talents. To act as if we possessed nothing with which to give honor to God or to meet the needs of others is far worse than any mistake we might generally make on any given day in using our abilities.

Of course, we will make mistakes in our attempts to make good use of our God-given graces. But there is no greater mistake than to live our lives as if we had no gifts to use in the service of God or others by burying them - obscuring them from the light of day.

When in doubt, keep those gifts out: for you, for God and for others to see and to share. And, in the process, share your Master’s joy…today!

* * * * *
(November 20, 2017: Monday, Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Lord, please let me see…”

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

“God is in all things and places. There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Everyone knows this truth in theory, but not everyone puts this knowledge to good effect. Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore do not show him the respect they do after being informed of his presence. However, because they do not actually see the prince they easily forget he is there, and once they forget this fact, they still more easily lose the respect and reverence owed to him. Unfortunately, we frequently lose sight of the God who is with us. Although faith assures us of his presence, we forget about him and behave as if God were a long way off because we do not see him with our eyes. While we may tell ourselves and others that God is present in all things, we often act as if this were not true because we fail to remind ourselves of God’s presence.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p.84)

Despite the fact that the blind man in today’s Gospel could not actually see Jesus, it is crystal clear that he showed Jesus respect and reverence. What is the moral of the story? Even when we lose sight of how Jesus acts in our lives and in the eyes of other people day in and day out, it is always within our power to show him the respect and reverence by acting as Jesus did in showing respect respect and reverence for others.

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(November 21, 2017: Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“And he came down quickly and received him with joy…”

The story of Jesus and Zacchaeus highlights an aspect of the Salesian notion of devotion: enthusiasm. Jesus only has to tell Zacchaeus once to “come down quickly.” For his part, Zacchaeus came down as quickly as he could!

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

“When charity reaches a degree on perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also to do this carefully, frequently and promptly. It is called devotion. Ostriches never fly; hens fly in a clumsy fashion, near the ground and only on occasion; but eagles, doves and swallows fly aloft, swiftly and frequently. Good people who have not as yet attained this devotion by toward God by their good works but do so infrequently, slowly and awkwardly. Devout souls fly to him more frequently, promptly and with lofty flights.” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 4, p. 64)

This description certainly describes Zacchaeus to a tee. Here is a man with a great sense of urgency. He literally flew down to Jesus at the invitation to spend time with him. Once he arrived at his home with Jesus, Zacchaeus was just as quick to declare his intention to share his good fortune with those less fortunate than him as well as to make things right with anyone who might have a grievance against him.

How quickly will we be this day to respond to Jesus’ invitation to spend time with him? How quick will we be to share our good fortune with others? How quickly will we be to make things right with anyone who might have a grievance against us?

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(November 22, 2017: Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr)
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Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Saint Cecilia.

“Although Cecilia is one of the most famous of the Roman martyrs, the familiar stories about her are apparently not founded on historical documentation. There is no trace of honor being paid her in early times. A fragmentary inscription of the late fourth century refers to a church named after her, and her feast was celebrated at least in the year 545.”

“According to legend, Cecilia was a young Christian of high rank betrothed to a Roman named Valerian. Through her influence Valerian was converted, and was martyred along with his brother. The legend about Cecilia’s death claims that after being struck three times on the neck with a sword, she lived for three days, and asked the pope to convert her home into a church. Since the time of the Renaissance Cecilia has usually been portrayed playing a viola or a small organ…and is considered the patron of musicians.” (http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1207)

We know more about Cecilia’s death than we do about her life, but insofar as God is “not the God of the dead, but of the living”, how can we imitate what we know of her life by sharing with others the presence of the living God within us?

Spirituality Matters 2017: November 9th - November 15th

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(November 9, 2017: Thursday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You are God’s building...”

To construct a building is one thing, but to maintain it is another. Prudent builders/owners not only allot resources for the actual construction of whatever it is they build, but they will also earmark resources for the ongoing upkeep of the building.

In a letter to Madame de Chantal (February 11, 1607), Francis de Sales observed:

“It is not necessary to be always and at every moment attentive to all the virtues in order to practice them; that would twist and encumber your thoughts and feelings too much. Humility and charity are the master beams - all the others are attached to them. We need only hold on to these two: one is at the very bottom and the other at the very top. The preservation of the whole building depends on two things: its foundation and its roof. We do not encounter much difficulty in practicing other virtues if we keep our heart bound to the practice of these two...” (LSD, pp. 148-149)

God – the Master Builder – has constructed each of us in his image and likeness. Today, celebrate the building-of-God that you are! Maintain the gift of your divinely-built edifice with the spiritual foundation and roof most readily available for your good - humility and charity!

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(November 10, 2017: Friday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I myself am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness…”

Am I good or am I evil? Your answer to this question is no mere theoretical or abstract discussion. In the Salesian tradition, at least, the question – and its answer – makes all the difference between life and death. If you believe that you are good, odds are that you will think, feel, believe and behave in ways that lead to life. By the same token, if you believe that you are evil, well – not surprisingly – you will in all likelihood think, feel, believe and behave in a ways that lead to death.

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

“Consider that a certain number of years ago you were not yet in the world and that your present being was truly nothing. The world had already existed for a long time, but of us there was as yet nothing. God has subsequently drawn you out of nothingness to make you what you are and God has done so solely out of his own goodness. Consider the nature God has given to 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 One, Chapter 9, p. 53)

During the 1970’s it was quite popular to say, “God doesn’t make junk.” While not exactly high theology, it does get to the heart of the Salesian understanding of human nature. To use the words of St. Paul, we humans – all of us – are “full of goodness.” As members of the Salesian family, we know that being good and having good are not the same things as doing good. We all fail to live up to our God-given goodness. We all fail to put our goodness into action. We all fall short when it comes to recognizing and sharing our goodness.

In other words, as good as we may be, we sometimes do bad things.

Remind yourself throughout this day that God has made you a good person; after all, you are made in God’s very own image and likeness. In like manner remind yourself throughout the day to ask for the grace you need to build up that goodness and to share that goodness with others.

Paul was convinced that you are good. Are you?

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(November 11, 2017: Saturday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones…

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

“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 your distaff or spindle. In other words, practice those little, humble virtues which grow like flowers at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of your family with all the duties and responsibilities that accompany such things.”

“Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, whereas little ones are frequent. Whoever will be ‘faithful in little things’ will be placed ‘over many’, says the savior. (IDL, Part Three, Chapter 35, pp. 214-215)

With what little, ordinary things will God entrust us today? How faithful will we be?

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(November 12, 2017: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her...those who watch at dawn will not be disappointed, for they shall find her sitting at the gate.”

In an introduction to an 1862 edition of St. Francis de Sales’ Spiritual Conferences, Cardinal Wiseman wrote: “The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales is eminently a spirit of wisdom. For certainly all that we have written about it will have been written in vain if our readers have not recognized this spirit as a superhuman prudence. And what is this but wisdom? Moderation, avoidance of extremes, adaptation to all circumstances, and discerning the means to respond to all characters and situations - these constitute a wisdom difficult and uncommon.” (Conferences, p. lxiv)

St. Francis de Sales' spirituality is, among other things, a path to wisdom. It is a divinely-inspired, common-sense approach to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the state, stage and circumstances of life in which we find ourselves. St. Francis de Sales offers us a down-to-earth way in which to pursue the things of heaven.

One of the qualities of this God-centered, practical wisdom is prudence. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language describes being prudent as “wise in handling practical matters; exercising good judgment and common sense; careful in regard to one's own interests; provident…” Prudence comes from the Latin word, the root meaning of which is “to provide for.”

Today's Gospel provides a powerful story about the image of being prudent, to be “careful in regards to one's own interests.” One group of servants had prepared for the possibility that their master might be delayed in arriving. And, as a result, they brought extra oil along for their torches. The other group, however, did not prepare or make provision for this possibility and therefore only brought enough oil to provide one cycle of illumination.

The moral of the story is clear and unambiguous: “Keep your eyes open, for you know not the day nor the hour.” Look around you. Consider the signs of the times. See beyond the horizon.

To be sure, so much of St. Francis de Sales wisdom is about rolling with the punches, playing with the hand we're dealt or going with the flow. Sometimes, however, being “careful in regard to one's own interest” - being prudent, employing common sense - requires that we plan, provide and prepare for even the unexpected.

Perhaps, especially for the unexpected.

The book of Wisdom proclaims that whoever "keeps vigil for wisdom shall be quickly free from care." Part of that vigilance is about preparing ourselves to recognize the sights, sounds and smells of God's will and action in our own lives before it's too late.

After all, when did Noah build the ark?

Before the rain!

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(November 13, 2017: Frances Xavier Cabrini, Religious & Founder)
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“Love justice, you who judge the earth…

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Frances Xavier Cabrini.

“St. Frances was born in Lombardi, Italy in 1850, one of thirteen children. At eighteen, she desired to become a nun, but poor health stood in her way. She helped her parents until their death and then worked on a farm with her brothers and sisters.”

“One day a priest asked her to teach in a girls' school and she stayed for six years. At the request of her Bishop, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart to care for poor children in schools and hospitals. Then at the urging of Pope Leo XIII she came to the United States with six nuns in 1889 to work among the Italian immigrants.”

“Filled with a deep trust in God and endowed with a wonderful administrative ability, this remarkable woman soon founded schools, hospitals, and orphanages in this strange land and saw them flourish in the aid of Italian immigrants and children. At the time of her death in Chicago, Illinois on December 22, 1917, her institute had houses in England, France, Spain, the United States, and South America. In 1946, she became the first American citizen to be canonized when she was elevated to sainthood by Pope Pius XII. St. Frances is the patroness of immigrants.” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=278 )

Francis Xavier Cabrini was clearly a lover of justice. How might the same be said of us by those with whom we interact today?

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(November 14, 2017: Tuesday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made them.”

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.” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 4, p. 64)

In effect, Francis de Sales claimed that while it would have been enough for God to show us how deeply he loved us by creating us in his own image and likeness, God loves us so much that he went even further by choosing – in the person of his Son – to create himself in our image and likeness!

Francis de Sales claims, “No one can be ignorant of this fact”. How much time do we actually spend reflecting upon “this fact” – that we are made in his image and likeness and that he is made in our image and likeness – just this day?

In the end, we all perish from this earth, but how we live our perishable lives, lives on long after we die. For what will others remember us just this day?

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(November 15, 2017: Wednesday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord of all shows no partiality...”

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

“It is reason alone that makes us human, and yet, it is a rare thing to find people truly reasonable. Self-love ordinarily leads us astray from reason, directing us insensibly to a thousand small – yet dangerous – injustices and iniquities.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36)

We are told that God shows no partiality. How very different we are frequently in our interactions with one another. We show partiality all the time, which the Gentlemen Saint considered quite unreasonable – quite inhuman. Francis observed:

“If there is someone who is not agreeable, or to whom we have once taken a dislike, we find fault with everything that person does. We never cease to mortify that person – we are always ready to cast blame on that person. On the contrary, if someone is pleasing to us because of some physical grace, that person can do nothing that we will not excuse...On every occasion we prefer the rich to the poor, although they be neither of better condition or as virtuous. We even prefer those who are best clad…” (Ibid)

The truth of the matter is that we all have our favorites. There are some people whose company we would always prefer given the choice. There are other folks we would prefer to avoid at all costs. That said, like our God who shows no partiality, we are challenged to meet people where they are and as they are by showing them the respect and reverence they deserve as children of God.

Whether we like them or not.

Spirituality Matters 2017: November 2nd - November 8th

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(November 2, 2017: All Souls)
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“The souls of the just are in the hands of God...”

In one of his pamphlets that was later published in a broader collection entitled The Catholic Controversy, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We maintain that we may pray for the faithful departed, and that the prayers and good works of the living greatly relieve them and are profitable to them for this reason: that all those who die in the grace of God – and consequently, in the number of the elect – do not go to Paradise at the very first moment, but many go to Purgatory…from which our prayers and good works can help and serve to deliver them.”

“We agree the blood of Our Redeemer is the true purgatory of souls, for in it are cleansed all the souls of the world. Tribulations also are a purgatory, by which our souls are rendered pure, as gold refined in the furnace. It is well known that Baptism in which our sins are washed away can be called a purgatory, as everything can be that serves to purge away our offenses. But in this context we take Purgatory for a place in which after this life the souls which leave this world before they have been perfectly cleansed from the stains they have contracted. And if one would know why this place is called simply Purgatory more than are the other means of purgation above-named, the answer will be, that it is because in that place nothing takes place but the purgation of the stains which remain at the time of departure out of this world, whereas in Baptism, Penance, tribulations and the rest, not only is the soul purged from its imperfections, but it is further enriched with many graces and perfections. And agreeing as to the blood of Our Lord, we fully acknowledge the virtue thereof, that we protest by all our prayers that the purgation of souls – whether in this world or in the other – is made solely by its application.” (CC, pp. 353-354)

Notwithstanding the effects of our prayers and good works on behalf of our dearly departed, Francis de Sales reminds us that at the end of the day it is the life and death of Jesus Christ that purifies our souls, whether in this life or in the next. To that end, whether it’s the just or the unjust, whether it’s in this world or the next, we are all in the hands of God.

Here’s hoping that we pray for our faithful departed. Here’s hoping that our faithful departed pray for us. As children of God – be it in this world or the next – we are a communion of saints. We are in this together!

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(November 3, 2017: Friday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie.”

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 purposes, remembering always that God is the “God of truth”. If you happen to tell a lie inadvertently, correct it immediately by an explanation or by making amends. An honest explanation always has more grace and force to excuse us than a lie does.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Children of God that we are, let us try our level best this day not to lie. Better yet, let us try our level best to talk – and walk in – the truth.

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(November 4, 2017: Saturday, Thirtieth Week in ordinary Time)
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“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

Throughout history, great men and women have shared this one character trait – humility. In his commentary on today’s Gospel from Luke, William Barclay offers two methods for growing in this cardinal virtue:

First , keep the big picture in mind. “However much we know, we still know very little when compared with the sum total of knowledge. However much we have achieved, we may still have achieved very little in the end. However important we may believe ourselves to be, when death takes us or when we retire from our responsibilities, life and work will go on just the same.”

(Recall the famous quip once made by Charles de Gaulle: “Cemeteries are filled with people who couldn’t be replaced.”)

Second , compare your efforts with someone who is really on top of their game. “It is when we see or hear the expert that we realize how poor our own performance may be. Many a spectator has decided to sell his golf clubs after a day at golf’s Open Championship. Many a person has chosen never to appear in public again after hearing a master musician perform. Many a preacher has been humbled almost to despair when he has heard a real saint of God speak.”

Barclay concludes:

“If we set our lives beside the life of the Lord of all good life – if we see our unworthiness in comparison with the radiance of his stainless purity – pride will surely die and self-absorption will shrivel up.”

In providing a bumper sticker for the virtue of humility, perhaps St. Francis de Sales says it best: “Be who you are, and be that well.”

No less, but certainly, no more.

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(November 5, 2017: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Lay – take – it to heart.”

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his audience to do everything that the scribes and Pharisees say but he also warns them against following their example.

Why this inconsistency? Why this disconnect? Why the incongruity between what they preached and how they acted? Why the bold words, but the few deeds?

Perhaps, as we hear in the book of the prophet Malachi, they failed to “lay it to heart”. It, of course, being God’s law of love - the law that challenges us to give glory to God by promoting justice and peace in our relationships with one another.

Malachi observed: “Have we not all the one Father? Has not the one God created us? Why then do we break faith with each other?” To use the words of St. Francis de Sales, why do we relate to one another with “two hearts”: one that is easy on ourselves and a second heart that is hard on and harsh toward others?

This duality of hearts is the danger when we allow our knowledge of God to reside only in our heads and not in our hearts. To the extent that our faith remains intellectual or theoretical, it cannot address or embrace the hungers, the hopes, the fears or the dreams of others. To the extent that we do not take to heart God’s love for us, our hearts will remain unmoved when confronted by the needs or the plights of others.

Herein lies the heart of Jesus’ criticism of the scribes and Pharisees: “They bind up heavy loads, hard to carry, to lay on others’ shoulders, while they themselves will not lift a finger to budge them.” Having failed to take the Law of Moses – and the Law of Jesus – to heart, they prefer to place heavy burdens on the shoulders – and the hearts – of others.

To keep faith with one another requires that we first allow God’s creative, redeeming and inspiring love to penetrate our own hearts. We must take to heart our own need for ongoing conversion, reconciliation and transformation. We must take to heart the fact that God’s love for us does not end with us. No, God’s love must be shared with others.

“Have we not all the one Father? Has not the one God created us?” Then we must keep the faith with one another. We must promote the health, happiness and holiness of one another. We must pursue peace and justice for one another. We must promise reconciliation and collaboration with one another. In short, our actions must surpass – or, at least, keep pace with – our words.

Put another way, when we take to heart the heart of Jesus there can be no partiality: we either love our neighbor as we love ourselves…or we don’t.

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(November 6, 2017: Monday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable…”

At the risk of being politically incorrect, God is not an “Indian giver.” (For the record, “Indian-giver” has nothing to do with the Indians reneging on a promise. It has to do with a government that gave all kinds of things to Native Americans only to rescind them later.) Unlike human institutions, when God gives gifts they are non-refundable. They cannot be returned. They cannot be traded in. They must be used.

In today’s Gospel, we hear that one of the best ways to make use of your God-given gifts is to share them with folks from whom you can expect to receive no return. In other words, what better way to say “thank you” to God than by sharing your gifts with no hope of being repaid?

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

“To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become. It is true that God will repay us not only in the next world but even in this one. Nothing makes us so prosperous in this world as to give alms. Oh, how holy and how rich is the poverty brought on by giving alms!” (IDL, Part Three, Chapter 15, p. 165)

What return can we make to God for all the gifts that God has given us? In the Salesian tradition, we show our gratitude by “paying it forward”, that is, we share what we have – and who we are – with others who have less without making them feel any less.

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(November 7, 2017: Tuesday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them.”

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

“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 according to one’s position and vocation. Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the laborer, the servant, the prince, the widow, the young girl and the married woman. Not only is this true, but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, the activities and the duties of each particular person.” (IDL, Part One, Chapter 3, p. 143)

All of us are called to be saints. No two of us are called to be saints in exactly the same way. As living plants of the Church, how will each of us in our own way bring forth the fruits of devotion - today?

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(November 8, 2017: Wednesday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “renounce” as “to give up, refuse, or resign, usually by formal declaration.”

In real terms, how do we “renounce’ our possessions in our day? Do we stop paying our bills? Do we live under a highway overpass? Do we walk away from all of our fiduciary responsibilities? Do we declare bankruptcy? Do we go on public assistance? And if we should do those things in a way that impacted only us, how advisable would it be to take such courses of actions when others depend upon us for their welfare as well?

Perhaps the first step in becoming a disciple of Jesus is to acknowledge that all of our possessions are ultimately gifts. This truth can help us to “renounce” the temptation to view our possessions as exclusively for our use and enjoyment. All gifts – material or otherwise – are meant to be shared with others.

Second, perhaps we need to renounce the temptation to allow our possessions – however good they may be – to possess us. All gifts – material or otherwise – are not meant to serve us but to serve others.

Finally, the process of “renouncing” our feeling of somehow being entitled to the exclusive use of God’s gifts and/or “renouncing” the temptation of allowing our possessions to possess us doesn’t happen in an instant or in the twinkling of an eye.

For most people that process requires a lifetime.

Spirituality Matters 2017: October 26th - November 1st

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(October 26, 2017: Thursday, Twenty-ninth Week in ordinary Time)
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“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

In a film released in 2004, Denzel Washington stars as John Creasy, a despondent former CIA operative/Force Recon Marine officer-turned-bodyguard. Creasy gets a shot at redemption when he is hired to protect the daughter of a wealthy businessman in Mexico City. When the nine-year-old girl is kidnapped and held for ransom, Washington’s character will stop at nothing to get the young girl back, even to the point (spoiler alert!) of giving his life in exchange for hers.

The name of the film is Man on Fire.

Jesus Christ clearly was a man on fire. He tells us so in today’s Gospel selection from Luke. All throughout the three years of his public ministry, Jesus demonstrated again and again to us that he would stop at nothing to proclaim the power and promise of the Kingdom of God – forgiving the sinner, healing the blind, lame and leprous, finding the lost, raising the lowly, humbling the proud and challenging the haughty. His efforts not only won him many friends, but his efforts also made him more than a few enemies. Undaunted by the challenges of his vocation, Jesus remained faithful to the work of redemption, even to the point of giving his very life for others.

Jesus wants us to be men and women on fire with the love of God and neighbor. Jesus wants us – his brothers and sisters – to be unrelenting in demonstrating in our own lives the power and promise of the Kingdom of God.

How can we get “fired up” for the sake of the Gospel - today?

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(October 27, 2017: Friday, Twenty-ninth Week in ordinary Time)
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“For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.”

You can feel the frustration in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Redeemed as he was by Jesus Christ, not only did Paul fail to do many of the things that he knew that he should have done, but he also did many of the things that he knew that he shouldn’t have done. In another place Paul describes this disconnect as if having two men battling inside of him, each wrestling for dominance over the other.

In a letter to Peronne-Marie de Chatel (one of the four original members of the nascent Visitation congregation at Annecy who, notwithstanding her virtues and gifts, nevertheless experienced “discouragement, scruples and even moments of very human impatience and irritation”), Francis de Sales wrote:

“You are right when you say there are two people in you. One person is a bit touchy, resentful and ready to flare up if anyone crosses her; this is the daughter of Eve and therefore bad-tempered. The other person fully intends to belong totally to God and who, in order to be all His, wants to be simply humble and humbly gentle toward everyone…this is the daughter of the glorious Virgin Mary and therefore of good disposition. These two daughters of different mothers fight each other and the good-for-nothing one is so mean that the good one has a hard time defending herself; afterward, the poor dear thinks that she has been beaten and that the wicked one is stronger than she. Not at all! The wicked one is not stronger than you but is more brazen, perverse, unpredictable and stubborn and when you go off crying she is very happy because that’s just so much time wasted, and she is satisfied to make you lose time when she is unable to make you lose eternity.”

“Do not be ashamed of all this, my dear daughter, any more than St. Paul who confesses that there were two men in him – one rebellious toward God, and the other obedient to God. Stir up your courage. Arm yourself with the patience that we should have toward ourselves.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 164-165)

Of course, there aren’t really two people battling inside of us trying to see who will win out! Thank God for that, because most days we have more than enough in handling our singular personalities! Of course, it is discouraging when we don’t live up to God’s standards or even our own. Of course, it is frustrating to make what often times appears to be little progress in the spiritual life. Of course, there’s more good that we should do and more evil that we should avoid. Rather than drive yourself crazy, gently – and firmly – follow Francis de Sales’ advice: “Stir up your courage. Arm yourself with patience that we should have toward ourselves.”

And - of course - with one another.

Today!

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(October 28, 2017: Simon and Jude, Apostles)
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“He called his disciples to himself…”

Remember the hit TV comedy series Cheers? These are the words from the show’s theme song:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go here everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

In today’s Gospel we hear that even Jesus knew that “making your way in the world…takes everything you’ve got” and that “taking a break from all your worries sure can help a lot”, so he went up to the top of a mountain by himself to spend time in prayer with his Father. The next day, he calls his disciples to himself and named his Apostles. And to this day – nearly two thousand years later – everybody knows their names.

Just today, how can we make a name for ourselves in the service of God and neighbor? Today, how can we treat others in ways that makes them “glad you came”?

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(October 29, 2017: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Francis de Sales authored the Treatise on the Love of God. Had he lived long enough, he also intended to write a book on the love of neighbor. What is common to both is charity - the love of God and neighbor. Charity was, and is, in the mind and heart of Francis de Sales, the virtue of virtues. We are called to love our God in a neighborly way, and we are called to love our neighbor in a God-like manner.

Needless to say, but say it we will, Francis de Sales has more than a little to share with us about the nature and practice of charity.

"Just as God created man in his image and likeness, so also God has ordained for us a love in the image and likeness of the love due to God's divinity…Why do we love God? The reason we love God is God himself…Why do we love ourselves in charity? Surely, it is because we are God's image and likeness…Since all people have this same dignity, we also love them as ourselves, that is, in their character as most holy and living images of the divinity…The same charity that produces acts of love of God produces at the same time those of love of neighbor…To love our neighbor in charity is to love God in others and others in God." (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 10, Chapter 11)

For St. Francis de Sales, the love of God and the love of neighbor are not two distinct experiences as much as they are two expressions of the same reality - two sides, as it were, of the same coin. (Recall Jesus’ command in last Sunday’s Gospel to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to render to God what is God’s.”)

“The great St. Augustine says that charity includes all the virtues and performs all their operations in us,” wrote St. Francis de Sales. “These are his words: ‘What is said about virtue being divided into four’ - he means the four cardinal virtues – ‘in my opinion it is said because of the different affections that proceed from love. Hence, I do not hesitate to define those four virtues thus: temperance is love that gives itself entirely to God. Fortitude is love that willingly bears all things for God's sake. Justice is love that serves God alone, and therefore disposes justly all that is subject to human beings. Prudence is love that chooses what is useful to unite itself to God, and rejects all that is harmful.’” (Treatise on the Love of God, Chapter XI, Chapter 8)

"The one who possesses charity has one's soul clothed with a fair wedding garment, which, like that of Joseph, is wrought over with all the various virtues. Moreover, charity has a perfection that contains the virtue of all perfections and the perfections of all virtues." (Ibid)

In charity we find the meeting place of the love of God, the love of self and the love of others. How well do we share this multi-faceted love with those we meet every day? Put another way, how faithful are we in giving what is due to the things of heaven and the things of earth?

* * * * *
(October 30, 2017: Monday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Even as we strive to be “children of God”, we are still imperfect people. Try as we might to do otherwise, there are still many ways in which we live according to the “flesh”. Each of us still retains our share of shadows; all of us still struggle with some elements of darkness. What are we – as children of God called to live in the light of the Spirit – to do about this dilemma? Francis de Sales certainly offers this encouragement:

“It is a great part of our perfection to support one another in our imperfections; what better way is there for us to practice love of our neighbor save in this support?” (Select Salesian Subjects, #0096, p. 22)

The presence of shadows – and even darkness – should not discourage us in our attempts to be who we are: children of God! The spirit does bear witness in our spirit, imperfect as we are.

* * * * *
(October 31, 2017: Tuesday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“To what can I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed…”

It seems paradoxical that Jesus would describe something as vast as the Kingdom of God in terms of one of the smallest of all seeds - the mustard seed. Still, consider how St. Francis de Sales describes eternity in a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde (Peer and Master of the Horse at the courts of both Henri IV and Louis XIII of France):

“Keep your eyes steadfastly fixed on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on; and these as they pass, themselves pass us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But meanwhile, in these passing moments there lies enclosed as in a tiny kernel the seed of all eternity; and in our humble little works of devotion there lies hidden the prize of everlasting glory, and the little pains we take to serve God lead to the repose of a bliss that can never end...” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 236)

Indeed, the Kingdom of God is a big thing. In fact, it is the biggest and the broadest of all things. As Jesus reminds us, however – and as Francis de Sales underscores – sometimes the biggest of things come in very small, ordinary and everyday packages!

* * * * *
(November 1, 2017: All Saints)
* * * * *

“He began to teach them...”

In her book entitled Saint Francis de Sales and the Protestants (in which she examines his missionary activity in the Chablais, one of the most seminal periods in the life of the “Gentleman Saint”), author Ruth Kleinman wrote:

“Saintliness is hard to practice, but it is even more difficult to describe.” A notable exception to this dictum are the words we hear proclaimed today in the Gospel of Matthew on this Solemnity of All Saints.

Jesus describes saintliness simply and succinctly. It is about living a life of Beatitude:

  • Saintly are those who mourn, i.e., those who refuse to harden their hearts when faced with the needs of others.
  • Saintly are those who show mercy, i.e., those who are willing to forgo old hurts and to forgive others from their hearts.
  • Saintly are those who are poor in spirit, i.e., those who experience everything as a gift and who demonstrate their gratitude through their willingness to share what they have (regardless of how ordinary or extraordinary) with others.
  • Saintly are the pure of heart, i.e., those who avoid artificiality and pretense and who have the courage to be their true, authentic selves.
  • Saintly are the meek, i.e., those who know that power isn’t demonstrated by taking from others but about giving to others. It’s not about doing to others but about doing for/with others.
  • Saintly are the peacemakers, i.e., those who bring people together rather than drive them apart.
  • Saintly are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, i.e., those for whom doing good comes with the same frequency and urgency as the need to eat and drink.
  • Saintly are those persecuted for doing what is right, i.e., those who are willing to stand up for what is right regardless of the cost(s) incurred.
And as it turns out, not only is saintliness not hard to describe, but it isn’t nearly as hard to practice as we might think. In a sermon on Our Lady, Francis de Sales observed:

“There is no need of putting ourselves to the trouble of trying to find out what are the desires of God, for they are all expressed in His commandments and in the counsels of Our Lord Himself gave us in the Sermon on the Mount when He said: ‘How blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the lowly, and the other Beatitudes.’ These are all the desires of God upon which we ought to walk, following these as perfectly as we can.” (Select Salesian Subjects, #0170, p. 37)

Saintliness? To be sure, it is hard work. But with the grace of God – and the support of one another – it is doable!

Today!

Spirituality Matters 2017: October 19th - October 25th

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(October 19, 2015: John de Brebeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, Companions and Martyrs)
* * * * *

“I will send to them prophets and Apostles; some of them they will kill and persecute…”

Today the Church reflects upon the ultimate sacrifice made by the Jesuit Martyrs of North America. Warning: this account if not for the faint of heart. ( http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1173 )

“Isaac Jogues (1607-1646) and his companions were the first martyrs of the North American continent officially recognized by the Church. As a young Jesuit, Isaac Jogues, a man of learning and culture, taught literature in France. He gave up that career to work among the Huron Indians in the New World, and in 1636 he and his companions - under the leadership of John de Brébeuf - arrived in Quebec. The Hurons were constantly warring with the Iroquois, and in a few years Father Jogues was captured by the Iroquois and imprisoned for thirteen months. An unexpected chance for escape came to Isaac Jogues through the Dutch, and he returned to France, bearing the marks of his sufferings. Several fingers had been cut, chewed or burnt off. Pope Urban VIII gave him permission to offer Mass with his mutilated hands: ‘It would be shameful that a martyr of Christ be not allowed to drink the Blood of Christ.’ Welcomed home as a hero, Father Jogues might have sat back, thanked God for his safe return and died peacefully in his homeland. But his zeal led him back once more to the fulfillment of his dreams. In a few months he sailed for his missions among the Hurons. In 1646 he and Jean de Lalande, who had offered his services to the missioners, set out for Iroquois country in the belief that a recently signed peace treaty would be observed. They were captured by a Mohawk war party, and on October 18 Father Jogues was tomahawked and beheaded. Jean de Lalande was killed the next day at Ossernenon, a village near Albany, New York.”

“The first of the Jesuit missionaries to be martyred was René Goupil who, with Lalande, had offered his services as an oblate. He was tortured along with Isaac Jogues in 1642, and was tomahawked for having made the Sign of the Cross on the brow of some children.”

“Jean de Brébeuf (1593-1649): Jean de Brébeuf was a French Jesuit who came to Canada at the age of 32 and labored there for 24 years. He went back to France when the English captured Quebec (1629) and expelled the Jesuits, but returned to his missions four years later. Although medicine men blamed the Jesuits for a smallpox epidemic among the Hurons, Jean remained with them. He composed catechisms and a dictionary in Huron, and saw seven thousand converted before his death. He was captured by the Iroquois and died after four hours of extreme torture at Sainte Marie, near Georgian Bay, Canada.”

“Father Anthony Daniel, working among Hurons who were gradually becoming Christian, was killed by Iroquois on July 4, 1648. His body was thrown into his chapel, which was set on fire. Gabriel Lalemant had taken a fourth vow—to sacrifice his life to the Indians. He was horribly tortured to death along with Father Brébeuf. Father Charles Garnier was shot to death as he baptized children and catechumens during an Iroquois attack. Father Noel Chabanel was killed before he could answer his recall to France. He had found it exceedingly hard to adapt to mission life. He could not learn the language, the food and life of the Indians revolted him, plus he suffered spiritual dryness during his whole stay in Canada. Yet he made a vow to remain until death in his mission.”

“These eight Jesuit martyrs of North America were canonized in 1930.”

* * * * * *

The sacrifice of these Jesuit martyrs gives radical witness to the lengths to which people of faith might go in being faithful to the power and the promise of the Good News of Jesus Christ. In their case - unto death.

Today, how far are we willing to go to remain faithful to the power and promise of the Good News of Jesus Christ?

* * * * *
(October 20, 2017: St. Paul of the Cross, Founder)
* * * * *

“A worker’s wage is credited not as a gift, but as something due.”

In the book Cor ad Cor, Fr. Brisson observed:

We reprint the Gospel by means of work. We must reprint the Gospel and reprint it page by page without omitting anything.”

“Now Our Lord came upon earth and passed thirty years in manual labor. His labor was not intellectual labor, even though He was the Light which enlivens every person coming into this world. The Jews asked, ‘How does He know these things, since He has not studied, since He does not know science or literature, since He is a working man?’ It is precisely because He was a working man—because He worked with his hands—that He knew the language of divine science, that is, the language of union with God. He began by doing manual labor.”

“Without doubt, not all of us can work with our hands, but all of our lives involve some amount of manual labor each and every day. There is a library to keep in order, a helping hand to be given, a little tidying up or arranging to be done, a challenging student with whom to practice patience. You are in charge of a class—this frequently requires much material care.”

“We are called to realize this intimate union with God in ourselves and in all those confided to our care. You see, my friends, to what we are obliged—to reestablish here below the earthly paradise. This is certainly no small task! Where shall we begin this great undertaking? With ourselves, of course.”

Just today, how might we reprint the Gospel in our relationships with one another?

* * * * *
October 21, 2017: Saturday, Twenty-eight Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He believed, hoping against hope.”

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

“Since the assurance God gives us that paradise is ours infinitely strengthens our desire to win it, it weakens and annihilates the trouble and disquiet that this desire might bring us. By the sacred promises, God’s goodness has made our hearts become – and remain – completely calm. This calm is the root of that most holy virtue which we call hope.”

Inseparable from hope is yet another virtue greatly admired by “The Gentleman Saint” – aspiration. In the same chapter in which the quote above was taken, Francis describes both how hope and aspiration are distinct as well as how the two intimately work together.

“Between hoping and aspiring, the sole difference is this: we hope for such things that we expect to gain by the aid of another, whereas we aspire for such things that we expect to gain by our own resources and by ourselves…Aspiration is the offspring of hope, just as our cooperation is the offspring of grace. Just as people who would hope without aspiring would be rejected as cowardly and irresponsible, so, too, those who would aspire without hope would be considered rash, insolent and presumptuous. When hope is accompanied by aspiration – when we aspire with hope and hope with aspiration – hope is changed into courageous determination, while aspiration is changed into hope into humble striving.” (TLG, BK II, Chapter 16, pp. 144 – 145)

In the Salesian tradition, hope is not helplessness. Hope certainly is not the same as mere wishful thinking. Rather, hope gives us the strength to remain calm and collected even as we do our part to obtain our greatest good – life on high with Jesus Christ. In the meantime, in the day-to-day ebb and flow of life, hopeful aspiration and aspiring hope help us in our daily efforts to know when we must rely on the grace of God as well as to know when we must rely on the grace of our own hard work.

These two virtues are – in fact – two sides of an invaluable spiritual coin.

Today, how much must I rely upon God to become the best version of myself? Today, how much must I reply upon myself to become the best version of myself?

* * * * *
(October 22, 2017: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s; render to God what is God’s.”

Living a God-centered life is not a simple, cut-and-dry proposition. While we are indeed created to live forever with God in heaven, we must also, on any given day, tend to any number of duties and responsibilities here on earth.

We must give both heaven and earth their respective dues.

How does this work? How do we achieve this balance in our own lives?

To use the phrase: are we supposed to rob from Peter to pay Paul? No, we don’t need to deprive one so as to pay tribute to another! Are we supposed to give to God from one hand and give to the world from the other? No, we are challenged to use both our hands in such a way that gives justice to both the things of earth as well as the things of heaven.

While not overstating the obvious lesson in today’s Gospel, service to heaven and service to earth are, in fact, two sides of the same coin! We are ultimately faithful to both “Caesar” and to “God” by treating our brothers and sisters with justice…by giving them their due.

Francis de Sales wrote:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor's place and your neighbor in yours, and then you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell and buy justly…you lose nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously and with a royal, just and reasonable heart. Resolve to examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor, as you would want your neighbor to be toward you if you were in your neighbor's place. This is the touchstone of true reason.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 36)

Giving others their due is not only about being faithful to the debt of love we owe to one another, but it can also have very practical ramifications. Francis de Sales penned these words in 1604: "I see that you have a debt…repay this as soon as you possibly can, and be as careful as you can never to withhold from others anything that belongs to them.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 69)

Whether the obligations are great or small, we must strive always to give what is due to our brothers and sisters. We must strive to treat one another reasonably, fairly, humbly, honestly and justly. In so doing we render to “Caesar” what is “Caesar’s” and we also render to God what is God's.

In the Salesian tradition, we never really have to choose between tending to the things of heaven or the things of earth. By meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters, we tend to both the things of earth and to the things of heaven at the same time, in the process “proving our faith, laboring in love, and showing constancy in our hope in Jesus Christ”.

* * * * *
(October 23, 2017: John of Capistrano, Priest, Religious and Reformer)
* * * * *

“Take care to guard against all greed…”

Greed is defined as “an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.”

What’s important to note is that greed is not equated with merely possessing material wealth, but that greed is also about having an “excessive” or inordinate desire to possess material wealth. Greed isn’t about the amount of the wealth; it’s about the size – and intensity – of the desire for wealth.

Francis de Sales certainly understood this distinction. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:

“I willingly grant that you may take care to increase your wealth and resources, provided this is done not only justly but properly and charitably. However, if you are strongly attached to the goods you possess, too solicitous about them, set your heart on them, always have them in your thoughts and fear losing them with a strong, anxious fear, then, believe me, you are suffering from a kind of fever. If you find your heart very desolated and afflicted at the loss of property, believe me, you love it too much…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 163)

The Gospel parable is a classic example of what Francis de Sales described. The rich man isn’t condemned because he is rich; the rich man is condemned because he does not even consider sharing his good fortune – his rich harvest – with others.

However, note the distinction that Jesus makes, however. “Guard against all greed”. Greed isn’t limited to material possessions. Many of the things to which we cling – many of the things about which we have inordinate desires to keep for ourselves - aren’t material at all: our time, our opinions, our plans, our preferences, our comforts, our routines, our ways of seeing things and our ways of doing things are just a sampling of the many things to which we cling excessively.

Today, what kinds of greed – in any form, in all forms - might we be careful to avoid?

* * * * *
(October 24, 2017: Anthony Mary Claret, Bishop)
* * * * *

“Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more…”

It has been said that the only irrefutable dogma of the Catholic Church is the teaching on Original Sin. One only needs to read the daily newspaper to recognize countless and unrelenting proofs of the existence of Original Sin in particular and overall sin in general. It is all the more humbling when we recognize proofs of the existence of that same sinfulness in our own lives: our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions. We don’t need to take the reality of sin on faith - we see and experience it every day!

And yet, as many proofs as there are for the reality of sin, Francis de Sales suggests that there are even more proofs of God’s mercy! In his Treatise on the Love of God, Frances de Sales wrote:

“God’s providence has left in us great marks of his severity, even amid the very grace of his mercy. Examples include the fact that we must die, that there is disease, that we must toil and the fact that we rebel against what we know is good. God’s favor floats over all this and finds joy in turning all our miseries to the greater profit of those who love him. From toil God makes patience spring forth, from death comes contempt for passing riches and from our interior struggles emerge a thousand victories. Just as the rainbow touches the thorn aspalathus and makes it smell sweeter than the lily, so our Savior’s redemption touches our miseries and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. The angels, says our Savior, have ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance. So, too, the state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence.”

“Truly, by the watering of our Savior’s blood – made with the hyssop of the cross – we have been restored to a white incomparably better than that possessed by the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we come out of the stream of salvation more pure and clean than if we had never had leprosy. This is to the end that God’s majesty, as he had ordained for us as well, should not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good, in order that his mercy – like a sacred oil – should keep itself ‘above judgment’ and ‘his mercies be above all his works.’” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 6, pp. 115 – 166)

There’s no doubt about it - sin is real. However, let there be even less doubt that God’s mercy, generosity and love are far more real – and powerful – than sin.

Today, with God’s help – and with the support of others - how might we overcome evil with good?

* * * * *
(October 25, 2017: Wednesday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come…”

We all know the expression - “Hindsight is 20-20.” As we know from our own experience, often times it is much easier to recognize the truth about something hours, days, weeks and perhaps even years after the fact. While hindsight is better than having no sight at all, there are certain limitations associated with recognizing how God has been active in one’s life only after further reflection.

This pattern gets played out time and time again in numerous accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. People didn’t seem to recognize that the Son of Man was standing right in front of them. Put another way, insofar as they were not prepared to recognize who Jesus was before he appeared, they failed to recognize him when he actually arrived!

The aim of the Spiritual Directory – the goal of the Direction of Intention – is to help us to acquire foresight when it comes to recognizing the activity and presence of God in our lives. Living in every present moment challenges us to anticipate the variety of ways in which God may visit, speak to or inspire us just this day and to recognize God’s divine activity and presence as it actually occurs in each and every present moment - and not merely after the fact.

In the movie Field of Dreams, Doctor “Moonlight” Graham (played by actor Burt Lancaster) says to Ray Kinsella, “You know, we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening. Back then I thought, 'Well, there'll be other days.' I didn't realize that that was the only day.”

May God give us the awareness that we need to be prepared for the most significant moments - and each and every moment - in our lives, each and every day. But then, when you consider that we have only a limited number of moments allotted to us on this earth, shouldn’t every moment be a significant moment?

Spirituality Matters 2017: October 12th - October 18th

* * * * *
(October 12, 2017: Blessed Louis Brisson, Priest/Founder and Religious)
* * * * *

~ PROPER READINGS ~

A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

Blessed those whose way is blameless,
who walk by the law of the LORD.
Blessed those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with all their heart.

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

You have given them the command
to observe your precepts with care.
May my ways be firm
in the observance of your statutes!

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

I delight in your commandments,
which I dearly love.
I lift up my hands to your commandments;
I study your statutes, which I love.

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to John

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me
that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes,
so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because
of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.

I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him
will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them
into a fire and they will be burned.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.

By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

As the Father loves me,
so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments,
you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept
my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.

“I have told you this so that
my joy may be in you
and your joy may be complete.”

Gospel of the Lord.

* * * * *

In her book, Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition, Wendy Wright quotes Fr. Brisson regarding the challenge to “Reprint the Gospel” in all aspects our lives. We read:

“It is not enough to read the Gospel in order to understand it. We must live it. The Gospel is the true story of the Word of God living among men. We must produce a New Edition of this Gospel among men by prayer, work, preaching and sacrifice…”

“First, we reprint the Gospel by prayer, through which we give ourselves to God in every way without reserve.”

“Second, we reprint the Gospel by means of work. We must reprint the Gospel and reprint it page by page without omitting anything…In our lives there is always some manual labor. There is a library to keep in order, a helping hand to be given. A little gardening to be done, a little tidying up or arranging to be done…God has attached great graces to manual labor.”

“The third way for us to reprint the Gospel is by preaching. All of us should preach. Those who work with their hands as well as those who are occupied with exterior works, those who conduct classes and those who teach by example, those who direct souls as well as those assigned to the ministry of the pulpit – all of us should preach. We should preach in practical ways. We should teach our neighbors, if not by our words, at least by our actions.”

“The fourth thing in the Gospel is sacrifice. The Word made Flesh prayed in order to teach us how to pray. He worked. He preached. Finally, He suffered. These are the four conditions necessary to reprint the Gospel…” (pp. 145-146)

There are any number of ways in which God may ask us to reprint the Gospel: in prayer, work, preaching and sacrifice. Are you ready? Are you willing?

How can we reprint the Gospel today?

~ OR ~

In the book Cor ad Cor, Fr. Brisson observed:

“We reprint the Gospel by means of work. We must reprint the Gospel and reprint it page by page without omitting anything.”

“Now Our Lord came upon earth and passed thirty years in manual labor. His labor was not intellectual labor, even though He was the Light which enlivens every person coming into this world. The Jews asked, ‘How does He know these things, since He has not studied, since He does not know science or literature, since He is a working man?’ It is precisely because He was a working man—because He worked with his hands—that He knew the language of divine science, that is, the language of union with God. He began by doing manual labor.”

“Without doubt, not all of us can work with our hands, but all of our lives involve some amount of manual labor each and every day. There is a library to keep in order, a helping hand to be given, a little tidying up or arranging to be done, a challenging student with whom to practice patience. You are in charge of a class—this frequently requires much material care.”

“We are called to realize this intimate union with God in ourselves and in all those confided to our care. You see, my friends, to what we are obliged—to reestablish here below the earthly paradise. This is certainly no small task! Where shall we begin this great undertaking? With ourselves, of course.”

Just today, how might we reprint the Gospel in our relationships with one another?

* * * * *
(October 13, 2017: Friday, Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

JL 1:13-15; 2:1-2     PS 9:2-3, 6 AND 16, 8-9     LK 11:15-26

“When an unclean spirit goes out of someone…it brings back seven others more wicked than itself.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus drives out a demon. In addition, he speaks about demons that would attempt to divide a kingdom against itself. Francis de Sales knew a few things about demons. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote extensively about this same demon upon which we touched upon previously this week: anxiety.

“Anxiety is not a simple temptation but a source from which and by which many temptations arise…When a soul perceives that it has suffered a certain evil, it is displeased at having it and hence sadness follows. The soul immediately desires to be free of it and to have some means of getting rid of it. Thus far the soul is right, for everyone naturally desires to embrace what is good and to dispose of anything evil…Now if it does not immediately succeed in the way it wants it grows very anxious and impatient. Instead of removing the evil, it increases it and this involves the soul in greater anguish and distress together with such loss of strength and courage that it imagines the evil to be incurable. You see, then, that sadness, which is justified in the beginning, produces anxiety, and anxiety in turn produces increase in sadness. All this is extremely dangerous.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, p. 251)

Anxiety never roams alone. It brings with it a whole host of other unclean spirits that can divide the kingdom of our heart against itself. Whatever difficulties or challenges you may face, don’t let things get worse by allowing anxiety and its cohorts to make a home in your heart.

Simply – but firmly – show them the door – today!

Today!

* * * * *
(October 14, 2017: Callistus I, Pope and Martyr)
* * * * *

JL 4:12-21     PS 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12     LK 11:27-28

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

In a letter written to a young woman who was ultimately unsuccessful in her desire and efforts to join a religious community, Francis de Sales wrote:

“You should resign yourself entirely into the hands of the good God, who, when you have done your little duty about this inspiration and design that you have, will be pleased with whatever you do, even if it be much less. If after all your efforts you cannot succeed, you could not please our Lord more than by sacrificing to Him your will and remaining in tranquility, humility and devotion, entirely conformed and submissive to His divine will and good pleasure. You will recognize this clearly enough when – having done your best – you cannot fulfill your desires.”

“Sometimes our good God tries our courage and our love, depriving us of the things that seem to us – and which really may be – very good for the soul. If He sees us ardent in our pursuit and yet all the while humble, tranquil and resigned to do without to the privation of the things sought, He gives us blessings greater in the privation than in the possession of the thing desired. For in all things and everywhere, God loves those who with good heart and simplicity – on all occasions and in all events – can say to Him, ‘Thy will be done.’”…” (Thy Will be Done, pp. 3-4)

Observing the Word of God isn’t simply a matter of being a casual observer. No, it’s about putting that Word into action! Despite our best attempts at putting that Word into action, however we don’t – as we know all-too-well from our own experience – control the result or outcome of our efforts. As Francis de Sales reminds us, what we do – or don’t – accomplish in observing God’s Word is not nearly as important as allowing that Word to draw us closer to God and to one another.

Come what may!

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(October 15, 2017: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“In him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything.”

“I am experienced in being brought low, yet I know what it is to have an abundance. I have learned how to cope with every circumstance: how to eat well or go hungry and how to be well provided for or to do without.”

How did St. Paul manage to deal with the ups and downs of life in such a centered, balanced and confident manner? More importantly, how can we manage to deal with the ups and downs of our own lives in such a centered, balanced and confident manner?

Among other things we need a solid, profound trust in God. We need the kind of trust that enables us to see the hand of God in both good times and bad times alike.

Francis de Sales offered some great advice for how to roll with the punches in life in a letter he wrote in 1603:

“You should 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 little fall or stumble; after all, it is as yet rather 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 little set-backs and falls; there is no need to be put out by this provided that you throw yourself into God's arms from time to time and kiss God with the kiss of charity. Go on joyfully and with your heart as open and wisely trustful as possible; and if you cannot always be joyful, at least be brave and confident.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pages 45 - 46.)

In another letter, Francis offered the following observation regarding our trust in God and our ability to deal with adversity in life:

“It is far better to lift up our eyes to the hills whence help shall come to us, to hope in the Lord and willingly glory in our infirmities so that the strength of Christ may dwell in us……For those who put their trust in the Lord shall take wings like the eagle; but whoever loses heart shall come to nothing and vanish like smoke. The soldier who leaves the field trembling with fear no doubt finds rest but no greater safety than the one who goes on fighting.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 121)

There are many experiences in life that may leave us fearful, or at least, frustrated. What distinguishes happy, healthy and holy people from people who just try to get through life is the ability and willingness to trust that God loves us in all the ups and downs of life. In the words of Job, those who trust in the Lord know that while the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, always blessed is the name of the Lord.

And blessed, always, are all those who trust - and believe - in God……no matter what.

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(October 16, 2017: Margaret Mary Alacoque, VHM, Religious)
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“Called to be an Apostle and set apart for the Gospel of God…”

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell observes:

“At the age of nine, Margaret Mary Alacoque contracted polio. She spent the next six years confined to her bed as an invalid. When she was fifteen it is said that she had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Upon emerging from her ecstasy, she discovered that she had been healed of her infirmities. During those six years Margaret Mary had developed a rather deep prayer life. When she subsequently joined the Sisters of the Visitation at Paray le Monial, she found the form of meditation prescribed for the novices rudimentary to the point of being tedious. Notwithstanding this source of frustration, Margaret Mary persevered and professed final vows.”

“In 1675 she had a vision of Christ while praying in the monastery chapel. He told Margaret Mary that he wanted her to be his messenger, spreading throughout the world devotion to his Sacred heart that, he told Margaret Mary, was ‘burning with divine love’ for the human family. Christ asked that the Church institute a new feast day in honor of his Sacred Heart and that, for love of him, Catholics should attend Mass and receive Communion on the First Friday of each month. He promised to save all faithful Catholics who honored him by displaying an image of his sacred heart in their homes or going to Mass and Communion every First Friday of the month for nine successive months.”

“Margaret Mary Alacoque encountered a great deal of skepticism when she began to tell the other sisters in the monastery about her visions. The nuns accused her of lying and questioned her sanity, while the local clergy dismissed her visions, saying that the Sacred Heart devotion went too far in humanizing Christ and thus diminished his divinity. The Jesuits, however – and the monastery’s chaplain Father Claude de la Colombiere, SJ – argued successfully that Margaret Mary’s revelations put fresh emphasis on the perfectly orthodox principle of confidence in God’s infinite love. Today veneration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a mainstay in Catholic devotional life.”

Cloistered though she was, God chose Margaret Mary to be a herald of the redemptive power of the Heart of Jesus. In her own unique way, she was an Apostle of the good News.

Today, how might be Apostles in the lives of others today?

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(October 17, 2017: Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr)
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“I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…”

Today, we celebrate the life and legacy of Ignatius of Antioch.

“Born in Syria, Ignatius converted to Christianity and eventually became bishop of Antioch. In the year 107, Emperor Trajan visited Antioch and forced the Christians there to choose between death and apostasy. Ignatius would not deny Christ – thus, Ignatius was condemned to be put to death in Rome.”

“Ignatius is well known for the seven letters he wrote on the long journey from Antioch to Rome. Five of these letters are to churches in Asia Minor; they urge the Christians there to remain faithful to God and to obey their superiors. He warns them against heretical doctrines, providing them with the solid truths of the Christian faith.”

“The sixth letter was to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was later martyred for the faith. The final letter begs the Christians in Rome not to try to stop his martyrdom. ‘The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God. I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ.’ Ignatius was killed by lions in the Circus Maximus.” (http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1171)

We do not know if Ignatius was afraid of his impending martyrdom. We do know that he was brave enough to face – and embrace – it.

Today, how might we imitate his example of courage by facing – and embracing – the challenges that we might meet?

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(October 18, 2017: Luke, Evangelist and Martyr)
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“The Lord stood by me and gave me strength...”

Our first reading from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy reminds us that being either an apostle, a disciple or an evangelist brings its share of troubles.

Including being betrayed!

Paul cites at least three occasions in which he felt like he was – as we say so often these days – thrown under the bus. First, Demas deserted him; second, Alexander the coppersmith did him great harm; and third, no one showed up on Paul’s behalf when he attempted to defend himself in court. While he attributes his ability to get through this rough patch in his life to the Lord standing by him to and giving him strength, it certainly didn’t hurt that at least one person other than the Lord – St. Luke – remained faithful to Paul throughout his ordeals.

St. Francis de Sales wrote about the pain that comes from being betrayed by those closest to us. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:

“To be despised, criticized or accused by evil men is a slight thing to a courageous man, but to be criticized, denounced and treated badly by good men - by our own friends and relations – is the test of virtue. Just as the pain of a bee is much more painful than that of a fly, so the wrongs we suffer from good men and the attacks they make are far harder to bear than those we suffer from others. Yet it often happens that good people – all with good intentions – because of conflicting ideas stir up great persecutions and attacks on one another.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, pp. 128 – 129)

Paul found it very difficult to swallow betrayals at the hands of those with whom he lived and worked without becoming embittered about it. It seems that Paul was able to work through the betrayals because of the loyalty of two people in his life - the Lord and Luke.

Like Luke, how might we help another person work through the experience of betrayal? How might we – through our willingness to practice fidelity – give them the strength to overcome their pain and discouragement?

By standing with them!

Spirituality Matters 2017: October 5th - October 11th

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(October 5, 2017: Thursday, Twenty-six Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”

There are any number of ways of “rejoicing in the Lord”. In the Salesian tradition, one of the more preferable ways to do this is to bloom where you are planted, that is, to now your place in this world and having the courage to take it.

In a letter of spiritual direction addressed to Madame Brulart, Francis de Sales counseled:

“Persevere in overcoming yourself in the little everyday frustrations that bother you; let you best efforts be directed there. God wants nothing else of you at present, so don’t waste time doing anything else. Don’t sow your desires in someone else’s garden – just cultivate your own as best you can. Don’t long to be anyone other than who you are, but thoroughly desire to be who you are. Direct your thoughts to being very good at that and to bearing the crosses – little or great – that you will find there. Believe me, this is the most important – and yet the least understood – point in the spiritual life.” (LSD, p. 112)

Just today, would like to rejoice in the Lord? Then, take delight in simply tending to the garden of your own mind, heart, soul and spirit.

Don’t waste your life trying to be someone you’re not. Be who you are and be that perfectly well.

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(October 6, 2017: Friday, Twenty-six Week in Ordinary Time)
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BAR 1:15-22     PS 79:1B-2, 3-5, 8, 9     LK 10:13-16

“Justice is with the Lord our God…”

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

“In general, we prefer the rich to the poor, even though they are neither of better condition nor as virtuous. We even prefer those who are better dressed. We rigorously demand our own rights, but want others to be considerate when insisting on theirs. We maintain our rank with exactness, but we want others to be humble and accommodating when it comes to theirs. We complain quite easily about our neighbors but none of them should ever complain about us. What we do for others always seems very great, while what others do for us seems like nothing at all.”

“In short, we have two hearts. We have a mild, gracious and courteous attitude toward ourselves but another that is hard, severe and rigorous toward our neighbor...To have two weights, one heavier with which to receive and the other with which to dispense ‘is an abominable thing to the Lord.’” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 216)

Justice is with the Lord our God. Our God expects justice to dwell within each of us and among us – and where there are double standards, there is no justice to be found.

So, what does it look like when we are acting in a God-like – that is, a just – manner? Francis wrote:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and your neighbor in yours – then, you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell, and you will buy and sell justly…for a person loses nothing by living generously, nobly courteously and with a royal, just and reasonable heart.” (Ibid, p. 217)

Justice is with the Lord our God! May the same be said of us.

Today!

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(October 7, 2017: Memorial, Our Lady of the Rosary)
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BAR 4:5-12, 27-29     PS 69:33-35, 36-37     LK 10:17-24

“Fear not, my people!”

On March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his now-famous remark within the context of his first inaugural address as president of the United States of America:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Notwithstanding FDR’s assertion, one could have easily argued that there was indeed more to fear than fear itself. America was in the grip of a catastrophic economic freefall. Unemployment stood at twenty-five percent! Countless numbers of individuals and families lost their life-savings overnight. Struggling farmers had no markets in which to sell their yield. Suicides were common; despondency was rampant; hope seemed vanquished.

And the winds of conflict and conflagration that would eventually fan themselves into the Second World War had yet to come!

On the 6th of August, 1606, Francis de Sales wrote the following words to St. Jane de Chantal:

“Dear St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, was afraid. As soon as he was afraid, he began to sink and to drown, crying out, ‘O Lord, save me.’ Our Lord caught hold of his hand and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Look at this holy apostle; he walks dry foot on the water the waves and winds could not make him sink; but fear of the wind and the waves will make him perish unless his master saves him. Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 125)

During the course of our lives we are sometimes buffeted by winds and waves of all kinds. Some may barely rock the boat; others may threaten our very lives or livelihood! Be it in the face of threats great or small, may God give us the strength to not allow our fear – however appropriate or prudent – to become a greater threat than the threats themselves.

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(October 8, 2017: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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IS 5:1-7     PS 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20     PHIL 4:6-9     MT 21:33-43

“Dismiss all anxiety from your minds…then will the God of peace be with you.”

The image of a vineyard is employed in the first and third readings from today's lectionary. In both cases, things in the vineyard haven't turned out quite the way that the owner had planned. It seems that the people responsible for caring for the vineyard in the first place didn’t live up to expectations.

Who owns the vineyard? God does, of course. What is the vineyard? It is the world in which we live. It is the world of relationships among us. It is the world – as Francis de Sales says, the universe – within us. Who is responsible for the upkeep of the vineyard? We are…both as individuals and as community.

The truth is that we don't always live up to God's expectations, either. As collaborators with God in God’s ongoing plan of creation, redemption, inspiration and salvation, we don't always harvest the grapes of life in ways that give life - things like respect, honesty, purity, decency or virtue that we should. Sadly, we often use our energies in producing grapes of wrath - things like jealousy, envy, indifference, hatred, violence and injustice.

This journey is our lot in life. We clearly know the kind of vineyard that God wants us to cultivate and grow, but sin, fear and selfishness often prevent us from producing the kinds of fruit that give life.

As tragic as this reality is, however, only one thing can actually make things worse - being anxious about it.

Francis de Sales wrote: “With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul.” Why? “Instead of removing the evil, anxiety increases it and involves the soul in great anguish and distress together with such loss of strength and courage that it imagines the evil to be incurable……all this is extremely dangerous.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11)

We need to be honest. We need to identify those areas of our lives - our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions - in which we experience difficulty in cultivating a harvest of peace, justice, reconciliation and love. But we need to do this harvesting without anxiety because anxiety both weakens our ability to turn away from sin and robs us of the courage we need to do what is right and good.

By all means, acknowledge the reality of sin and the shortcomings in your life, but dedicate more of your energies to living “according to what you have learned and accepted……then, the God of peace will be with you”.

And so, strive each day to produce a harvest of love from the vineyard of life…but avoid anxiety in the process.

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(October 9, 2017: John Leonardi, Priest and Founder)
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JON 1:1–2:1-2, 11     JONAH 2:3, 4, 5, 8     LK 10:25-37

“What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

Jesus raises a great question in today’s Gospel. And the person to whom he directs it – “a scholar of the law” – would appreciate the power of the question. Any student of the law – and in particular, anyone who practices law – knows that it isn’t enough just to know the letter of the law, but it’s also important to know how to “read” – that is, to interpret – the law so as to know how best to apply it.

Which brings us to the best – albeit, if not the most concise – answer to that question - the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Talk about a study in contrast! Two so-called experts in the letter of the law failed miserably because they did not offer any assistance to the man who fell victim to robbers, whereas the Samaritan – a man who may have known very little, if any, of the law – followed the law of compassion and common sense by tending to the needs of this unfortunate stranger by being a good neighbor.

Of course, the most important law for those who follow Jesus is the Gospel, that is, the Law of Love. It’s important for us to have a working knowledge of that Law; it’s important to know how to “read” or interpret that Law. More important, however, than knowing or interpreting it is to have the willingness to put the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Law of Love – into practice.

Today, in what ways can we be a Good Samaritan?

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(October 10, 2017: Tuesday, Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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JON 3:1-10     PS 130:1B-2, 3-4AB, 7-8     LK 10:38-42

“You are anxious and worried about many things…”

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

“Anxiety is not a simple temptation but a source from which and by which many temptations arise. With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul. Just as sedition and internal disorders bring total ruin on a State and leave it helpless to resist a foreign invader, so also, if our heart is inwardly troubled and disturbed it loses both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues it had acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy. He then uses his utmost efforts to fish, as they say, in troubled waters.” …” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, pp. 251-252)

Martha was obviously overwhelmed by her desire to do right by Jesus when it came to the practice of hospitality. Apparently more obvious to Jesus, however, was the fact that Martha was “anxious and worried about many things”. This issue of wanting help with the serving seems to have been the tip of the iceberg.

We should want to put our best foot forward when entertaining guests. We should want to give worthwhile things our best effort. We should want to do things well. We should want to get them right the first time.

And when we don’t? Deal with it; learn from it and move beyond it without being all worked up and anxious about it. Anxiety not only ruins good things, but anxiety also makes bad things even worse.

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(October 11, 2017: John XXIII, Pope)
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JON 4:1-11     PS 86:3-4, 5-6, 9-10     LK 11:1-4

“Lord, teach us to pray...”

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. Of course, a more fundamental question might have been: “Teach us why we should pray.”

In a letter written to a young woman who was – you guessed it – experiencing difficulty when praying, Francis de Sales wrote:

“First, we pray to give God the honor and homage we owe Him. This can be done without His speaking to us or we to Him, for this duty is paid by remembering that He is God and we are His creatures and by remaining prostrate in spirit before him, awaiting His commands.

“Second, we pray in order to speak with God and to hear Him speak to us by inspirations and movements in the interior of our soul. Generally this is done with a very delicious pleasure, because it is a great good for us to speak to so great a Lord. When He answers He spreads abroad a thousand precious balms and unguents which give great sweetness to the soul.”

“So, one of these two goods can never fail you in prayer. If we speak to our Lord, let us speak, let us praise Him, beseech Him and listen to Him. If we cannot use our voice, still let us stay in the room and do reverence to Him. He will see us there. He will accept our patience and will favor our silence. At other times we shall be quite amazed to be taken by the hand and he will converse with us, and will make a hundred turns with us in the walks of His garden of prayer. And if He should never do these things, let us be content with our duty of being in His suite and with the great grace and too great honor He does us in accepting our presence…” (Thy Will be Done, pp. 26-27)

So, why should we pray? Well, either (1) to remind ourselves of who God is in our lives, or (2) to remind ourselves who God wants us to be in relationship with Him and each other. Regardless of how many, how few or if any words we may use in the process of praying, may God give us the grace to (1) do what we pray for and (2) pray what we do.

Spirituality Matters 2017: September 28th - October 4th

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(September 28, 2017: Thursday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Consider your ways!”

The verb “consider” is defined:

  • to think about (something or someone) carefully especially in order to make a choice or decision
  • to think about something that is important in understanding something or in making a decision or judgment
  • to think about (a person or a person's feelings) before you do something
In Part One of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offers us a great many things to “consider”:
  • “Consider that a certain number of years ago you were not yet in the world.”
  • “Consider the nature that God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world and is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to the Divine Majesty.”
  • “Consider the unhappiness of worldly people who live as if they believe themselves created only to build houses, plant trees, pile up wealth and do frivolous things.”
  • “Consider the corporal benefits that God has bestowed on you.”
  • “Consider your gifts of mind.”
  • “Consider your spiritual favors.”
  • “Consider your evil inclinations and how often you give way to them.”
  • “Consider particularly the sin of ingratitude to God.”
  • “Consider how uncertain the day of your death is.”
  • “Consider that there will come a time for you when the world will no longer be.”
  • “Consider the long, languishing goodbye that your soul will give to this world.”
  • “Consider with what haste others will carry away your body and bury it in the earth.”
  • Consider how the soul – after leaving the body – goes its way, either to the right or to the left. Ah, where will your soul go?”
  • “Consider the nobility, beauty and the number of the citizens and inhabitants of heaven.”
  • “Consider that you stand between heaven and hell and that each of them lies open to receive you according to the choices you make.”
  • “Consider that the choice of one or the other of them that we make in this world will last eternally in the world to come.”
What might you spend some time considering just this day?

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(September 29, 2017: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael - Archangels)
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“In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord…”

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

“Sacred providence determined to produce all things, both natural and supernatural, for the sake of our Savior so that angels and men might serve him and thus share in his glory. For this reason, although God willed to create both angels and men with free will, free with a true freedom to choose good and evil, still, to testify that on the part of God’s goodness they were dedicated to what is good and to glory, he created all of them in the state of original justice, which is nothing other than a most sweet love which would dispose them for, turn them towards and set them on the way to eternal happiness.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 4, p.112)

St. Francis de Sales believed that we have at least two things in common with the angels: (1) God created us with freedom and (2) God gave us a freedom tending toward what “is good and to glory”. Of course, God’s plans went awry in both cases. First, there was a revolt among some of the angels (recall the story of Lucifer) who resented having to pay homage to God. With this revolt God “resolved to abandon forever that sad and wretched legion of traitors who in furious rebellion had so shamefully abandoned him”. Second, (in the persons of Adam and Eve) “man would abuse his liberty, forsake grace and thus lose glory. Yet, God did not will to deal with human nature in so rigorous a way as he had decided to deal with angelic nature…he looked with pity upon our nature and resolved to have mercy on it”. (Ibid, pp. 112 - 113)

In the Salesian tradition, then, what distinguishes us from the angels are the lengths to which God will go to redeem us. In the case of the rebellious angels, God simply banished them from his presence. In the case of his rebellious creatures – people like you and me – God not only does not banish us, but he also sent his only Son to redeem us.

Francis de Sales says that the problem with many people who wish to pursue a life of devotion is that they make the mistake of trying to live like angels when they should be trying to live like good men and women. Given the fact that even the angels have had their share of challenges, maybe we have more than enough on our plates just being human without trying to be angelic, too.

What’s the moral of the story? Let’s do our level best to sing God’s praises in the sight of the angels, but let’s do it as humanly as possible!

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(September 30, 2017: Saturday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Pay attention to what I am telling you.”

Some things in life are more important than others. With the hope of trying to impress upon another person that what we are about to say is of greater importance than other things, more often than not, we will preface our advice with words like “listen up,” “pay attention” or “this is really important”.

While we’d like to think that everything that Jesus said is of equal importance, Jesus clearly wanted to impress his disciples with the inevitability of his showdown with the religious leaders of his time. And while we know that Jesus raised this issue more than a few times in the Gospels, the disciples seem to have had difficulty in grasping the importance – even, the necessity – of this prediction.

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

“The more pleasant and excellent are the objects our senses encounter, the more ardently and avidly do they enjoy them. The more beautiful, the more delightful to our sight, and the more effectively lighted they are, the more eagerly and attentively do our eyes look to them. The sweeter and more pleasant a voice or music is, the more completely is the ear’s attention drawn to it. This force is more or less strong in accordance with the greater or lesser excellence of the object, provided that it is proportionate to the capacity of the sense desiring to enjoy it. For example, although the eye finds great pleasure in light, it cannot bear extremely strong light, nor can it look steadily at the sun. No matter how beautiful music may be, if it is too loud and too close to us, it strikes harshly on the ear and disturbs it.” (TLG, Book III, Chapter 9, p. 186)

There are so many things that Jesus wants us to learn about the living in God’s love.

How well will we pay attention to what God may be telling us about those ways - just today?

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(October 1, 2017: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”

To live humbly, as St. Augustine said, is to live in the truth: the truth about God, the truth about ourselves and the truth about others. This living in the truth is no mere intellectual exercise. It is something that should make a profound difference in the way we live our lives.

St. Francis de Sales saw Jesus Christ as the perfect model of humility. What was the truth about Jesus? First, Christ was divine. Second, Christ did not selfishly cling to his divine nature. Third, Christ generously and freely shared his power (in conformity with the Father's will) with individual men, women and children in a particular time, in a particular space and in a particular place in human history. Fourth, so enamored of us was Christ that he shared his divinity with us by becoming fully human by experiencing birth, celebrating life, and embracing death.

The mystery of his self-emptying is only fully understood in the light of his divine power. The significance of his humility is all the greater when seen as an expression of his absolute generosity. His service to us is all the more remarkable when we consider it should have been us serving him.

To be humble is to live in the truth as Jesus did. Like Christ, we must first acknowledge that since we are made in the image and likeness of God, we, too, are good. Second, we have to acknowledge that our God-given dignity is not meant to serve our own needs alone, but rather, we are created to “look to others’ interests rather than our own.” Third, we acknowledge that as good and beautiful and holy as the created order may be, our ultimate glory is to live forever in heaven. Fourth, we walk in the belief that only those who lay down their lives each day in service will be raised up on the last day.

Our glory is not found in clinging to our God-given dignity and destiny. No, our power is most vividly and powerfully glorified when we use that dignity and destiny to reach out to one another in love. Like Christ, we are most powerful when we devote ourselves to pursuing the health, holiness and happiness of others.

Like Christ, humble servants know that they can be truly happy only by making their very best effort every day to “make complete” the joy of others. By emptying ourselves, we make more room for others…and in the process we come to know the fullness of joy ourselves by becoming fully human as God has intended.

To be sure, every knee must bend in heaven, on earth and under the earth before the presence of the Almighty. However, we who walk in the presence of God must also stand tall for and live in the truth for God, for ourselves, and especially for one another.

Today!

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(October 2, 2017: Memorial of the Guardian Angels)
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“Their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father...”

God not only calls us to live a holy life but God also provides us with the means to live that life – what Francis de Sales calls “aids” – and to help us to become holy people. In a conference (“On Constancy”) given to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales remarked:

“The aids that God gives to us are intended to help us to keep steadily on our way, to prevent our falling, or, if we fall, to help us to get back up again. Oh, with what openness, cordiality, sincerity, simplicity and faithful confidence ought we to dialogue with these aids, which are given to us by God to help us in our spiritual progress. Certainly this is true in the case of our good angels. We ought to look upon them in the same way, since our good angels are called angel guardians because they are commissioned to help us by their inspirations, to defend us in perils, to reprove us when we err and to stimulate us in the pursuit of virtue. They are charged to carry our prayers before the throne of the majesty, goodness and mercy of Our Lord and to bring back to us the answers to our petitions. The graces, too, which God bestows on us, He gives through the intervention or intercession of our good angels. Now, other aids are our visible good angels, just as our holy angel guardians are our invisible ones. Other aids do visibly what our good angels do inwardly, for they warn us of our faults; they encourage us when we are weak and languid; they stimulate us in our endeavors to attain perfection; they prevent us from falling by their goods counsels, and they help us to rise up again when we have fallen over some precipice of imperfection or fault. If we are overwhelmed with weariness and disgust they help us to bear our trouble patiently, and they pray to God to give us strength so to bear it so as not to be overcome by temptation. See, then, how much we ought to value their assistance and their tender care for us …” (Conference III, pp. 41-42)

In the mind of Francis de Sales, God provide us with invisible support for our journey in this life through those “aids” known as “angel guardians”. It’s safe to say that some of the most visible “aids” that God uses to provide support for our journey in this life are known by another name: “friends”.

Today, can we imitate the invisible example of the angel guardians by befriending one another in very visible ways?

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(October 3, 2017: Tuesday, Twenty-six Week in Ordinary Time)
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“God is with us…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis wrote:

“God is in all things and in all places. There is no place or thing in this world where God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly they encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are we find God present. Everyone knows this truth but not everyone tries to bring it home to himself…Unfortunately, we do not see God who is present with us. Although faith assures us of his presence, yet because we do not see God with our eyes we often forget about God and behave as if God were far distant from us.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but what is one of the surest signs that “God is with us”? The answer – when we act that way.

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(October 4, 2017: Francis of Assisi, Religious and Founder)
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"No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God."

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Francis of Assisi. In his book entitled This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell wrote:

“It is the rare Christian who does not get all syrupy about St. Francis of Assisi’s love or animals. Blame it on all those garden statues of Francis with a bunny curled up at his feet and little birds chirping on his shoulder. In real life, Francis’ view of animals was theological rather than sentimental. Animals form part of God’s creation, and, as the Book of Genesis tells us, everything in creation is good. No doubt Francis loved bunnies and birds, but he also loved spiders and snakes – and that is the challenge. Francis saw the world as an immense God-ordered system in which everything plays the role assigned to it by the Creator, and therefore every creature, whether it’s cute and cuddly or not, has value.” ( This Saint’s for You, p. 31)

“One story in particular spotlights Francis’ belief in restoring the balance between man and beast. The town of Gubbio was plagued by a ferocious wolf that had carried off lambs, calve and other livestock – it had even killed small children. Afraid that the wolf would attack them, the people refused to travel outside the city walls. Declaring he was not afraid, Francis went outside the town in search of the wolf and hadn’t gone very far when he found the creature. ‘Brother Wolf,’ said Francis, ‘you have been stealing livestock that does not belong to you and frightening your neighbors. In the name of the Lord of Heaven, I command you to stop.’ The wolf drooped its head and lay on the ground at Francis’ feet. The Saint then turned to the townspeople, saying, ‘Brother Wolf will not trouble you or your animals, but in return you must feed him every day.’ The people of Gubbio agreed, and every day the wolf came to town for a meal. He became the town’s unofficial pet, and when he died the heartbroken townspeople had a sculpture of him carved and placed over the door of one of the town’s churches, where it remains to this day.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 31-32)

In the case of Francis of Assisi, Jesus sent him out - literally - as a lamb to confront a wolf. In all our lives there are many things with which we must deal - some of them “cute and cuddly,” others life-threatening. Francis never looked back at where he had been before – his eyes and heart were always fixed on the road ahead…and what the Lord might have in store for him.

And so we pray: God, help us to follow the example of Francis of Assisi (for whom St. Francis de Sales was named). Help us to not look back at was has been – help us to look forward to consider what might be – in the service of God and one another.

Spirituality Matters 2017: September 21st - September 27th

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(September 21, 2017: Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist)
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“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received…”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“During the Roman Empire, tax collecting was one of the most lucrative jobs a person could have. With the emperor’s tacit approval, collectors were free to wring all they could from their district’s taxpayers and then keep a portion of the proceeds for themselves. Caesar didn’t mind the profiteering as long as the total assessed tax was delivered to his treasury. But Jewish taxpayers forced to pay the exorbitant sums weren’t quite so forgiving, especially when the tax collector was a fellow Jew, like Matthew. Jewish tax collectors were regarded as loathsome collaborators and extortionists who exploited their own people. It’s little wonder, then, that in the Gospels tax collectors are placed on par with harlots, thieves, and other shameless public sinners.”

“Matthew collected taxes in Capernaum, a town in the northern province of Galilee and the site of a Roman garrison. Christ was a frequent visitor there, performing such miracles as healing the centurion’s servant, curing Peter’s ailing mother-in-law, and raising Jairus’ daughter form the dead. One day, while passing the customs house where Matthew was busy squeezing extra shekels from his neighbors, Christ paused to say, ‘Follow me.’ That was all it took to touch Matthew’s heart. He walked out of the customs house forever, giving up his life as a cheat to become an apostle, the author of a Gospel and eventually a martyr.” (Page 12)

Just when Matthew thought he had it made – just when he thought he was living la vita loca – Christ changed his life by calling him to live in a manner worthy of what God had in mind for him. Matthew – who clearly recognized an opportunity when he saw one – dropped everything he had valued up until that very moment to follow Jesus. And the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s amazing to consider how a handful of words can change the trajectory of one’s life. A few words from Jesus transformed Matthew from being a human being who was all about taking from others into a man who was all about giving to others - even to the point of giving his very life.

Today, how might God’s words invite us to change and to transform our lives?

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(September 22, 2017: Friday, Twenty-fourth Week in ordinary Time)
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“Pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness…”

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

“All that we must try for is to make ourselves good men and women, devout men and women, pious men and women. We must try hard to achieve this end. If it should please God to elevate us to angelical perfections, then we shall be good angels. In the meantime, however, let us try sincerely, humbly and devoutly to acquire those little virtues who conquest our Savior has set forth as the object of all our care and labor. These include patience, meekness, self-discipline, humility, obedience, poverty, chastity, tenderness toward our neighbors, bearing with others’ imperfections, diligence and holy fervor.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 127)

How do we pursue such simple – yet sublime – virtues in our attempts to “Live + Jesus”? By making the best use of them in each and every present moment as good men and good women.

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(September 23, 2017: Saturday, Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“A sower went out to sow…”

How many good beginnings in our lives have been trampled upon and/or consumed by something else? How many of us have hardened our hearts to do good things only to see them perish for lack of care? How many good ideas or intentions have failed to bear fruit because they were chocked off by anxieties and/or other concerns? And still, for all our struggles and setbacks, many of the seeds of God’s goodness in us have taken root and produced a great harvest.

Just for today, let’s hear the parable in a different way. Think of all the big plans you have made for others. Think of all the good intentions that you’ve suggested to others. Think of all expectations that you’ve cradled in your heart for others. In other words, think of all the good seeds that you’ve planted in the lives of other people. It’s very tempting – and even more discouraging – to focus on how many of those seeds never amounted to much – if anything at all. However, from a Salesian perspective, it is far better – and healthier, to boot – to focus on how the seeds that you may have possibly planted in others have taken root, have grown, and even flourished, sometimes beyond even your wildest dreams.

Can you think of any examples of this growth in your own life? Can you think of examples in the lives of others, especially in those people whom you know and love? If not, just this day how might God ask you to sow good seeds in the heart or mind of another person? How might that same God also be asking you to do your part to help make those good seeds grow?

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(September 24, 2017: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call to him while he is near.”

Whether we are conscious of it or not, all of us seek the Lord in our lives. We look for God in our homes, our neighborhoods, schools and offices. We look for God in our successes and setbacks. We look for God in our hopes, our fears and our dreams. We look for God in all that we must accomplish today.

With all that we have on our plate, who has time for all this seeking? Truth is that seeking God is not about doing anything extra, because seeking God is merely opening our minds, hearts, ears, eyes and imaginations to a God who is always with us in the midst of all the things that we have on our plate.

St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“God is in all things and all places. There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly, they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are we find God present. Everyone knows this truth - intellectually - but not everyone is successful in bringing this truth home to themselves.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II, Chapter 2)

Not only is God always where you are "but (he is) also present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit. He enlivens and animates you by his divine presence, for God is there as the heart of your heart and the spirit of your spirit." (Ibid)

So the problem is not that God is not present in our lives; rather, we simply - and tragically - fail to recognize God's presence. Francis wrote:

“Although faith assures us of his presence, yet because we do not see him with our eyes we often forget about God and behave as if God were far distant from us. While we intellectually know that God is present in all things, we fail to reflect upon this truth and act as if we did not know it.” (Ibid)

One of the most powerful and effective means to seek the Lord - to see the Lord who is always present - is prayer. No matter how busy, frustrated, lonely or elated we become or no matter how full our daily plate might be, we can always pray a word, a phrase, a thought or image that reminds us that the God who created us, who redeemed us and who inspires is, indeed, Emmanuel, a name that means God-is-with-us!

Why is this truth so important? When we are aware of the presence of God, we are more likely to treat one another in a loving, peaceful, caring, kind, truthful and gentle manner. By contrast, when we fail to recall the presence of God, we…well…we are more likely to behave in ungodly ways.

Seek...see the Lord who is always present in yourself...in others...in all the activities of each day. Remember to think, feel, dream, work and act accordingly!

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(September 25, 2017: Monday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light…”

Lighting a lamp, only to subsequently hide it? From a Salesian perspective, that certainly sounds a lot like the practice of false humility.

In a Lenten sermon, Francis de Sales made the following observation:

“We must indeed keep ourselves humble because of our imperfections, but this humility must be the foundation of a great generosity, for the one without the other degenerates into imperfection. 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 for anything great.”

Imperfect as we are, the light of God’s love implanted in us is not meant to be hidden – it is meant to be shared. So, let your light shine for and with others!

Today!

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(September 26, 2017: Tuesday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

In earlier times in human history – before the development and growth of urban centers – communities tended to be small and tight-knit. Everybody knew everybody else, so much so, that when asked to identify members of a particular clan, tribe or family it was easy to pick them out by how they looked, spoke or acted.

We are children of the Father, siblings of Jesus and embodiments of the Holy Spirit.

How easily do others identify us as members of God’s family by how we look, speak and act?

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(September 27, 2017: Vincent de Paul, Priest and Founder)
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“Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic.”

When it comes to making progress along the road of life, Jesus is challenging us to travel lightly. While we should make some long-term plans for our lives and adjust those plans on a daily basis, Jesus urges us to resist the temptation to pack too many things that we figure we might “need” for the journey.

All of us probably have seen people struggling with way-too-much luggage on vacation. In their attempt to prepare for just about every contingency that they might encounter during the course of their journey, they overdue it. What is the result? Ironically enough, all the stuff that they packed to help them prepare for the trip ends up becoming the biggest hindrance on the trip.

In a letter addressed to Jane de Chantal (January 1615), Francis de sales wrote:

“May God be with you on your journey. May God keep you clothed in the garment of his charity. May God nourish your soul with the heavenly bread of his consolation. May God bring you back safe and sound…May God be your God forever.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 226)

Whatever else she may have packed for her journey, Francis de Sales invited her (in the form of a blessing) to focus on the few things that she would truly need for her trip. The list might not sound like much, but upon closer review, it contains Those things that really matter.

Today, what provisions – if anything – will we choose to bring with us on the journey of life?

Spirituality Matters 2017: September 14th - September 20th

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(September 14, 2017: Exultation of the Holy Cross)
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Nm 21:4b-9     Ps 78:1bc-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38     Phil 2:6-11     Jn 3:13-17

“He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

In a sermon preached on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Francis de Sales remarked:

“St. Paul, the outstanding master and teacher of the newborn Church, discovered in the crucified Christ the blissful wellspring of his love, the theme of his sermons, the source of his boasting, the goal of all his ambitions in this world and the anchor of all his hopes for the world to come. I had no thought, he says, of bringing you any other knowledge than that of Jesus Christ, and of him crucified. God forbid that I should make a display of anything, except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Pulpit and Pew: A Study in Salesian Preaching)

The cross of Christ is the core of our lives. The cross of Christ is the central image of our faith. The cross of Christ is the path to our salvation.

Still, no less than five times in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus makes it very clear: if we wish to be his disciples, we must be willing to pick up not his cross, but pick up our own crosses. We are not called to carry his cross, but ours. Put another way, we imitate the power and the promise of the cross of Christ precisely by being willing to embrace the crosses — the challenges, the burdens, the setbacks — that are part and parcel of our lives.

In short, the cross that we carry is the need to be ourselves — not somebody else — and to take up all that comes with that effort.

Many of the crosses we carry are specific to the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Francis de Sales offers the following examples of the kinds of crosses that we might be asked to carry.

“To the pastors of the Church I offer a cross of care and labor, a shepherd’s toil to protect, to feed, to correct and perfect the flock. This was the cross first carried by our Lord who called himself the Good Shepherd: witness his journeys, his fatigue by Jacob’s well, his loving care for those who treated him badly.” (Ibid)

“To religious I offer the cross of solitude, celibacy and unworldliness. It is a cross that has touched the True Cross; it is a cross that was carried by Our Lady, the holiest, most innocent and completely crucified of all who ever loved the cross for Christ.” (Ibid)

“To those serving in government, I present the cross of learning, fairness and the sincerity of truth: a cross worthy of those who, St. Paul says, are in God’s service. Such a cross is ideal for crucifying merely secular values, for repressing self-interest: it encourages peace and quiet in the realm.” (Ibid)

“To workers, I offer the cross of humility and labor, a cross sanctified by our Lord himself in the carpenter’s shop. The cross of daily work is often a sure way to salvation; it may also be the best means of avoiding sin, for the devil finds work for idle hands.” (Ibid)

“For teenagers I have chosen the cross of obedience, purity and self-discipline. It will crucify the young blood of passion that is just coming to a boil: the boldness of youth still awaiting the guiding hand of prudence. It will teach them to bear the easy yoke of Christ in whatever calling in life God may place them.” (Ibid)

“For old people there is the cross of patience, gentleness and a helpful attitude towards the young. This cross demands a brave heart. They have learned that swift as a breath our lives pass away…” (Ibid)

“There is no shortage of crosses for married folk, but perhaps I could single out the cross of mutual support and faithfulness, and the cross of bringing up a family…” (Ibid)

There is but one cross of Jesus Christ. For us, however, our crosses come in many shapes, sizes and situations.

Today, what cross might Christ be asking each us of to carry?

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(September 15, 2017: Our Lady of Sorrows)
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1 Tm 1:1-2, 12-14     Ps 16:1b-2a and 5, 7-8, 11     Lk 2:33-35

“You yourself a sword will pierce…”

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

“Various sacred lovers were present at the death of the Savior. Among them, those having the greatest love had the greatest sorrow, for love was then deeply plunged into sorrow and sorrow into love. All those who were filled with loving passion for their Savior were in love with his passion and sorrow. But his sweet Mother, who loved him more than all others, was more than all others pierced through and through by the sword of sorrow. Her Son’s sorrow at that time was a piercing sword that passed through the Mother’s heart, for that Mother’s heart was fastened, joined and united to her Son in so perfect a union that nothing could wound the one without inflicting the keenest pain upon the other…” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 13, pp. 50-51)

Nobody should love sorrow. But, as we know from our own experience, sorrow is part-and-parcel of loving. If you’ve never experienced sorrow, chances are you’ve probably never experienced love, either.

What more need be said?

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(September 16, 2017: Cornelius, Pope and Cyprian, Bishop – Martyrs)
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1 Tm 1:15-17     Ps 113:1b-2, 3-4, 5 and 6-7     Lk 6:43-49

“For every tree is known by its own fruit…”

“Saint Cornelius was elected Pope in 251 during the persecutions of the Emperor Decius. His first challenge, besides the ever present threat of the Roman authorities, was to bring an end to the schism brought on by his rival, the first anti-pope Novatian. He convened a synod of bishops to confirm him as the rightful successor of Peter.”

“The great controversy that arose as a result of the Decian persecution was whether or not the Church could pardon and receive back into the Church those who had apostacized in the face of martyrdom.”

“Against both the bishops who argued that the Church could not welcome back apostates, and those who argued that they should be welcomed back but did not demand a heavy penance of the penitent, Cornelius decreed that they must be welcomed back and insisted that they perform an adequate penance.”

“In 253 Cornelius was exiled by the emperor Gallus and died of the hardships he endured in exile. He is venerated as a martyr.”

“Saint Cyprian of Carthage is second in importance only to the great Saint Augustine as a figure and Father of the African church. He was a close friend of Pope Cornelius, and supported him both against the anti-pope Novatian and in his views concerning the re-admittance of apostates into the Church.”

“Saint Cyprian was born to wealthy pagans around the year 190, and was educated in the classics and in rhetoric. He converted at the age of 56, was ordained a priest a year later, and made bishop two years after that.”

“His writings are of great importance, especially his treatise on The Unity of the Catholic Church, in which he argues that unity is grounded in the authority of the bishop, and among the bishops, in the primacy of the See of Rome.”

“During the Decian persecutions Cyprian considered it wiser to go into hiding and guide his flock covertly rather than seek the glorious crown of martyrdom, a decision that his enemies attacked him for. On September 14, 258, however, he was martyred during the persecutions of the emperor Valerian.” ( http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint.php?n=596 )

We see in both Cornelius and Cyprian two examples of how good people can produce good fruit, especially in tough times. We also see in both Cornelius and Cyprian how helpful friends can be – especially in tough times – in our individual efforts to produce good fruit ourselves day in and day out.

Today, how might we imitate them?

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(September 17, 2017: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. Should a person nourish anger against others and expect healing from the Lord?”

Have you ever been upset? Have you ever been livid? Have you ever been angry? Of course you have! Anger (with its many faces) is a fact of life……sometimes, in fact, a very volatile fact of life. Like any emotion, it cannot be denied or suppressed.

As emotions go, anger itself is not sinful any more than joy, fear or happiness would be considered sinful. However, how we deal with anger - or fail to deal with anger - determines whether our anger results in virtue, or vice - whether it ultimately results in something constructive or something destructive.

Few of us plan to grow angry. Anger is an intense response or reaction to an injury or injustice, whether actual or perceived. As such, it often catches us off guard. Herein lies the difficulty with this “pesky” emotion. Precisely because of its spontaneity and intensity, anger can quickly get the upper hand…and even more quickly…get out of hand. Anger can become, as it were, an uninvited guest that quickly becomes the master of the house. Francis de Sales observed: “Once admitted it is with difficulty driven out again. It enters as a little twig, and in less than no time it grows big and becomes a beam.” Francis de Sales counsels us: “It is better to attempt to find a way to live without anger, rather than pretend to make a moderate or discreet use of it. As long as reason rules and peaceably exercises chastisements or corrections, people can approve and receive them. However, when accompanied by anger or rage, these same chastisements or corrections are feared rather than loved.”

For her part, Jane de Chantal suggests: “Try to calm your passions and live according to sound reason and the holy will of God.” It is better to let our anger cool before making an important decision or embarking upon some action.

Most importantly, anger should not be nourished or fed. Repeatedly indulging in anger can have tragic results for us. When we brood over injuries, when we revisit old hurts and when we hold onto resentments, we cease being people who get angry and we gradually become angry people. Being addicted to anger is like our drinking poison, but expecting everyone else to die. While our anger may indeed hurt others on the outside, the poison that it produces eventually kills us from the inside.

Heed these words from the Book of Sirach: "Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. Should a person nourish anger against others and expect healing from the Lord? As a stone falls back upon the one who throws it up, so a blow struck in anger injures more than one. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then, when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven." (Sir 27: 25; 28: 2-3)

Avoid wallowing in or nourishing anger. Remember, anger is an emotion - it is not meant to become a way of life.

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(September 18, 2017: Monday, Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered…that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.”

True devotion not only does no violence to ordinary, everyday life – in fact, it also enhances it. In particular, devotion produces an abundance of tranquility. Synonyms associated with tranquility include:

  • peace
  • peacefulness
  • restfulness
  • repose
  • calm
  • calmness
  • quiet
  • quietness
  • stillness
  • composure
  • serenity
  • equanimity
  • unflappability
St. Jane de Chantal observed:

“Preserve peace of heart and tranquility. Do not disturb yourselves about anything. Never trouble yourselves whatever may happen to you or around you. Tranquility precludes haste and levity. It makes us do everything in the spirit of repose, without hurry. I say not slowly or carelessly, but quietly, as before God.”

Note the distinction – tranquility is not about doing nothing. Tranquility is about doing something – anything – in a careful, composed, calm and unflappable manner.

Today, how might we go about serving God and neighbor in tranquility?

* * * * *
(September 19, 2017: Tuesday, Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the Church of God? He must also have a good reputation among outsiders…”

In his commentary on the selection from the First Letter of Timothy, William Barclay makes the following observation:

“As the early Church saw it, the responsibility of an office-bearer did not begin and end in the Church. Such a person had two other spheres of responsibility, and failure in either of these would also bound to lead to failure in the Church.”

“One’s first sphere of duty was to one’s own home. If a person did not know how to rule one’s own household, how could such a person engage upon the task of the work of the Church? A person who had not succeeded in making a Christian home could hardly be expected to succeed in making a Christian congregation. A person who had not instructed one’s own family could hardly be the right person to instruct the family of the Church.”

“The second sphere of responsibility was to the world. Such a person must be ‘well thought of by outsiders’. Such a person must be one who has gained the respect of other people in the day-to-day business of life…The Christian must first of all be a good person.”

All of us are called to do our part in caring for the “Church of God” in our own unique ways. However, there is no better way of creating a loving Church than doing our best to foster loving relationships with family, friends, relatives and neighbors – and, perhaps even most importantly, with ourselves!

Louis Brisson, OSFS echoed these thoughts when wrote:

“We are called to realize this intimate union with God in ourselves and in all those confided to our care. You see, my friends, to what we are obliged—to reestablish here below the earthly paradise. This is certainly no small task! Where shall we begin this great undertaking? With ourselves, of course.”

What’s the moral to the story? Charity – as in the case of so many things – begins at home.

* * * * *
(September 20, 2017: Andrew Kim Tae-gon, Priest, and Paul Chong Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs)
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“To what shall I compare the people of this generation?”

You’re dammed if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

That’s essentially what Jesus is saying in today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke. John the Baptist was criticized for eschewing food and drink, whereas Jesus was criticized for enjoying food and drink. Try as you might to do the right thing – try as you might to be true to yourself - some days you just can’t win!

St. Francis de Sales was certainly no stranger to the dynamic of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t, especially when it comes to trying to live a life of devotion. Citing this very selection from today’s Gospel, he observed:

“We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it. It is so demanding that it can’t be satisfied. ‘John came neither eating nor drinking,’ says the Savior, and you say, ‘He has a devil.’ ‘The Son of man came eating and drinking’ and you say that he is ‘a Samaritan’ If we are ready to laugh, play cards or dance with the world in order to please it, it will be scandalized at us, and if we don’t, it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy. If we dress well, it will attribute it to some plan we have, and if neglect our attire, it will accuse us of being cheap and stingy. Good humor will be called frivolity and mortification sullenness. Thus the world looks at us with an evil eye and we can never please it. It exaggerates our imperfections and claims they are sins, turns our venial sins into mortal sins and changes our sins of weakness into sins of malice.”

“The world always thinks evil and when it can’t condemn our acts it will condemn our intentions. Whether the sheep have horns or not and whether they are white or black, the wolf won’t hesitate to eat them if he can. Whatever we do, the world will wage war on us. If we stay a long time in the confessional, it will wonder how we can so much to say; if we stay only a short time, it will say we haven’t told everything…The world holds us to be fools; let us hold it to be mad.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 2, pp. 236-237)

These brave missionaries whose lives and sacrifices we remember today made a choice. If they were going to be damned for something, they chose to be damned – in this case, be martyred – for doing the right thing. Of course, as Christians, we believe that being damned in the eyes of others resulted in their being glorified in the eyes of God.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t? Well, then, why not be damned for doing what is virtuous, right and good!

How might we follow the example of these brave missionary-martyrs in our willingness to stand up for what we believe in the face of criticism – or even hostility – from others?

Today!

Spirituality Matters 2017: September 7th - September 13th

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(September 7, 2017: Thursday, Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Col 1:9-14     Ps 98:2-3ab, 3cd-4, 5-6     Lk 5:1-11

“Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord…”

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

“Don’t be examining yourself to see if what you are doing is a little or much, 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…” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 161)

To walk in a manner worthy of the Lord – to follow Christ and to “Live + Jesus” – is a daunting task. But what makes it more doable – and enjoyable – is to walk in the Lord’s ways calmly and peacefully, without fuss or anxiety.

Godspeed during your walk today!

* * * * *
(September 8, 2017: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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Rom 8:28-30     Ps 13:6ab, 6c     Mt 1:1-16, 18-23

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God…”

When Joachim and Ann welcomed their daughter Mary into the world, who could have known – or imagined – that she was destined to become the mother of the Messiah? Who could have thought that this simple, poor and unassuming woman would be the vehicle through whom God would fulfill his promise of salvation? Who could have anticipated that her simple “yes” as the handmaid of the Lord would change the course of the world forever?

How about you? Who could have thought that God would bring you out of nothingness in order that you might experience the beauty of being someone? Who would have imagined that God would use your ordinary, everyday life to continue his ongoing creative, redemptive and inspiring action? Who could have known that your attempts to say “yes” to God’s will on a daily basis – however imperfectly – could change other peoples’ lives for the better?

God did! God does! And God will continue to do!

Forever!

* * * * *
(September 9, 2017: Peter Claver - Priest)
* * * * *

Col1:21-23     Ps 54:3-4, 6 and 8     Lk 6:1-5

“God has now reconciled you…”

In a letter to Sr. Anne-Marie Rosset, Assistant and Novice Mistress at Dijon, St. Jane de Chantal wrote:

“God knows the pain I feel in my heart over the misunderstanding that exists in your house. I ask the Lord to take it in hand. In the end, if a reconciliation doesn’t occur, you will have to find a way of sending away the sister who is the cause of it all. No good ever comes from the sisters wanting to control the superior; if they were humble and submissive, all would go well. Indeed, my very dear Sister, the one who governs there has done so very successfully elsewhere, and this ought to keep the sisters in peace. Help them to understand this as far as you can so that there may be humble and cordial submission in the house. Help the sister in question to unite herself to her superior and to be sincerely open with her. Oh, is this the behavior the way to honor the memory of him who so often recommended peace to us and union? What a dangerous temptation! May God, in His goodness, straighten this out! And we shall do what we can – with God’s help – to remedy the situation.” (LSD, p. 247)

Every family – every community – every organization or group – has its share of difficulties and divisions, and as this letter clearly shows, even cloistered, contemplative women. But note some of the ingredients that St. Jane identifies as critical in any attempts to bring about resolution and reconciliation. These include:

  • Being humble
  • Being submissive
  • Being peaceful/peaceable
  • Being understanding
  • Being sincere
  • Being open
And most important of all:
  • Being willing to ask for God’s help
Is there anyone in your life with whom you need to be reconciled? While there are few - if any - guarantees in life, following the suggestions given above might go a long way in helping you to experience the peace and union that Jesus won for us at the price of his own life.

Why wait for tomorrow to pursue a path toward reconciliation that you could begin today…with God’s help?

* * * * *
(September 10, 2017: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Ez 33:7-9     Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9     Rom 13:8-10     Mt 18:15-20

“Owe no debt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another.”

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines debt as “something owed, such as money, goods or services; an obligation or liability to pay or render something to someone else”. The reader is then encouraged to see ghabh in the index of Indo-European Roots: “Important derivatives are: give, forgive, gift, able…duty and endeavor.”

Life is full of debt, obligations and things that we owe to others in a spirit of duty. Some of the things that we owe to others include: tuition, taxes, credit card debt, utility bills, work for our wages, insurance, health care costs…and the list goes on and one.

On another level, although less obvious, there is a whole host of other things that are even more important that we must render to others in a spirit of generosity: time, talent, respect, reverence, fidelity, honesty, care, concern, consideration, kindness, patience, justice, peace, reconciliation…and this list also goes on and on.

If we stop to collectively consider the list of all the things that we owe to others, it can be more than a little overwhelming. Perhaps it is best to summarize it as does St. Paul when he advises us to “owe no debt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another”. The debt of love – the bond of love – is not only the most important obligation that we owe to one another, but it also includes all the other things, virtues and actions that we owe to others…that we must render to others.

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal, St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“I must tell you that I have never understood that there was any bond between us carrying with it any obligation but that of divine love and true Christian friendship, what St. Paul calls the ‘bond of perfection,’ and truly that is what it truly is, for it is indissoluble and never weakens. All other bonds are temporal…but the bond of love grows and gets stronger every time. It cannot be cut down by death, which, like a scythe, mows down everything but charity…So this is our bond, these our own chains which, the more they are tightened and press against us, the more they bring us joy and freedom…nothing is more pliable than that; nothing, stronger.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, page 127)

Our lives are filled with debts and obligations that we owe to one another. In the midst of our daily attempts to meet these obligations, may God give us the grace to remember and pursue the debt that really matters: the bond of love and the obligations – and opportunities – that come with it.

* * * * *
(September 11, 2017: Monday, Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
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Col1:24–2:3     Ps 62:6-7, 9     Lk 6:6-11

“For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me…”

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

“God acts in our works, and we co-operate in God’s action. God leaves for our part all the merit and profit of our services and good works; we leave God all the honor and praise thereof, acknowledging that the growth, the progress, and the end of all the good we do depend on God’s mercy, finishing what God had begun. O God, how merciful is God’s goodness to us in thus distributing his bounty!” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, p. 212)

It would be enough if God simply made us the recipients of his mercy and generosity, but in his wisdom, God has also made us the agents or instruments of his mercy and generosity. Our common vocation is not limited to enjoying the gift of creation. We are also called to nurture it, care for it, shepherd it and grow it! God works in and through us and we work in and through God’s action.

To us come all of the benefits. To God goes all of the glory.

We are – in word and in deed – God’s co-workers. We celebrate both God’s generosity to ourselves and share that generosity with others.

Just today, how might God employ our cooperation in both receiving and sharing his bounty?

* * * * *
(September 12, 2017: Holy Name of Mary)
* * * * *

Col 2:6-15     Ps 145:1b-2, 8-9, 10-11     Lk 6:12-19

“When day came, he called his disciples to himself…”

“The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, or simply the Holy Name of Mary, is a feast day in the Roman Catholic Church celebrated on 12 September to honor the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has been a universal Roman Rite feast since 1684, when Pope Innocent XI included it in the General Roman Calendar to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.”

“The feast day began in 1513 as a local celebration in Cuenca, Spain, celebrated on 15 September. In 1587 Pope Sixtus V moved the celebration to 17 September. In 1622 Pope Gregory XV extended the celebration to the Archdiocese of Toledo and it was subsequently extended to the entire Kingdom of Spain in 1671. The feast was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969, as it was seen as something of a duplication of the 8 September feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 2002, Pope John Paul II restored the celebration to the General Roman Calendar.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Name_of_Mary )

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells calls his disciples–those called to accompany and follow him – by name. Mary is unique, insofar as she became a disciple by accepting the invitation extended to her by God – by name – to become the mother of the Messiah.

Each of us is called by name to be disciples of Jesus Christ – by giving birth to him in ourselves and following his example – in ways that fit the unique state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. How might we call others to join us?

Just today!

* * * * *
(September 13, 2017: Wednesday, Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Col 3:1-11     Ps 145:2-3, 10-11, 12-13ab 1     Lk 6:20-26

“Think of what is above…”

What does it look like when we are thinking of what is “above”? Look no further than today’s Gospel from Luke (and/or the variant found in Matthew 5:3-11):

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.”

Thinking of what is “above” is best displayed in how we treat others – how we treat ourselves – here below on this earth. In other words, when we “think of what is above” is must be translated into how we act here below in this world.

Just today.

Spirituality Matters 2017: August 31st - September 6th

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(August 31, 2017: Thursday, Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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1 Thes 3:7-13     Ps 90:3-5a, 12-13, 14 and 17     Mt 24:42-51

“Be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones…”

“The concept of blamelessness in the Old Testament carries with it two different, yet not dissimilar ideas. The first refers to sacrificial animals that were ‘without defect’. (Lev 1:3; Leviticus 3:1 Leviticus 3:6; Num 6:14) Only animals that were undefiled physically were worthy of being offered to the Lord. Sacrificing blemished animals was a violation of biblical law and a demonstration of brazen disrespect for God (Mal 1:6-14).”

“From this religious ritual idea comes the notion of moral perfection for individuals. ‘Blameless’ people are those who cannot be accused of wrongdoing before people or God (Psalm 15:2; 18:23). David prays, ‘Keep your servant also from willful sin. Then will I be blameless’. (Psalm 19:13) David is seeking blamelessness not in a physical but in a moral sense.”

“The New Testament The concept of moral blamelessness is heightened in the New Testament and employed almost exclusively as a characteristic of Christ and his followers. The sacrificial terminology is applied to the work of Jesus Christ when he is described as ‘a lamb without blemish or defect’. (1 Pt 1:19), who ‘through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God’. (Heb 9:14). The blameless character of Christ is seen in his continuing work as the believer's high priest who ‘meets our need, one who is holy blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens’. (Heb 7:26)”

“When applied to Christians, the quality of blamelessness is both a positional benefit of salvation and a moral character to be achieved. Each person is worthy of accusation in the sight of God. The blameless character of Christians, however, is the intention of God, who ‘chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight’. (Eph 1:4) Christ's love and sacrifice for the church were such that he could present her to himself ‘without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless’. (Eph 5:27)”

“This positional quality of blamelessness is not earned by personal gain, but imputed by the death and resurrection of Christ. (Col 1:22) God's power and protection ensure that the believer maintains a blameless status until the final judgment (1 Cor 1:8; Jude 24). In these occurrences, the legal connotation of deliverance from accusation is clearly seen. God alone has the power and right to accuse the believer and pronounce condemnation, but through his grace and power God renders the believer blameless in his sight.”

“In light of the positional reality, the believer is called to live in such a way as to attain the quality of blamelessness. In these cases, it is evident that blamelessness refers to public respectability as an outgrowth of private moral character. Christians must ‘make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him’. (2 Peter 3:14) By growing in discernment and avoiding a critical spirit, believers can become ‘pure and blameless’ in an age marked by wickedness.” (Phil 1:10; 2:14-15) (http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/blameless.html)

What’s the bottom line? In our attempts to “Live + Jesus”, being “blameless” is not about never doing anything wrong as much as it is about doing our level best to do what is right when it comes to love of God, self and others.

* * * * *
(September 1, 2017: Friday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

1 Thes 4:1-8     Ps 97:1 and 2b, 5-6, 10, 11-12     Mt 25:1-13

“God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.”

In the book Saints are not Sad (1949,) we read

“Holiness, in Francis de Sales’ conception of it, should be an all-around quality without abruptness or eccentricity. It should not involve the suppression in us of anything that is not in itself bad, for the likeness to God which is its essence must be incomplete in the proportion that it does not extend to the whole of us. So we must be truthful to ourselves and about ourselves, and we shall lose as much by not seeing the good that really is in us as by fancying that we see good that is not there at all. It is as right and due that we should thank God for the virtue that His grace has established in us as that we should ask His forgiveness for our sinfulness that hinders His grace.” (Select Salesian Subjects, # 0377, p. 85)

God calls us to holiness. God calls us to walk in his ways. Imperfect as we are, we can make great progress in this quest by accepting the grace of God, by putting God’s grace to work in action and by relying on the love, support and encouragement of others. This call to holiness also challenges us to be truthful with ourselves and about ourselves - to recognize what is good in us, as well as anything in us needing to be purified. While we will always be imperfect, there is always a place for more purity in our own lives and in our lives with one another.

How can we live in – and practice – that truth today?

* * * * *
(September 2, 2017: Saturday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

1 Thes 4:9-11     Ps 98:1, 7-8, 9     Mt 25:14-30

“After a long time, the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them…”

In today’s Gospel Jesus issues what law enforcement professionals refer to as a “BOLO”: Be on the L ookout! Stay awake! Watch out, for you know “neither the day nor the hour” when the master will return and settle up with his servants.

For reasons that are obvious, the early Christians – and we later Christians – almost always (and perhaps, even exclusively) associate this “BOLO” with a warning to be on the lookout for the end of the world, be it globally (everybody’s) or individually (our own). In the Salesian tradition, this “BOLO” is not limited to the “end of days” - it’s great advice for every day, especially when it comes to being on the lookout for opportunities to make good use of the talents, skills, gifts and abilities with which God has gifted us! Francis de Sales preached:

“There is no need to worry overmuch when or where we shall die; in what town or in what country we shall die; whether alone or with others we shall die. What doe sit matter? Leave it to God, for He will never fail us whether in life or in death…All we have to do is to leave ourselves to God’s providence, asking nothing and refusing nothing: that is the essence of human perfection. Don’t ask God for death; don’t refuse death when God sends it. Happy those who practice this indifference, who prepare for a happy death – whenever God should decree it – by living a good life! This is what all the saints have done. Some of them set aside a certain time each year to think about death. Some of them did it once a month, others once a week, or even every day, at a fixed time. By frequently remembering the inevitability of death, they tried to ensure a successful journey from this world to the next.” (Pulpit and Pew, pp. 290-291)

Put your God-given talents to work. Do your level best each and every day to make a good return on the investment that God has made in you. To the extent that you are faithful to this effort, the day when the master returns to settle up with you will not be filled with dread – but with rejoicing!

* * * * *
(September 3, 2017: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Jer 20:7-9     Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9     Rom 12:1-2     Mt 16:21-27

“If a person wishes to come after me he must deny his very self, take up his cross and follow in my footsteps.”

By now we are all-too-familiar with this invitation – and its accompanying challenge – to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and what it requires on our part.

Perhaps, too all-too-familiar.

Ever read/listen to this admonition s-l-o-w-l-y? C-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y? Jesus does not challenge us to carry his cross. No, Jesus calls each of us to carry our own personal, particular, one-of-a-kind cross. To understand what it means to carry our crosses, we must first consider what we mean if we are considering the cross of Christ.

The “cross of Jesus Christ” was not just the cross that Jesus carried on the last day of his public ministry and the cross on which Jesus gave his life, but the cross of Jesus Christ was his entire life. The cross that Jesus carried each day was his willingness to be faithful to whom the Father had called him to be and to embrace everything – success, setback and everything else in between – that came with his state, stage and mission in life.

In particular, the cross that Jesus carried was his fidelity to embracing life – and giving his life – regardless of the difficulties and challenges that frequently accompanied his efforts at proclaiming the reign of God.

We are also followers of Jesus. By virtue of God’s creative, redeeming and inspiring love – a love publicly demonstrated in baptism – we must take up our crosses – we must understand the person God calls us to be – and we must embrace all the challenges that come with giving our lives in service to others. In short, we must come to recognize our place in life\ and have the courage to take it.

This fact is especially true when it comes to the challenges that we do not or would not choose: raising a difficult child, dealing with an unanticipated change of job or residence, receiving an unexpected diagnosis of a life-threatening disease or illness, working with a troublesome colleague or neighbor, fighting depression or losing a wife, husband or other loved one. St. Francis wrote: “You are quite willing to have a cross, but you want to choose what sort it is to be…I want your cross and mine to be no other than Jesus Christ’s cross, both regarding its kind and the way in which it is laid upon us.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 79 – 80)

Do you want to follow Jesus today? Then carry your cross – embrace your life more deeply and fully – as it comes each day from the hands of a God who calls you to continue Jesus’ ministry in your own day - at home, at work, at school, wherever you find yourself. In the end, however, it is not enough for any of us to merely carry it. St. Francis de Sales observed: “The more wholly a cross comes from God, the more we ought to love it.” (Ibid)

* * * * *
(September 4, 2017: Monday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

1 Thes 4:13-18     Ps 96:1 and 3, 4-5, 11-12, 13     Lk 4:16-30

“He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”

The selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah that is cited in today’s Gospel lists signs associated with the coming of the Messiah – liberty to captives, sight to the blind and freeing the oppressed.

These signs require a great deal of work!

A week from today we will observe Labor Day in the United States of America. This federal holiday affords us a great opportunity to reflect upon the great work to which each of us is called as American Catholics – to continue the creating, healing and inspiring action of Jesus Christ in the lives of others in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Eucharistic Prayer IV in the former Sacramentary put it this way:

“Father, we acknowledge your greatness: all your actions show your wisdom and love. You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you, his creator, and to rule over all creatures…To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to those in sorrow, joy…And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth…”

On this Labor Day – which, for so many of us, signifies that it is time to get back to work - how might we do something to help complete Christ’s work on earth in our relationships with one another?

* * * * *
(September 5, 2017: Tuesday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Lk 4:16-30     Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14     Lk 4:31-37

“Encourage one another and build one another up…”

In the beginning of Part III of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Some virtues have almost general use and must not only produce their own acts but also communicate their qualities to the acts of all the other virtues. Occasions do not often present themselves for the exercise of fortitude, magnanimity and great generosity, but meekness, temperance, integrity and humility are virtues that must mark all our actions in life. We must always have on hand a good supply of these general virtues since we can use them almost constantly.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 1)

Today, what virtues might we employ in our attempts to encourage and build up others?

* * * * *
(September 6, 2017: Wednesday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Col1:1-8     Ps 52:10, 11     Lk 4:38-44

“Just as in the whole world the Good News is bearing fruit and growing, so also among you…

Near the beginning of Part I 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 God commands Christians – the living plants of the Church – to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to one’s position and vocation. Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the laborer, the servant, the prince, the young girl and the married woman. Not only is this true but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strengths, activities and duties of each particular person.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 1)

We are the living plants of the Church. That being said –today, what kind of fruits can we produce in the lives of others in our attempts to help grow the Good News of Jesus Christ in our own little corners of the world?

Spirituality Matters 2017: August 24th - August 30th

* * * * *
(August 24, 2017: Bartholomew, Apostle)
* * * * *

Rv 21:9b-14     Ps 145:10-11, 12-13, 17-18     Jn 1:45-51

“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom…”

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

“You can see how God – by progressive stages filled with unutterable sweetness – leads the soul forward and enables it to leave the Egypt of sin. He leads it from love to love, as from dwelling to dwelling, until He has made it enter into the Promised Land. By this I mean that God brings it into most holy charity, which, to state it succinctly, is a form of friendship…Such friendship is true friendship, since it is reciprocal, for God has eternally loved all those who have loved Him, who now love Him or who will love Him in time…He has openly revealed all His secrets to us as to His closest friends…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 22, pp. 160 - 161)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is clear and unambiguous about the quality that makes Bartholomew (a.k.a., Nathaniel) a friend of God: “There is no guile in him.” There is no pretense in Bartholomew – nothing fake, nothing phony. Jesus sees him as a man who is real, authentic and transparent - he is an open book.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offered some practical advice regarding how to practice the virtue of guilelessness

“Your language should be retrained, frank, sincere, candid unaffected and honest…As the sacred Scripture tells us, The Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul. No artifice is so good and desirable as plain dealing. Worldly prudence and carnal artifice belong to the children of this world, but the children (the friends) of God walk a straight path and their hearts are without guile.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Do you want to be a friend of God today? Like Bartholomew, strive to be guileless. Simply try to be yourself – nothing more and nothing less.

* * * * *
(August 25, 2017: Louis IX, King)
* * * * *

Ru 1:1, 3-6, 14b-16, 22     Ps 146:5-6ab, 6c-7, 8-9a, 9bc-10     Mt 22:34-40

“The LORD keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets captives free.

“St. Louis led an exemplary life. His biographers have told us of the long hours he spent in prayer, fasting and penance, without the knowledge of his subjects. The French king was a great lover of justice. It was during his reign that the ‘court of the king’ (curia regis) was organized into a regular court of justice, having competent experts, and judicial commissions acting at regular periods.”

“He was renowned for his charity. ‘The peace and blessings of the realm come to us through the poor,’ he would say. Beggars were fed from his table, he ate their leavings, washed their feet, ministered to the wants of the lepers, and daily fed over one hundred poor. He founded many hospitals and houses: the House of the Felles-Dieu for reformed prostitutes; the Quinze-Vingt for three hundred blind men and the hospitals at Pontoise, Vernon, and Compiégne.”

“St. Louis was a man of sound common sense, possessing indefatigable energy, graciously kind and of playful humor, and constantly guarding against the temptation to be imperious. His personal qualities as well as his saintliness greatly enhanced the prestige of the French monarchy. Boniface VIII canonized St. Louis at Orvieto in 1297.” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09368a.htm)

In a letter addressed to Jane de Chantal’s son Celse-Benigne, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Imagine that you were a courtier of St. Louis. This holy king liked the people around him to be brave, courageous, generous, cheerful, courteous, affable, frank and polite – but above all, he wanted them to be good Christians. If you had been with him you would have seen him laugh merrily when the occasion offered, speak out boldly when the need arose, maintaining a brave outward show of royal splendor and dignity (like another Solomon), and in the next moment you would have seen him serving the poor at the hospitals, and in short marrying civil virtue to Christian virtue, and majesty to humility. And this, in a word, should be your aim: to be no less brave for being a Christian, and to be no less Christina for being brave.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 189 - 190)

Much like God himself, St. Louis clearly kept faith, secured justice for the oppressed, gave food to the hungry and set captives free – among other things. In the process of being the kind of king worthy of Christ the King, Louis powerfully displayed his nobility by the manner in which he respected and promoted the dignity of all people, from the most privileged to the most impoverished.

How might we be inspired by Louis’ ability to marry majesty with generosity in our relationships with others today?

* * * * *
(August 26, 2017: Saturday, Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Ru 2:1-3, 8-11; 4:13-17     Ps 128:1b-2, 3, 4, 5     Mt 23:1-12

“Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you…”

But do not follow their example. Jesus’ criticism, of course, is directed at the scribes and the Pharisees. There is good news and bad news about these religious peers of Jesus. The good news? They excelled at telling other people how to live a virtuous life! The bad news? They failed to practice what they preached.

In other words, they lived life by a double standard. As Francis de sales once described, they had two hearts:

“A mild, gracious and courteous attitude toward themselves and another that was hard, severe and rigorous toward their neighbors. They had two weights: one to weight goods to their own greatest possible advantage and another to weight their neighbors to their greatest disadvantage.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 216)

To make matters even worse, not only did the scribes and Pharisees weigh one weight to their neighbors’ greatest disadvantage, but they also laid heavy burdens on others – hard to carry – without lifting even so much as a finger to help carry them.

Francis de Sales’ condemnation of living life by a double standard is short but not very sweet: “To have two weights – one heavier with which to receive and the other lighter with which to dispense – ‘is an abominable thing to the Lord.’” (Ibid)

Today, do you want to be the greatest among others in the sight of God? Then live not by two standards, but by one: God’s standard. Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, try your level best this day to treat others as you would want them to treat you. Let others see in you someone who not only talks the talk but also walks the walk.

The talk – and walk – of love.

* * * * *

* * * * *
(August 27, 2017: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Is 22:19-23     Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8     Rom 11:33-36     Mt 16:13-20

“Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!”

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

“We see that the universe, and especially human nature, is like a clock made up of so great a variety of actions and movements that we cannot restrain our wonder at it. We know in a general way that these parts, diversely fashioned in so many ways, all serve either to display, as inside a watch, God's most holy justice, or to make manifest the triumphant mercy of God's goodness, as by a chime of praise. But to know in particular the function of each part, either as ordered to the general end or as to why it is made as it is, this we cannot understand unless the supreme watchmaker teaches it to us. However, God does not reveal his art to us now in order that we might admire it with greater reverence until in heaven God will ravish us with the beauty of his wisdom. Then, in the abundance of his love God will unveil to us the reasons, means and motives of all that has taken place in this world to effect our eternal salvation.” (Book IV, Chapter 8)

Indeed, who of us can know the mind of God? Who of us can hope to understand God’s plan for us? Who of us can comprehend the breadth and depth of God's love for us? God's justice is beyond the limits of the human mind.

While we may not know the mind of God, we can clearly come to know the heart of God…in the person of his Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

However, in Christ we see the God who created us. In Christ we see the God who redeemed us. In Christ we see the God who inspires us. In Christ we see the God who loves us, forgives us, challenges us, cares for us and longs for our happiness.

In Christ we also see something else - what it means to be fully human. The human mind and heart are at their best when they are compassionate, forgiving, honest, just, peaceful and generous. In Christ, the humble and gentle servant, we see what it means to be truly human and what it means to be sons and daughters of the living God.

To be sure, there is much of God’s mind that we can only hope to know in heaven. In the meantime, the bulk of our efforts should be directed to understanding and embodying the heart of God in our relationships with one another here on earth.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God” that is in each and every one of us.

Today, how can we share these riches and this wisdom with others today, and come to know in ourselves something of the heart of God?

* * * * *
(August 28, 2017: Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *

1 Thes 1:1-5, 8b-10     Ps 149:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6a and 9b     Mt 23:13-22

“The Lord takes delight in his people…”

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

“Consider the nature that God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world; it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty…For this purpose God has given you intellect to know him, memory to be mindful of him, will to love him, imagination to picture to yourself his benefits, eyes to see his wonderful works, tongue to praise him, and so on with other faculties…’” (IDL, Part I, Chapters 9 and 10, pp. 53; 55)

In the mind of Saint Francis de Sales, God displays his great delight in us through all the blessings that God showers upon us. In particular, God takes great delight when we use our God-given talents, skills and abilities in ways that God intends.

This fact certainly seems to have been true in the case of St. Augustine.

“This famous son of St. Monica was born in Africa and spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. Though he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been raised a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride closed his mind to divine truth. Through the prayers of his holy mother and the marvelous preaching of St. Ambrose, Augustine gradually became convinced that Christianity was indeed the one true faith. Yet he did not become a Christian even then, because he thought he could never live a pure life.”

“One day, however, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted after reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terribly ashamed of himself. ‘What are we doing?’ he cried to his friend Alipius. ‘Unlearned people are taking heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!’ Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine cried out to God, ‘How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?’ Just then he heard a child singing, ‘Take up and read!’ Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul, and read the first passage upon which his gaze fell. It was just what Augustine needed, for in it, St. Paul said to put away all impurity and to live in imitation of Jesus. That did it! From then on, Augustine began a new life.” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=418 )

God takes delight in his people. He takes delight in you. Just this day, how might you be a source of God-given delight in the lives of other people?

* * * * *
(August 29, 2017: Passion of John the Baptist)
* * * * *

1 Thes 2:1-8     Ps 139:1-3, 4-6     Mk 6:17-29

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”

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

“All the martyrs died for divine love. When we say that many of them died for the faith, we must not imply that it was for a ‘dead faith’ but rather for a living faith, that is, faith animated by charity. Moreover, our confession of faith is not so much an act of the intellect as an act of the will and love of God. For this reason, on the day of the Passion the great St. Peter preserved his faith in his soul – but lost charity – since he refused in words to admit as Master Him whom in his heart he acknowledged to be such. But there are other martyrs who died expressly for charity alone. Such was the Savior’s great Precursor who suffered martyrdom because he gave fraternal correction…” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 10, pp. 40-41)

Of course, the “great Precursor” to whom Francis de Sales refers if none other than John the Baptist.

As the herald of Jesus, both before and after the latter’s baptism in the Jordan, John respected, honored and loved the Lord, as well as the things, values and standards of the Lord. For him God and the ways of God impelled him to call Herod out for his immoral lifestyle (taking his brother’s wife to be his own) in a very public forum. Rather than pander to public opinion, John placed his faith in God’s wisdom and God’s strength, a decision that ultimately cost John his life. But John didn’t lose his head over some mere intellectual principle. No, he gave it because of something he believed from – and in – the depth of his heart.

Today, consider: How much faith do we place in the wisdom and strength of God, come what may? How far are we willing to go for the things, the values and the people that we hold deeply in our hearts, presuming, of course, we possess such deep, heartfelt convictions?

* * * * *
(August 30, 2017: Wednesday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

1 Thes 2:9-13     Ps 139:7-8, 9-10, 11-12ab     Mt 23:27-32

“We treated each one of you as a father treats his children, exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you walk in a manner worthy of the God
who calls you into his Kingdom and glory.”

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

“Be devoted to St. Louis and admire his great constancy. He became king when he was twelve years old, had nine children, was constantly waging war either against the rebels of enemies of the faith, and reigned as king for over forty years. He made two journeys overseas. In the course of both of these crusades he lost his army, and on the last journey he died of the plague after he had spent much time visiting, helping and serving those who were plague-stricken in his army. He bandaged their sores and cured them, and then died joyfully and with fortitude…I give you this saint for your special patron.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 75)

In the opinion of Francis de sales, St. Louis was a powerful and poignant picture of how a father should treat his children, that is, how it looks when someone takes seriously the charge to look out for the health, welfare and well-being of others. While King Louis may have had a great many things on his plate, his earthly duties and responsibilities were not an obstacle to living a Christian life - rather, they provided opportunities and occasions in which he practiced the Christian life and pursued a life of virtue. This was a man who – very much like Paul, Francis de Sales and, for that matter, Jesus himself – walked in a manner worthy of God by living his earthly life in a heavenly way.

How might we walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls us into his Kingdom and glory - just today?

Spirituality Matters 2017: August 17th - August 23rd

* * * * *
(August 17, 2017: Thursday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Jos 3:7-10a, 11, 13-17     Ps 119:135     JMT 18:21–19:1

“This is how you will know that there is a living God in your midst.”

For the purposes of our reflection this morning, let us rephrase that statement from today’s reading from the Book of Joshua as a question: “ How will you know that there is a living God in your midst?” One of the most visible ways of recognizing the living God in our midst is through our daily practice of devotion - in particular, as Jesus clearly states in today’s Gospel, through the practice of a very specific virtue.

That virtue – forgiveness!

* * * * *
(August 18, 2017: Friday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Jos 24:1-13     Ps 136:1-3, 16-18, 21-22 and 24     Mt 19:3-12

“His mercy endures forever.”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales writes what some have described as his “colloquy” of God’s mercy. In Part 1, Chapter 11, we read:

“Consider the corporal benefits that God has bestowed on you – the body itself, goods provided for its maintenance, health, lawful comforts, friends and helps. Consider all this in contrast to so many other persons more deserving than yourself but destitute of such blessings.”

“Consider your gifts of mind. How many people there are in the world who are dull of mind, mad or insane…How many there are who have been brought up harshly and in gross ignorance while God’s providence has brought you up in freedom and dignity!”

“Consider your spiritual favors. You are a child of the Church. How often has he given his sacraments to you! How often you have received his inspirations, interior lights and admonitions for your amendment! How often has he forgiven your faults! How often has he delivered you from those occasions of damnation to which you have been exposed! Were not all those past years a time of leisure and opportunity to improve your soul’s good?”

What’s the bottom line? Francis writes:

“Marvel at God’s goodness. How good my God has been in my behalf! How good indeed! Lord, how rich is your heart in mercy and how generous in good will! My soul, let us always recall the many graces he has shown to us.”

Indeed, beginning today “let us always recall the many graces he has shown to us”.

* * * * *
(August 19, 2014: Saturday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Jos 24:14-29     Ps 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 11     Mt 19:13-15

“As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

On a day-to-day basis, what does it mean to serve the Lord? From a Salesian point of view, serving the Lord is most readily seen through the practice of virtue. However, in the Salesian tradition it isn’t enough to do what is good, but one also has to do what is good in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which one finds oneself.

In her book Earth Crammed with Heaven, Elizabeth Dreyer wrote:

“Francis de Sales stands out as one who was firmly convinced that people in every walk of life are called to holiness. His life’s effort, truly innovative in his day, was to help people find God in their particular life calling. The nearness of God was not the exclusive domain of any one group in the church. ‘True devotion,’ he said, ‘adorns and beautifies any vocation or employment.’ He constantly opposed the tendency, frequently found among those who want to live a spiritual; life, to seek the virtues of another state in life while neglecting those proper to one’s vocation. The home is not a convent and the virtues of the monastic life are not lived in the same way in family life…” (p. 46)

We will truly serve the Lord to the extent that we practice virtue. We shall truly serve the Lord to the full to the extent that we practice the virtues proper to the events, circumstances and relationships that we experience day in and day out.

Today, what virtue might God be calling you to practice today?

* * * * *
(August 20, 2017: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Is 56:1, 6-7     Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8     Rom 11:13-15, 29-32     Mt 15:21-28

“Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.”

Our God can be described in many ways: a God of love, a God of life, a God of salvation, a God of reconciliation and a God of peace. As today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah reminds us, our God is also a God of justice. What this description of God means that God is just, that God is fair. God is morally righteous. God is reasoned, reasonable and truthful.

In other words, God gives people their due.

We are made in the image and likeness of God. To that end, like God, we are also called to be people of justice and to give others their due.

Insofar as God calls us to live justly, one of our greatest temptations is to act in an unjust manner, that is, to live with “two hearts”. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“In general we prefer the rich to the poor…we even prefer those who are better dressed. We rigorously demand our own rights, but want others to be considerate in insisting on theirs. We complain easily about our neighbors, but we would expect them to never complain about us. What we do for others always seems so very great, but what others do for us seems like nothing at all. In short, we have two hearts. We have a mild, gracious and courteous attitude toward ourselves but an entirely different demeanor that is hard, severe and unyielding toward others.” (Part III, Chapter 36)

Francis de Sales challenged us:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbors' place and them in yours, and then you will live justly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell and buy justly……In the end, we lose nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously and with a royal, just and reasonable heart. Examine your heart frequently to see if it is disposed toward your neighbor as you want your neighbor's heart to be disposed toward you.” (Ibid)

Justice, then, is not merely imitating some remote, unachievable attribute. Justice is not solely an issue of remedying social inequity. Justice is not limited to working for some noble, global purpose. Justice must be the hallmark of even the smallest, most mundane dimensions of the lives of all those who wish to follow Jesus, who wish to live a devout life. It is, in truth, about being more fully - and deeply - human.

To the extent that we treat others as we would want them to treat us in the small and ordinary exchanges of everyday life - fairly, reasonably, rightly - we reveal something of God's divine justice. What better way is there for us to give what is due to God, than by giving what is due to one another…and, in the process, to know the blessedness that comes with being single-hearted?

And why not begin today?

* * * * *
(August 21, 2017: Monday, Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Jgs2:11-19     Ps 106:34-35, 36-37, 39-40, 43ab and 44     Mt 19:16-22

“If you wish to be perfect, sell what you have and give to the poor…”

And the man went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Listen carefully to Jesus’ words. He doesn’t say, “Give it all to the poor”. He does say, “Give to the poor.” This presumes that what – or how much – is given to the poor is left to the individual to decide. In the case of the unnamed young man in today’s Gospel, perhaps his sadness was caused by the fact that he didn’t want to give anything – not one bit – to the poor. His unwillingness to share even the smallest amount of his good fortune with others makes his reluctance he even more saddening.

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

“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches that God has given us. Frequently give up some of your property by giving it with a generous heart to the poor. To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become. It is true that God will repay us not only in the next world but even in this world…Oh, how holy and how rich is the poverty brought on by giving alms!” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 15. p. 165)

Listen carefully to Francis’ words: “Frequently give up some of your property…”

Count your blessings. Name your possessions. Be they material, like money, or non-material, like influence, time or talent, what transforms our riches into wealth is our willingness to share them with the poor, with the impoverished, with the less-fortunate and with those who have fallen on hard times.

Do you want to gain eternal life? How many – or much – of your possessions are you willing to share with anyone poor or needy?

Just today?

* * * * *
(August 22, 2017: Queenship of Mary)
* * * * *

Jgs 6:11-24a     Ps 85:9, 11-12, 13-14     Mt 19:23-30

“It will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Riches themselves are not the greatest obstacle to our entering into the Kingdom of God. From a Salesian perspective, it is our desire for riches that poses the problem - the grandeur with which we protect them and the passion with which we pursue them.

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

“Your heart must be open to heaven alone and impervious to riches and all other transitory things. Whatever part of them you may possess, you must keep your heart free from too strong an affection for them. Always keep your heart above riches: even when your heart is surrounded by riches, see to it that your heart remains distinct from them and master over them. Do not allow your heavenly spirit to become captive to earthly things. Let your heart remain always superior to riches and over them – not in them… I willingly grant that you may take care to increase your wealth and resources, provided this is done not only justly but also properly and charitably.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 163)

How can we determine if our possessions might be holding us back from the Kingdom of Heaven? Francis wrote:

“If you find your heart very desolated and devastated at the loss of anything you possess then believe me when I tell you that you love it too much. The strongest proof of how deeply we are attached to possessions is the degree of suffering we experience when we lose it.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 164)

Are we experiencing any difficulties as we strive to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven during our journey here on earth? Perhaps, it is because our possessions have somehow managed to possess us!

* * * * *
(August 23, 2017: Wednesday, Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Jgs 9:6-15     Ps 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-7     Mt 20:1-16

“Are you envious because I am generous?”

The parable in today’s Gospel certainly suggests that those who labored the longest surely were envious! They felt cheated, because as we are told, they “grumbled” –when they realized that the landowner had paid them the same amount as those who had barely worked a few hours!

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

“We must be most careful not to spend much time wondering why God bestows a grace upon one person rather than another, or why God makes his favors abound on behalf of one rather than another. No, never give in to such musings. Since each of us has a sufficient – rather, an abundant measure of all things required or salvation – who in all the world can rightly complain if it pleases God to bestow his graces more largely on some than on others?” (Living Jesus, 0618, p. 246)

Of course, given how generous God is to us we would never be envious or complain about somebody else having more than we do - would we?

Spirituality Matters 2017: August 10rd - August 16th

* * * * *
(August 10, 2017: Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr)
* * * * *

2 Cor 9:6-10     Ps 112:1-2, 5-6, 7-8, 9     Jn 12:24-26

“Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…”

In the Gospel of John, we hear: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

If you sow bountifully, you will reap bountifully; if you give, you shall receive; however, your measure will be measured back to you. What we are talking about is the challenge – the command – to be generous. But sowing bountifully and reaping bountifully isn’t necessary all smiles and sunshine – what if the call to be generous should require your very life from you, as in the case of the martyr whose life we celebrate today, St. Lawrence?

Salesian spirituality holds the practice of generosity in high esteem. So much so that Francis de Sales gave an entire conference to the Sisters of the Visitation on the subject in which he described an intimate relationship of two virtues: humility and generosity. He observed:

“Humility believes that it can do nothing, considering its poverty and weakness when it comes to depending upon ourselves; by contrast, generosity makes us say with St. Paul, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.’ Humility makes us mistrust ourselves; generosity makes us trust in God. You see, then, that these two virtues of humility and generosity are so closely joined and united to one another that they never are and never can be separated...The humility which does not produce generosity is undoubtedly false, for after it has said, ‘I can do nothing; I am absolute nothingness,’ it suddenly gives way to generosity of spirit, which says, ‘ There is nothing – and there can be nothing – that I am unable to do, so long as I put all my confidence in God, who can do all things.’” (Conferences, pp. 75 - 77)

Humility calls us to stand in awe of how good, caring, patient, solicitous and generous God is on our behalf - to consider our good fortune and to count our blessings. This virtue, in turn, should produce in us a similar spirit of generosity, by which we imitate God’s generosity by sharing our good fortune and blessings with others. But as Jesus reminds us, this generosity brings with it dying to self and letting go, often in small ways but sometimes in the biggest ways of all.

In another place, St. Francis de Sales put it this way: “The measure of love is to love without measure.”

Today, how will our generosity to others measure up in the eyes of God?

* * * * *
(August 11, 2017: Clare, Virgin)
* * * * *

Dt 4:32-40     Ps 77:12-13, 14-15, 16 and 21     Mt 16:24-28

“What can one give in exchange for one’s life?”

“St. Clare of Assisi was born in Assisi on July 16, 1194, as Chiara Offreduccio, the beautiful eldest daughter of Favorino Sciffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso and his wife Ortolana. Tradition says her father was a wealthy representative of an ancient Roman family and her mother was a very devout woman belonging to the noble family of Fiumi.”

“As a young girl, Clare dedicated herself to prayer. At 18-years-old, she heard St. Francis of Assisi preach during a Lenten service in the church of San Giorgio and asked him to help her live according to the Gospel. On Palm Sunday in 1212, Clare left her father's home and went to the chapel of the Porziuncula to meet with Francis. While there, Clare's hair was cut off and she was given a plain robe and veil in exchange for her rich gown.”

“Clare joined the convent of the Benedictine nuns of San Paulo, near Bastia, under Francis' orders. When her father found her and attempted to force her back into his home, she refused and professed that she would have no other husband than Jesus Christ. In order to give her the greater solitude she desired, Francis sent Clare to Sant' Angelo in Panzo, another Benedictine nuns monastery. Clare's sister Catarina, who took the name Agnes, joined her at this monastery. The two remained there until a separate dwelling was built for them next to the church of San Damiano.”

“Overtime, other women joined them, wanting to also be brides of Jesus and live with no money. They became known as the "Poor Ladies of San Damiano." They all lived a simple life of austerity, seclusion from the world, and poverty, according to a Rule which Francis gave them as a Second Order. St. Clare and her sisters wore no shoes, ate no meat, lived in a poor house, and kept silent most of the time. Their lives consisted of manual labor and prayer. Yet, they were very happy, because the Lord was close to them all the time.”

“San Damiano became the center of Clare's new order, which was then known as the "Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano." For a brief period of time, the order was directed by St. Francis himself and by 1216, Clare became the abbess of San Damiano. Ten years after Clare's death, the order became known as the Order of Saint Clare.” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=215 )

There was a great deal that Clare gave up in her desire to live according to the Gospel in a very radical way. But as we see in the case of Clare, giving up things didn’t take away from her life – in fact, her willingness to live with less enabled her to live her life even more.

There is nothing that we can give in exchange for our lives. That said, today what are some things with which we could do without that might help us in our desire to live according to the Gospel that fits the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves?

* * * * *
(August 12, 2014: Jane Frances de Chantal, Wife, Mother, Religious and Founder)
* * * * *

~ Proper of Readings ~

A reading from the book of Deuteronomy (16: 3-9)

Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them,
that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping
with the promise of the LORD, the God of your
fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey.

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD
alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.
Drill them into your children. Speak of them at
home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.
Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as
a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the
doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

Word of the Lord.

* * * * * * * * * *

Responsorial Psalm

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall ever
be in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the
lowly will hear me and be glad.

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

Glorify the Lord with me; let us together extol his
name. Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

Taste and see how good the Lord is; happy the man
who takes refuge in him. Come children, hear me; I
will teach you the fear of the Lord.

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking
guile; turn from evil and do good; seek peace and
follow after it.

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

* * * * * * * * * *

A reading from the first Letter of Peter (4: 7-11)

The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be
serious and sober for prayers. Above all, let your love for one
another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.
Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has
received a gift, use it to serve one another as good
stewards of God's varied grace.
Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God;
whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God
supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified
through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and
dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Word of the Lord.

* * * * * * * * * *

Gospel Acclamation

R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like
children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Those who humble themselves like this child are the
greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel

+ A reading from the Holy Gospel according to
Matthew (13: 44-46)

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a
field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of
joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of
great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys
it.

Gospel of the Lord.

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In the Introduction to the book, Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction, we read:
“Jane de Chantal continued with her work of overseeing the large family of religious to whom she was the chief spiritual mother. She wrote ardent letters to superiors, novice-mistresses and novices which reflect her struggle to institute a way in which the authentic Salesian spirit might come to be observed everywhere.”
“In her letters of spiritual direction (where her concern was to stay close to the very Salesian spirit of beginning right where one is and with the facts at hand, Jane de Chantal continued to show herself as a masterful director of souls. She brought to this task her won particular life-experience and temperament. The experience of motherhood was chief among those experiences. Since her youth she had been engaged in the art of biological mothering, and since midlife she had exercised her spiritual maternity. The correspondence she maintained with the superiors of the Visitation reflects a self-conscious cultivation of attitudes and skills she believed were congruent with maternal care. Superiors were enjoined to be true mothers, tolerant of their children’s weaknesses, encouraging their small steps, never overly ambitious for their advancement until they themselves grew into the maturity of spiritual wisdom…This task of cultivating and disseminating this spirit of motherly direction occupied Jane de Chantal for many years. It was part of her long-term effort to ensure the survival – both institutional and spiritual – of the Salesian charism in its manifestation as the order of the Visitation.” (LSD, p. 32)

The selection from the Book of Deuteronomy underscores the importance of having a legacy – of making intentional efforts at passing on our hard-earned learning and wisdom to those with whom we live and work now, as well as to those who will follow in our footsteps tomorrow. Jane de Chantal shows us a sure and certain method for accomplishing this goal, namely:

  • Beginning right where we are with the facts at hand
  • Nurturing others
  • Tolerating others’ weaknesses
  • Encouraging small steps
  • Allowing others to experience spiritual maturity at their own pace.
We are the beneficiaries of Jane de Chantal’s efforts to ensure the survival of the Salesian charism.
Today, how can we pick up where she left off?

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(August 13, 2017: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a     Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14     Rom 9:1-5     Mt 14:22-33

“Go outside and stand before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.”

Conscious of them or not, we all have expectations. We expect things of our family; we expect things of our spouses; we expect things of our children; we expect things of our parents; we expect things of our friends; we expect things of our priests, our doctors, our dentists; we expect things of our employers.

We even expect things from God, especially when it comes to expecting where to find God.

Some expectations are reasonable. We expect to find God in a church, in a sunrise, in a sunset; we expect to find God in the miracle of birth, in the laughter of children and in the gift of friendship.

The problem - rather, the truth – is that God is in many, many more places, people and things than we might expect.

Elijah expected to find God in the obvious places: a strong, rushing wind or a powerful earthquake. Instead, God spoke to him in a tiny whisper. The last place that the disciples expected to find Jesus in the wee hours of the morning was walking on a lake during a storm - yet, there he was!

We should expect to find God in the obvious places, but we must also learn to look for and find God in the places that we least expect. Indeed, the Scriptures are filled with story after story of how God chose to enter the lives of men, women and children in ways that they did not expect.

While our God is a dependable God, our God is also a God of surprises. Our God frequently acts in ways that supersede - and sometimes even shatter - our expectations. Recall the question or criticism levied by some people against Jesus: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Where should we expect to find God? “God is in all things and all places,” wrote St. Francis de Sales.

“There is no place or thing in this world where God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are we find God present. Everyone knows this truth but not everyone manages to remain mindful of it.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II, Chapter 2)

Like God, opportunities for doing what is just, peaceable, honest, loving, healing and caring can be found everywhere. To what degree are we too enamored of our own expectations of God to recognize God's expectations of us, especially in the smallest and more ordinary things, events and circumstances?

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(August 14, 2017: Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr)
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Dt 10:12-22     Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20     Mt 17:22-27

Today we remember the ultimate sacrifice made by the Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, Maximilian Kolbe.

“During the Second World War, he provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów. On 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On 28 May, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670. At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander to select ten men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected for reprisal cried out, ‘My wife - my children’, Kolbe volunteered to take his place.”

“In the starvation cell, he celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners. He led the other condemned men in song and prayer. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards administered to Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_Kolbe )

In today’s Gospel selection from Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples that “The Son of Man will be handed over to men, and they will kill him.” Maximilian Kolbe shared the same sacrifice as his Lord and Savior by the manner in which he died, offering his life for another.

Today, how far would we be willing to go to sacrifice for the good of someone else?

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(August 15, 2017: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab     Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16     1 Cor 15:20-27     Lk 1:39-56

“Blessed are you among women ...”

Our Salesian reflection for this Solemnity – the Assumption – comes entirely from Francis de Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God, Book 7, Chapter 14.

“I do not deny that the soul of the most Blessed Virgin had two portions, and therefore two appetites, one according to the spirit and superior reason, and the other according to sense and inferior reason, with the result that she could experience the struggle and contradiction of one appetite against the other. This burden was felt even by her Son. I say that in this heavenly Mother all affections were so well arranged and ordered that love of God held empire and dominion most peaceably without being troubled by diversity of wills and appetites or by contradiction of senses. Neither repugnance of natural appetite nor sensual movements ever went as far as sin, not even as far as venial sin. On the contrary, all was used holily and faithfully in the service of the holy love for the exercise of the other virtues which, for the most part, cannot be practiced except amid difficulty, opposition and contradiction…”

“As everyone knows, the magnet naturally draws iron towards itself by some power both secret and very wonderful. However, there are five things that hinder this operation: (1) if there is too great a distance between magnet and iron; (2) if there is a diamond placed between the two; (3) if the iron is greased; (4) if the iron is rubbed with onion; (5) if the iron is too heavy.”

“Our heart is made for God, and God constantly entices it and never ceases to cast before it the allurements of divine love. Yet five things impede the operation of this holy attraction: (1) sin, which removes us from God; (2) affection for riches; (3) sensual pleasures; (4) pride and vanity; (5) self-love, together with the multitude of disordered passions it brings forth, which are like a heavy load wearing it down.”

“None of these hindrances had a place in the heart of the glorious Virgin. She was: (1) forever preserved from all sin; (2) forever most poor in spirit; (3) forever most pure; (4) forever most humble; (5) forever the peaceful mistress of all her passions and completely exempt from the rebellion that self-love wages against love of God. For this reason, just as the iron, if free from all obstacles and even from its own weight, would be powerfully yet gently drawn with steady attraction by the magnet – although in such wise that the attraction would always be more active and stronger according as they came closer together and their motion approached its end – so, too, the most Blessed Mother, since there is nothing in her to impede the operation of her Son’s divine love, was united with him in an incomparable union by gentle ecstasies without trouble or travail.”

“They were ecstasies in which the sensible part did not cease to perform its actions but without in any way disturbing the spiritual union, just as, in turn, perfect application of the spirit did not cause any great distraction to the senses. Hence, the Virgin’s death was the most gentle that can be imagined, for her Son sweetly drew her after the odor of his perfumes and she most lovingly flowed out after their sacred sweetness even to the bosom of her Son’s goodness. Although this holy soul had supreme love for her own most holy, most pure, and most lovable body, yet she forsook it without any pain or resistance…At the foot of the cross love had given to this divine spouse the supreme sorrows of death. Truly, then, it was reasonable that in the end death would give her the supreme delights of love.”

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(August 16, 2017: Wednesday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Dt 34:1-12     Ps 66:1-3a, 5 and 8, 16-17     Mt 18:15-20

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

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

“The Salesian spirit is contextual. It is relational. Making Jesus live is not something that occurs solely in the isolated individual vis-à-vis his or her own God. It is not something that is forged only out of the solitary vigil of silence represented by the hermit monk. (The word monk itself comes from the root ‘monos” or ‘alone’.) A better word to portray the Salesian spirit might be ‘between’. It is what goes on between persons – in their relationships – that are of the essence in making Jesus live. The interpersonal dimension of the Salesian spirit deepens the importance of the insight that it is in the midst that one loves God. For it is not that one glimpses God despite the persons around one, but rather that one finds God precisely through and with those persons.” (LSD, p. 46)

Indeed, our attempts at making Jesus live in us can only be completely achieved by our willingness to help others to do the same in their own unique ways. In other words, when it comes to our individual attempts at “Living Jesus”, we are in this together!