Spirituality Matters 2017: October 12th - October 18th

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

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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?

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

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

* * * * *
(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.

* * * * *
(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?

* * * * *
(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!

* * * * *
(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!

* * * * *
(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?

* * * * *
(September 27, 2017: Vincent de Paul, Priest and Founder)
* * * * *

“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?

* * * * *
(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?

* * * * *
(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.

* * * * *
(September 18, 2017: Monday, Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“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)
* * * * *

“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)
* * * * *

“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!

Spirituality Matters 2017: August 3rd - August 9th

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(August 3, 2017: Thursday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 40:16-21, 34-38     Ps 84:3, 4, 5-6a and 8a, 11     Mt 13:47-53

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.”

What should I hold onto in life? What should I let go of in life? What’s good for me? What’s not good for me? These kinds of questions are the stuff of discernment. John Crossin, OSFS offers for our consideration three aspects of any discernment process, that is, any attempt to determine God’s will.

Mind you, discernment is not an exact science. While we can come to know God’s Will in broad strokes – and sometimes even in the particular – we can’t presume to know it all. And sometimes, we may even get it wrong.

Still, some of the things that can help us to know what to keep and what to give away in life include:

  • God’s Signified Will – This is the information we already have at our disposal from the Scriptures, Commandments, Counsels etc. These clearly communicate what God considers to be good, virtuous and life-giving values, attitudes and actions.
  • Feedback from Others – We should make good use of the wise counsel of friends, clergy, mentors, counselors and other people whom we trust. True friends will know when to tell us what we want to hear and when to tell us what we need to hear.
  • Flexibility – Francis de Sales observed that while all the saints are recognized for their conformity to God’s will, no two saints followed God’s Will in exactly the same way. We need to remind ourselves that discernment is about what God wants us - not others - to do in any particular situation. Sometimes, this discernment may require us to “think outside of the box” - we need to be open to change.
Today, life being what it is, we may catch all kinds of things in the nets of our lives. Some things are always good for us; other things are always bad for us. However, there may be some things we catch that used to be good but no longer are. On the other hand, there may be other things - once considered bad - that may now be actually very good.

Decisions, decisions - What do I keep? I keep the things that promote the Kingdom of heaven at the present moment! What do I throw away? I throw away the things that don’t!

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(August 4, 2017: John Vianney, Priest)
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Lv 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34b-37     Ps 81:3-4, 5-6, 10-11ab     Mt 13:54-58

“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place, in his own house...”

It isn’t an accident that prophetic people are often the most unappreciated by those closest to them. It isn’t by chance that prophetic voices encounter the most resistance from members of their own family, relatives or friends. It isn’t a surprise that prophetic movements are often far easier to export abroad than to practice at home. Recall the saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Strangers don’t see our foibles. Strangers don’t see our weaknesses. Strangers don’t experience our dark side. But as we know all-too-well, those who know us well do see those things…and much, much more.

We are all disciples of Jesus. We are all commissioned by virtue of our Baptism to preach in word and especially in deed. So, what are we to do? Preach freely to strangers but remain silent when in the presence of those with whom we labor, live and love? No, that won’t do. When it comes to following Jesus, we know that there’s extra pressure when we are among our own. We realize that there is extra scrutiny in our own (glass!) house. We accept that there is greater expectation (and perhaps more skepticism) in our native place. So, how should would-be prophets deal with this reality?

The answer - make sure that you’re already making your best efforts to put into practice what you are pondering to preach.

Today!

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(August 5, 2017: Saturday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Lv 25:1, 8-17     Ps 67:2-3, 5, 7-8     Mt 14:1-12

“Therefore, when you sell any land to your neighbor or buy any from him, do not deal unfairly but stand in fear of your God. I, the LORD, am your God.”

Francis de Sales clearly understood and appreciated the spirit of today’s selection from the Book of Leviticus. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he counseled:

“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 then you will sell and buy justly. A person loses 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 have your neighbor’s heart to be toward you. This is the touchstone of true reason....” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 36, p. 217)

When it comes to the give and take of daily life, do I take fairly – and give generously?

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(August 6, 2017: Transfiguration of the Lord)
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Dn 7:9-10, 13-14     Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 9     2 Pt 1:16-19     Mt 17:1-9

“He was transfigured before their eyes and his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than the work of any bleacher could make them.”

Something remarkable happened on that mountain.

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

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

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

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

Or do we take it for granted?

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

Today!

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(August 7, 2017: Monday, Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Nm 11:4b-15     Ps 81:12-13, 14-15, 16-17     Mt 14:13-21

“Give them some food yourselves.”

The disciples were concerned for the welfare of the crowd that had followed Jesus to a remote place. It had been a long day. Evening was fast approaching and there was no place nearby for the people to get food or, for that matter, shelter. Fearful of the possible consequences, the disciples suggested to Jesus that he should send the crowd away.

On the face of it, this was a very reasonable suggestion. From a purely practical point of view, the disciples were fearful of the possible results of the people being stranded in a deserted place without provisions. All the more remarkable that instead of dismissing the crowd, Jesus said to the disciples: “Give them some food yourselves”.

What possibly could have motivated Jesus to respond this way?

Consider the possibility that Jesus recognized a deeper level of fear in the disciples, a fear far more terrifying than the prospect of scores of men, women and children going without food or water. Perhaps, the disciples were afraid that the crowd would turn to them for help…or maybe even turn against them for failing to help. Faced with this overwhelming prospect, the disciples, in effect, decided to suggest to Jesus that sending folks away would fix the problem.

To be sure, there are some situations or circumstances in our own lives – and in the lives of those we love – that seem far beyond any time, talent or treasure that we might possess. As Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” character suggests, “A man’s got to know his limitations”. Faced with our own limitations it is wise, indeed, to turn to Jesus in times of need.

But this scene from Matthew’s Gospel challenges us to consider circumstances in which we are tempted to turn to God too quickly for answers without first considering how God may be asking us to act as instruments of life and love for others. To be sure, bringing peace to the Middle East is way beyond my singular abilities. Therefore, I pray to God for peace and pray for those who are working for that peace. But closer to home, how often do I expect God to feed the hungry without first considering how I might be called to offer myself as food and drink to others? How often do I ask God to heal a relationship without first making any effort on my own to be a source of healing? How many times in my life do I immediately expect God to fix the problem without ever considering how God may be asking me to be a part of the solution?

In short, living a life of devotion – following the example of Jesus – avoids two extremes – expecting God to do everything, or expecting us to do everything. Life is about balance, about discernment and about accepting the situations in which when we depend on God to bring about something good, as well as recognizing the circumstances in which God is depending on us to make good things happen.

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(August 8, 2017: Dominic, Priest)
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Nm 12:1-13     Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 6cd-7, 12-13     Mt 14:22-36

“Take courage, do not be afraid…”

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

“The Scriptures tell us that St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, grew afraid; and as soon as he was afraid he began to sink and drown, so he cried out: ‘O Lord, save me!’ And 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 the 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.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 125, p. 198)

His advice to Saint Jane de Chantal is also great advice for us. He recommended:

“Do not be afraid. You are walking on the sea, surrounded by wind and water, but you are with Jesus: so what is there to fear? If terror seizes you, cry out loudly: O Lord, save me. He will stretch forth his hand towards you; clasp it tight and go joyfully on your way. In short, don’t philosophize about your trouble; don’t argue with it, just go straight on, quite simply. If the whole world is topsy-turvy – if all around is darkness and smoke and din – God is still with us.” (Ibid)

In there anything in particular that is weighing heavily on your mind or heart? Are there any issues or concerns that are attempting to paralyze you? Is there anything about which you find yourself afraid?

Remember: God is with you! Take his hand, clasp it tight and go joyfully on your way.

As bravely as you can!

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(August 9, 2017: Wednesday, Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Nm 13:1-2, 25–14:1, 26a-29a, 34-35     Ps 106:6-7ab, 13-14, 21-22, 23     Mt 15: 21-28

“O woman, how great is your faith!”

Today’s Scripture readings offer us a study in contrast. In the Book of Numbers we see how the faith of the Israelites was shaken when they learned that the land of “milk and honey” promised by the Lord was already occupied by other people and not just any other people. No, because they were strong, fierce giants living in well-fortified towns. It would seem that the Israelites simply expected to inherit the Promised Land unopposed without any effort or resistance.

Contrast this situation with the faith demonstrated by the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel. Three times Jesus rebuffed her request to drive a demon out of her daughter. Undaunted, the woman continued to press Jesus to the point where he was not only impressed by her faith but also granted her request.

The Israelites teach us that having a strong faith in God’s Providence doesn’t mean that God’s promises always come easily. Many good things in life require hard and difficult work. For her part the Canaanite woman demonstrates that strong faith in God does not require passivity, but in fact, it often requires persistence and tenacity.

Spirituality Matters 2017: July 27th - August 2nd

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(July 27, 2017: Thursday, Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 19:1-2, 9-11, 16-20b     Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56     Mt 13:10-17

“To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away…”

William Barclay made the following observation about this Gospel passage:

“Many a person in childhood and schooldays had a smattering of Latin or French or of some other language, and in later life lose every word because he never made any attempt to develop or use them. Many a person had some skill in a craft or game and lost it because he neglected it. The diligent and hard-working person is in a position to be given more and more; the lazy person may well lose even what he has. Any gift can be developed; and since nothing in life stands still, if a gift is not developed, it is lost.”

“So it is with goodness. Every temptation we conquer makes us better able to conquer the next and every temptation to which we fall makes us less able to withstand the next attack. Every good thing we do, every act of self-discipline and of service, makes us better prepared for the next opportunity, and every time we fail to use such an opportunity we make ourselves less able to seize the next when it comes. Life is always a process of gaining more or losing more. Jesus laid down the truth that the nearer a person lives to Him, the nearer to the Christian ideal that person will grow. By contrast, the more a person drifts away from Christ, the less he or she is able to grow in goodness; for weakness, like strength, is an increasing practice.” (Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, p. 67)

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

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

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(July 28, 2017: Friday, Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 20:1-17     Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11     Mt 13:18-23

“Hear the parable of the sower….”

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

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

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

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

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

And live it today!

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(July 29, 2017: Martha)
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Ex 24:3-8     Ps 50:1b-2, 5-6, 14-15     Jn 11:19-27

"You are anxious and worried about many things."

We are all-too familiar with this image from the Gospel according to Luke. All-too familiar because it is so easy to see in this Gospel a putdown of action and activity as compared with prayer and contemplation.

Well, we need to revisit this interpretation. We need to understand how this Gospel speaks about Martha and Mary. More importantly, we need to consider how this Gospel speaks to us.

Jesus does not criticize Martha for being busy about the details of hospitality. Rather, Jesus criticizes the fact that Martha is allowing her activity and expectations to make her anxious. Likewise, Mary is not exalted due to her inactivity, but rather because she is not burdened with anxiety. In short, Martha is upset and flustered, while Mary is calm and centered.

Both Martha and Mary bring something to the experience of hospitality. In Martha, we see the importance of tending to details when welcoming people into our homes. In Mary, we see the importance of welcoming people into our lives, into our hearts and into the core of whom we are without allowing the details to overwhelm us. Hospitality, then, isn't a matter of choosing between activity and availability. It is a matter of incorporating – and of integrating – both.

Francis de Sales certainly knew this truth when he described the two great faces of love: the love of complacence and the love of benevolence. Complacence is love that delights in simply being in the presence of the beloved; benevolence is love that delights in expressing this complacence by doing for the beloved.

Doing and being. Being and doing. This is the dance of hospitality. This is the dance of love…a dance that challenges us to be as free as possible from anxious self-absorption, self-preoccupation and self-destruction.

In order to be truly open, to be truly welcoming, to be truly hospitable, there needs to be something of both Martha and Mary in each of us.

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(July 30, 2017: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12     Ps 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130     Rom 8:28-30     Mt 13:44-52

“Give your servant an understanding heart…”

Of all the things that Solomon could have asked of God, he asked for “an understanding heart” that he might distinguish between right and wrong. We are told that God was indeed pleased with such a wise and insightful request. God grants Solomon his request, a gift that would serve Solomon well as the wisest of all the kings of Israel.

An understanding heart seems to be one of the greatest hallmarks of all the saints of God. Holy men and women of every age and culture often display (among other things) a keen ability to understand the things in life that really matter.

St. Francis de Sales was no exception to this trend. In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal Francis wrote:

“O that I might receive and use the gift of understanding as I ought, so as to get a clearer and deeper insight into the holy mysteries of our faith! For this intelligence has a marvelous power to subject the will to God's service; our understanding is committed to God and plunged in God, recognizing God as wonderfully and perfectly good. As the mind ceases to think anything else good in comparison with God's goodness, so, too, the will can no longer desire or love any goodness in comparison with God's goodness, even as when our eyes look deep into the sun we can no longer see any other light. But because we can only show our love in this world by doing good (because our love must act in some way), we need counsel so as to see what we ought to do to put this love which presses us into practice, for it is heavenly love itself which urges us on to do good. The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of understanding so we may find out how to do good, which good to choose and in what way to express our love in action.” (Selected Letters, pp. 281 - 282)

From a practical point of view, the gift of wisdom (and the ability to discern how best to accomplish the good) gets played out in the selection and practice of virtue. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Charity never enters a heart without lodging both itself and its train of all the other virtues which it exercises and disciplines as a captain does his soldiers. It does not put them to work all at once, not at all times and in all places…A great fault of many who undertake the exercise of some particular virtue is thinking they must practice it in every situation. In practicing the virtues we should use the ones best suited to the circumstances at hand rather than the ones that we like…Among the virtues that we practice we should prefer the ones that are more excellent to the ones that are more obvious.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III)

An understanding heart knows what it means to be truly divine. An understanding heart knows what it means to be truly human. An understanding heart knows how to do what is right and good, knows what good or right thing to do in a particular situation and knows how to express love in action.

Such understanding is a gift from our home in heaven. Such understanding is truly a treasure for our homes here on earth.

Why would you desire anything else?

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(July 31, 2017: Monday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 32:15-24, 30-34     Ps 106:19-20, 21-22, 23     Mt 13:31-35

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

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

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

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

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

Many a day, we may feel that our attempts at growing in the ways of the kingdom of God are small and insignificant. However, if we all did just a little bit each and every day to build up that Kingdom, it would add up to become quite a lot!

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(August 1, 2017: Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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Ex 33:7-11; 34:5b-9, 28     Ps 103:6-7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13     Mt 13:36-43

“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field…”

Some weeks ago we touched upon the image of wheat and weeds. There is something of both wheat and weeds inside each and every one of us. Careful examination of the interior gardens of our thoughts, feelings and attitudes reveals things which promote life; likewise, in those same gardens we can identify things that compete with life.

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 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 that 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 simply along the way our Lord shows you and don’t worry. We must hate our faults, but we should do so calmly and peacefully, without fuss or anxiety. We must be patient at the sight of these faults and learn from the humiliation which they bring about. Unless you do this, your imperfections – of which you are acutely conscious – will disturb you even more and thus grow stronger, for nothing is more favorable to the growth of these ‘weeds’ than our anxiety and over eagerness to rid ourselves of them.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction , pp. 161-162)

In each of us we find a mixture of both wheat and weeds. In each of us we find a mixed bag of both good and bad. Essentially, the Salesian tradition challenges us to deal with this reality in three ways:

  • First, detest the weeds within us.
  • Second, don’t dwell on those weeds within us.
  • Third, focus on – and nourish – the wheat within us.
These thoughts should pretty much explain the parable of the weeds – and for that matter the wheat.

Don’t you think?

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(August 2, 2017: Wednesday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 34:29-35     Ps 99:5, 6, 7, 9     Mt 13:44-46

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure; like searching for fine pearls.”

A traditional way of explaining these images in today’s Gospel is to place the emphasis on us. This perspective considers this Gospel as a challenge to the hearer to “trade up”, that is, to give up those things we most value in order to obtain that which has the greatest value - the Kingdom of God.

A non-traditional way of explaining these images – and, apparently, the more accurate way – is to place the emphasis on God. It is God who is “trading up” for something better. It is God who is – as it were – cashing in all his chips for something even more valuable. What is that “treasure”? What are those “fine pearls”? We are the treasure that God pursues at any price. We are the pearls that God will leave no stone unturned to possess.

God “traded up” his only Son because He wanted to reclaim us. God “cashed in” his only Son because He wanted to redeem us. God gave away everything He had in order to make us his own. In these acts, God clearly displayed that it’s people, not things – like possessions, power or privilege – that God values the most.

We are God-given treasures! We are pearls bought at the highest of prices!

Do we treat ourselves – and one another – accordingly?

Spirituality Matters 2017: July 20th - July 26th

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(July 20, 2017: Thursday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 3:13-20     Ps 105:1 and 5, 8-9, 24-25, 26-27     Mt 11:28-30

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”

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

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

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

She then adds:

“But his gentleness did not mean softness.”

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

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

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

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

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(July 21, 2017: Friday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 11:10—12:14     Ps 116:12-13, 15 and 16bc, 17-18     Mt 12:1-8

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

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

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

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

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

Well, what about us? Have we ever seen somebody else doing something merciful and generous at a time or in a place or in a way with which we did not agree and attempted to discredit them? Put another way, who would we like others to see and experience in us – the merciful Jesus or the miserable Pharisee?

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(July 22, 2017: Mary Magdalene)
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Sgs 3:1-4b     Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9     Jn 20:1-2, 11-18

“She saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.”

In a letter to Marie Bourgeois Brulart, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Mary Magdalene is looking for Our Lord and it is he whom she holds. She is asking him, and it is he whom she asks. She could not see him as she had hoped to see him. This is why she did not recognize him as he actually was and continues to see him in another guise. She wanted to see him in his robes of glory and not in the lowly clothes of a gardener. But in the end she recognized him when he spoke to her by name: ‘Mary’.”

“You see, Our Lord meets you every day dressed as a gardener in any number of places and situations…Be of good cheer, and let nothing dismay you.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 136)

On any given day God may be, as it were, hidden in plain sight. However, it isn’t a case of God trying to hide from us! Rather, it is our desire to see God in ways that match our preferences, and that prevent us from seeing God as He really is, especially when it comes to recognizing how God is present in us and in one another!

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(July 23, 2017: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Wis 12:13, 16-19     Ps 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16     Rom 8:26-27     Mt 13:24-43

“Those who are just must be kind.”

The Book of Wisdom is unambiguous when listing the characteristics of divine justice: care, clemency, leniency, repentance and kindness. Far from insinuating that God is somehow “soft,” these (and other) characteristics describe the nature of true strength, authority and power.

This manner of acting is the great paradox of divine love: although sin and evil can provoke divine punishment, they are ultimately more likely to receive divine mercy, leniency and kindness. Francis de Sales observed:

“Far indeed was Adam's sin from overwhelming God's kindness; on the contrary it aroused and called forth God's kindness. As if to realign its forces for victory, God's kindness made grace to abound yet more where iniquity had abounded...Indeed, God's providence has left in us many great marks of divine severity, even amid the very grace of God's mercy; there are, for example, the fact that we must die, disease, toil and sensual rebellion...but God's favor floats as it were over all this and finds joy in turning these miseries to the greater profit of all who love him.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book II, Chapter 5)

No where do we see more clearly the just power of God exercised with such kindness and forbearance than in the life and legacy of Jesus Christ. St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“In a word, our divine Savior never forgets to show that ‘his mercies are above all his works.’ That his mercy surpasses his justice, that ‘his redemption is copious,’ that his love is infinite and, as the Apostle says, ‘that he is rich in mercy,’ and consequently, that he ‘wishes that all be saved’ and that none should perish.” (Treatise, Book II, Chapter 8)

On the practice of virtue, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Some virtues have almost general use and must not only produce their own results but also spill over into all other virtues. Occasions may not often present themselves for the exercise of fortitude, magnanimity, and great generosity, but gentleness, temperance, integrity and humility are virtues that must mark all our actions in life.”

The practice of virtue is, in fact, a sharing in and sharing of God’s power and promise. How should we respond to such divine power - power expressed in patience, leniency, clemency and kindness?

First, we must repent. We must acknowledge our need for God's saving, redeeming and reconciling justice. Such power, not only helps us to turn away from iniquity, but it also enables us to do what is right and good.

Second, we must exercise the divine power in which we share (by nature of our creation and redemption) by forgiving one another and by practicing and extending care, clemency, leniency and kindness to our brothers and sisters, especially when they either purposely or thoughtlessly hurt or harm us.

Divine justice is best served by our kindness.

Today, how ready are we to receive - and share - such a powerful, redeeming gift?

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(July 24, 2017: Monday, Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 14:5-18     Ex 15:1bc-2, 3-4, 5-6     Mt 12:38-42

“Fear not! Stand your ground…”

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

“The Scriptures tell us that St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, grew afraid; and as soon as he was afraid he began to sink and drown, so he cried out: ‘O Lord, save me!’ And 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 the 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.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 125, p. 198)

His advice to Saint Jane de Chantal is also great advice for us. He recommended:

“Do not be afraid. You are walking on the sea, surrounded by wind and water, but you are with Jesus: so what is there to fear? If terror seizes you, cry out loudly: O Lord, save me. He will stretch forth his hand towards you; clasp it tight and go joyfully on your way. In short, don’t philosophize about your trouble; don’t argue with it, just go straight on, quite simply. If the whole world is topsy-turvy – if all around is darkness and smoke and din – God is still with us.” (Ibid)

Moses and the Israelites certainly had a great deal to fear as they were being pursued by Pharaoh’s chariots and charioteers. Frightened as they were, however, they came to a point where they stopped running and stood their ground, confident that the Lord was on their side. Likewise, there are moments in all of our lives in which God asks us to stop running from our fears – to stand our ground and to face our fears, confident that – whatever the outcome – God is on our side.

How might God challenge you to stand your ground in the face of fear - today?

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(July 25, 2017: James, Apostle)
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2 Cor 4:7-15     Ps 126:1bc-2ab, 2cd-3, 4-5, 6     Mt 20:20-28

“Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant…”

Francis de Sales once wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(July 26, 2017: Joachim and Ann, Parents of the BVM)
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Ex 16:1-5, 9-15     Ps 78:18-19, 23-24, 25-26, 27-28     Mt 13:1-9

“Some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit…”

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

“Persevere in this great courage and determination which keeps you lifted high above temporal things. Keep your eyes fixed steadfastly on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on. As these pass they themselves pass by us stage after stage until we reach the end of the road. But in the meantime, in each passing moment 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…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, Chapter 29, p. 212)

Regardless of how large or small the yield of the seeds that God has planted deep within you, there is only one place in which you will find those seeds – in each and every present moment!

Spirituality Matters 2017: July 13th - July 19th

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(July 13, 2017: Henry, Emperor)
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Gn 44:18-21, 23b-29; 45:1-5     Ps 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21     Mt 10:7-15

“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

In a conference to the Visitation Sisters on “Generosity,” Francis de Sales remarked:

“The humility that does not produce generosity is undoubtedly false, for after it has said, ‘I can do nothing, I am absolute nothingness,’ it suddenly gives rise to generosity of spirit that 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.’” (Living Jesus, p. 152)

Consider all the things that Jesus did for those whose lives He touched – curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers and driving out demons - all without expecting anything in return. So it’s easy to understand how His apostles might have been tempted to simply stand in awe of His power. That said, Jesus didn’t want them just to stand in awe, but Jesus also wanted them to imitate his example by doing the same works as He did – curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers and driving our demons - all without expecting anything in return.

And to experience the awe of His power by sharing it with others.

It’s tempting to simply stand in awe of God’s love for us. It’s humbling when we stop to consider how generous God has been to us purely out of the goodness of His heart without any cost on our part. What return can we possibly make? The answer - by being generous to others without cost to them.

Out of the goodness of our hearts!

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(July 14, 2017: Kateri Tekakwitha)
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Gn 46:1-7, 28-30     Ps 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40     Mt 10:16-23

“Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say…”

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

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

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

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

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(July 15, 2017: Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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Gn 49:29-32; 50:15-26a     Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7     Mt 10:24-33

“Do not be afraid…”

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

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

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

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

Beginning today!

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(July 16, 2017: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Is 55:10-11     Ps 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14     Rom 8:18-23     Mt 13:1-23

“The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”

Sometimes, good things take much time...and require much patience. This process is even true of the greatest of all good things, the seeds of God's love.

Each of us is the “good ground” on and in which God plants the seeds of divine life and love. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and our common vocation (lived in ways unique to God's plan for each of us) is to allow these seeds of divine life to take root in our minds and hearts and to produce an abundance of goodness within us that spills out into the lives of our brothers and sisters...all to give glory and honor to God.

As the parable from Matthew's Gospel clearly illustrates, however, not all of the seeds of God's love within us fair well. Some of these seeds are choked off by our fears and anxieties. Some of these seeds are overwhelmed by other concerns or attractions. Some of these seeds simply wither away for lack of care and attention. Still, notwithstanding these and other would-be obstacles, many of the seeds of God's love do, in fact, take root, grow and produce a harvest of love, justice, peace, truth, reconciliation and freedom.

But this growth takes time, as well as a mixture of trial and error. This fact is important for us to remember, lest we lose heart and just allow the seeds of God's love within us to go to pot altogether. The practice of patience is not only important in promoting spiritual growth in ourselves, but also in encouraging it in the lives of others. In a letter to one Madame Brulart, Francis de Sales wrote:

“As for your desire to see your dear ones make progress in the service of God and in their longing for Christian perfection, I praise this desire tremendously...But to tell you the truth, I am always afraid that in these desires there may be a trace of self-love and self-will; for example, we may indulge so much in these desires that we may not leave enough room in our hearts for the things that really matter: humility, resignation, gentleness of heart and the like. Or else the intensity of these desires may bring about anxiety or overeagerness, and in the end we do not submit ourselves to God's will as perfectly as we should.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, page 110.)

Clearly, while we must take responsibility for our growth in devotion - that is, to nourish the seeds of God's love in us and encourage the same in others - we must do it patiently and with a mind to God's will for us, lest our efforts become an exercise in self-will, self-delusion or self-absorption. Francis de Sales offers this advice:

“Pursue your aims gently and quietly...By what you say and do you must gently sow seeds that will encourage others...In this way, especially if you pray about it, too, you will do more good than you would in any other way...” (Ibid)

The seeds of God's love that fall on good ground - in us and in others - will, in the long run, yield a fruitful harvest. In the short run we must nurture them slowly, patiently and carefully (especially in the face of failure and frustration) in ways that give glory to God in heaven...and produce a harvest of justice and peace here on earth.

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(July 17, 2017: Monday, Fifteen Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 1:8-14, 22     Ps 124:1b-3, 4-6, 7-8     Mt 10:34—11:1

“Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink
because he is a disciple - Amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

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

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

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

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

Today, how might we store up such riches?

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(July 18, 2017: Tuesday, Fifteen Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 2:1-15a     Ps 69:3, 14, 30-31, 33-34     Mt 11:20-24

“For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom,
it would have remained until this day.”

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

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

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

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

Little things mean a lot.

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(July 19, 2017: Wednesday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 3:1-6, 9-12     Ps 103:1b-2, 3-4, 6-7     Mt 11:25-27

"The Lord is kind and merciful...”

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 depends on God’s mercy, finishing what God began. O God, how merciful is God’s goodness to us in thus distributing his bounty!” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, Chapter 29, p. 212)

Today’s responsorial psalm challenges us to remember, to recall and to reflect on all the ways that God has been kind, merciful and generous to us. Today’s responsorial psalm also provides us with a kind of examination of conscience concerning how kind, merciful and generous we are toward other people.

As we begin this new day, consider these questions:

  • How often do we remember how others have been of benefit to us?
  • How willing are we to pardon or forgive those who have injured us?
  • How ready are we to be sources of healing for others?
  • How kind and compassionate are we?
  • How can we promote justice and the rights of the oppressed?

Spirituality Matters 2017: July 6th - July 12th

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(July 6, 2017: Thursday, Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 22:1b-19     Ps 115:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9     Mt 9:1-8

“Why do you harbor such evil thoughts in your hearts?

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

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

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

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

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

What is the moral is this Gospel? There are far worse ways of being incurably paralyzed other than being unable to walk.

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(July 7, 2017: Friday, Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 23:1-4, 19; 24:1-8, 62-67     Ps 106:1b-2, 3-4a, 4b-5     Mt 9:9-13

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(July 8, 2017: Saturday, Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 27:1-5, 15-29     Ps 135:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6     Mt 9:14-17

"No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth…People do not put new wine into old wineskins."

In his reflection on this passage from Matthew’s Gospel, William Barclay wrote:

“Jesus was perfectly conscious that he came to men with new ideas and with a new conception of the truth, and he was well aware how difficult it is to get new ideas into men’s minds…The Jews were passionately attached to things as they were. The Law was to them God’s last and final word; to add one word to it or to subtract one word from it was a deadly sin…To them a new idea was not so much a mistake as a sin.”

Barclay continues:

“Within the Church this resentment of the new is chronic and the attempt to pour new things into old molds is almost universal. We attempt to pour the activities of a modern congregation into an ancient church building that was never meant for them. We attempt to pour the truth of new discoveries into creeds that are based on Greek metaphysics. We attempt to pour modern instruction into worn-out language that cannot express it. We read God’s word to twentieth century men and women in Elizabethan English and seek to present the needs of the twentieth century man and woman to God in prayer language that is four hundred years old. It may be that we would do well to remember that when anything stops growing, it starts dying. It may be that we need to pray that God would deliver us from the closed mind.”

Of course, close-mindedness is not limited to churches, temples, synagogues or mosques. Closed minds can be found wherever people are gathered – on Wall Street, on Capitol Hill, on commuter trains, in classrooms, on the Internet and even around the dining room table. The truth of the matter is that we all struggle sometimes with keeping our minds open to new things, new ideas, new places and new people. One is reminded of these words from Albert Einstein: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

About what may God ask us to keep an open mind - just this day?

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(July 9, 2017: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Zec 9:9-10     Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14     Rom 8:9, 11-13     Mt 11:25-30

“Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yolk upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

Being humble and gentle is about trying to embody the words of Jesus found in St. Matthew's Gospel: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

Humility might be described as “living in the truth”. The truth is that we are created in God's image and likeness. The truth is that we are good. The truth is that we do not always live up to that goodness. The truth is that we need God’s forgiveness and grace to make that goodness real. The truth is that we need the support and encouragement of one another.

Gentleness might be described as the practice of proportionality. It is about keeping things in perspective. It is about knowing when to stand firm. It is about knowing when to give ground. Most of all, whether in good times, tough times or in all the times in between, gentleness is about relating to ourselves and others with profound respect and reverence and with a graciousness rooted in the recognition that each of us - all of us - are sons and daughters of the living God.

The daily practice of these two virtues fashions a particular kind of heart in those who follow Jesus: a heart that longs and strives for justice. “Be just and equitable in all your actions,” wrote St. Francis de Sales in Part Three, Chapter 36 of The Introduction to the Devout Life. “Always put yourself in your neighbor's place and put your neighbor in yours, and then you will judge rightly.” He continued: “Imagine yourself the seller when you are buying; imagine yourself the buyer when you are selling. In this way you will sell and buy according to justice.”

This act of virtue is not always easy to do. We are frequently tempted to relate to others in ways that are not just or reasonable. We are tempted to promote only our own concerns, to first ask “What's in it for me?” or to always be concerned about taking care of “#1”.

At times like these, “we have two hearts,” says St. Francis de Sales. “One heart is mild, favorable and courteous toward ourselves; the other is hard, severe and rigorous toward our neighbor.” At times like these we have “two balances: the one to weigh out conveniences to our own greatest advantages, and the other to weigh those of our neighbor to their greatest possible disadvantage.”

St. Francis de Sales challenges us: “Do not neglect to frequently examine whether your heart be such with respect to your neighbor as you would desire your neighbor's to be with respect to you, were you in the other's situation.”

Such an ordinary thing. Such an everyday thing. In the Salesian tradition, such a powerful, life-giving thing. In the end, St. Francis de Sales claims, we “lose nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously, and with a royal, just and reasonable heart.”

Not only do we lose nothing, Jesus also promises us that by living humbly and gently we will find everything for which we all long…rest for our souls - not later in heaven, but even right here, right now, on earth.

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(July 10, 2017: Monday, Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 28:10-22a     Ps 91:1-2, 3-4, 14-15ab     Mt 9:18-26

“Courage! Your faith has saved you…”

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

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

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

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

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

Do you believe your faith in Jesus can save you?

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(July 11, 2017: Benedict, Abbot)
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Gn 32:23-33     Ps 17:1b, 2-3, 6-7ab, 8b and 15     Mt 9:32-38

“At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved…”

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

And in the case of Jesus, it is the sorrow that also releases miraculous power.

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

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

At the sight of other people’s needs, are our hearts moved? And if once our hearts are moved, do we act as Jesus did - with compassion?

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(July 12, 2017: Wednesday, Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 41:55-57; 42:5-7a, 17-24a     Ps 33:2-3, 10-11, 18-19     Mt 10:1-7

"Let your mercy be on us...”

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 depends on God’s mercy, finishing what God began. O God, how merciful is God’s goodness to us in thus distributing his bounty!” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, Chapter 29, p. 212)

When we pray using the words from today’s responsorial psalm, we are not engaging in wishful thinking. We aren’t asking for something that has not yet occurred. God’s mercy is on us! God’s generosity rains down upon us! God’s love is always with and within us.

Joseph is a great example of how mercy can not only change the lives of those who receive it but also how mercy can transform the life of the one who gives it. Joseph had lots of reasons to be embittered toward his brothers who sold him into slavery – Joseph had lots of reason to exact revenge on those who betrayed him. But – as he tells us himself – it is because he was a God-fearing man that he eventually chose reconciliation over retaliation.

Today, how can we be instruments of that same divine mercy, generosity and love in the lives of others?

Spirituality Matters 2017: June 29th - July 5th

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(June 29, 2017: Peter and Paul, Apostles)
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Acts 12:1-11     Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9     2 Tm 4:6-8, 17-18     Mt 16:13-19

Today, we celebrate the lives and legacies of two great pillars of the early Church – Peter and Paul. Of course, a closer look as these two pillars reveals that they weren’t always very strong or sturdy!

Of St. Peter, Francis de Sales wrote:

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

Francis expounds upon this duality of Peter’s nature in his Treatise on the Love of God:

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

Doesn’t it seem that this “rock” upon whom Christ built his Church had more than his share of cracks!

Let’s turn our attention now to St. Paul. Francis wrote:

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

Of course, as in the case of Peter, Paul, too, has his shortcomings. In a letter of encouragement to a sister of the Visitation, Francis wrote:

“Do not be ashamed…any more than St. Paul who confessed that there were two men in him, one rebellious to God and the other obedient to God.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 224.)

Individually and collectively, the impact that Peter and Paul have made on the early Church cannot be overestimated. Without a doubt, they have left a lasting impression. That said, their lives also give poignant and powerful testimony to how God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness to him in the lives of other people.

God chose Peter and Paul in their time to be heralds of the Good News. God chooses us too, in our time, to do the same. As in the cases of Peter and Paul, the Lord chooses us as we are – imperfections, cracks, warts and all – and makes us something strong, beautiful, powerful and passionate for God…and for one another.

Who says that you have to be a perfect person to reflect the image and likeness of God? Who says that you have to be a perfect person to preach – in both word and deed – the Good News of Jesus Christ?

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(June 30, 2017: Friday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 17:1, 9-10, 15-22     Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5     Mt 8:1-4

“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”

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

“The truth is that our Savior’s redemption touches our sins and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. After all, Our Savior himself tells us that there ‘is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just people 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 and brighter than that found in the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we emerge from the stream of salvation more pure and clean than if we had never had leprosy in the first place.”

Can God make us clean? Absolutely! Can God heal us and make us whole? Absolutely! Can God restore us to life and to love? Absolutely!

All this and so much more.

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(July 1, 2017: Saturday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 8:1-15     Luke 1:46-47, 48-49, 50 and 53, 54-55     Mt 8:5-17

“I will come and cure him.”

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

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

This is a great insight that Francis de Sales offers regarding the virtue – and practice – of obedience. The essence of obedience (from the Latin meaning to listen) is not simply doing what we’re told; obedience is recognizing that each person in our lives has a unique role in helping us to become the perdson that God wants us to be. Obedience is about listening to how God may be speaking to us today through the people with whom we live, love and labor every day,

In truth, we see the obedience of two people in today’s Gospel – Jesus and the centurion. Jesus’ obedience is demonstrated in his listening to the needs of another (in this case, the centurion describing the plight of his servant) and choosing to respond as his Father wills Him – to follow the centurion home and effect a healing. For his part, the centurion demonstrates his obedience by listening to Jesus, believing that Jesus will be true to His word, the soldier returns home, confident that Jesus will effect the healing…or perhaps, already has.

Jesus is amazed at the quality of the obedience of the centurion. He knows more than a little about the virtue of obedience, because he was soon to be obedient even unto death - death on a cross.

On a scale of 1-to-10, what is the quality of our obedience? How willing are we to listen for and to the voice of God in our lives and follow it?

Today!

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(July 2, 2017: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a     Ps 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19     Rom 6:3-4, 8-11     Mt 10:37-42

“Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink — he will surely not lose his reward."

In his commentary on this passage from today’s Gospel, William Barclay observed:

“We cannot all be prophets and preach and proclaim the word of God, but he who gives God’s messenger the simple gift of hospitality will receive no less a reward than the prophet himself. There is many a man who has been a great public figure; there is many a man whose voice has kindled the hearts of thousands of people; there is many a man who carried an almost intolerable burden of public service and public responsibility, all of whom would gladly have borne witness that they could never have survived the effort and the demands of their task were it not for the love and care and the sympathy and the service of someone at home, who was never in the public eye at all. When true greatness is measured up in the sight of God, it will be seen again and again that the man who greatly moved the world was entirely dependent on someone who – as far as the world was concerned – remained unknown.”

“We cannot all be shining examples of goodness. We cannot all stand out in the world’s eye as righteous. But he who helps a good man to be good receives a good man’s reward.”

“The great beauty of this passage is its stress on simple things. The Church and Christ will always need their great orators, their great shining examples of sainthood, their great teachers, those whose names are household words. But the Church and Christ will also always need those in whose homes there is hospitality, on whose hands there is all the service which makes a home and in whose hearts there is the caring that is Christian love and, as Mrs. Browning said, ‘All service ranks the same with God.’”

Barclay’s reflection is reminiscent of three observations made by St. Francis de Sales on this very consideration of the importance of little things:

“Little daily acts of charity, this headache, toothache or cold, this bad humor in a husband of wife…in short, all such little things when accepted and embraced with love are highly pleasing to God’s mercy. For a single cup of water, God has promised to his faithful people a sea of endless bliss.”

“Put your hands 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 that grow like flowers at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of your family, with all the tasks that go worth such things and with all that useful diligence which will not you stand idle.”

“Nothing is small in the service of God.”

Today, in big ways – in little ways – how might God be calling you to live a rewarding life?

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(July 3, 2017: Thomas, Apostle)
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Eph 2:19-22     Ps 117:1bc, 2     Jn 20:24-29

"Unless I see the mark of the nails…I will not believe.”

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

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

So why is it, then, that so many people continue to refer to the Apostle whose life and legacy we celebrate today as “Doubting Thomas”? Nearly two thousand years have passed since he declared to his peers what it would take for him to believe that Jesus was risen. Why should we vilify Thomas for being honest? Why should we beat up on Thomas for speaking from his heart? Jesus certainly didn’t!

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

Besides, Thomas’ disbelief was not habitual – it was a one-time event.

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

Come to think of it, it is a remarkable thing that the experience of resurrection did not remove the wounds of Jesus. The lasting marks of pain, disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection, humiliation, abandonment, suffering and death were clear for all to see. Notwithstanding these wounds, however, Christ's resurrection powerfully demonstrates that pain, sadness, suffering and injustice -- as real as they are -- do not, ultimately, have the last word. While suffering was clearly a part of Jesus’ life, there was so much more to his life than just suffering.

Maybe it’s time for us to retire the moniker “Doubting Thomas” and replace it with “Honest Thomas” from this day forward! Maybe it’s also time for us to simply accept the fact that there are some things about Jesus that we can know only through our own wounds and the wounds of others.

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(July 4, 2017: Tuesday, Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 19:15-29     Ps 26:2-3, 9-10, 11-12     Mt 8:23-27

“I walk in integrity…”

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America.

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

Do you want to experience life to the full? Do you want to have life and to have life in abundance? Then serve God! Show in your own life – and in the lives of others – the power and promise that comes with giving homage to God! How can we do that? (1) Seek good by pursuing and promoting the God-given, unalienable gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with others, and (2) stop evil by confronting and containing anything that threatens these same God-given, unalienable gifts. Using the language of the Salesian tradition, we are most free when we walk with integrity, that is, when we treat ourselves and others with profound respect and reverence.

How can we walk with integrity today? How can we be truly happy today? The answer - by doing our part to continue fashioning a nation in which all people can experience the liberty that comes from serving the needs of one another.

* * * * *
(July 5, 2017: Wednesday, Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 21:5, 8-20a     Ps 34:7-8, 10-11, 12-13     Mt 8:28-34

The Lord hears the cry of the poor

“On the occasion of Elizabeth of Portugal’s birth in 1271, her father, Pedro III, future king of Aragon, was reconciled with his father, James, the reigning monarch. This proved to be a portent of things to come. Under the healthful influences surrounding her early years, she quickly learned self-discipline and acquired a taste for spirituality. This proved fortuitous when, at the age of 12, she was given in marriage to Denis, king of Portugal. She was able to establish for herself a pattern of life conducive to growth in God’s love, not merely through her exercises of piety, including daily Mass, but also through her exercise of charity, by which she was able to befriend and help pilgrims, strangers, the sick, the poor—in a word, all those whose neediness she noticed.”

“In the midst of her charitable work, Elizabeth remained devoted to her husband, whose infidelity to her was an open secret. He, too, was the object of many of her peace endeavors. She long sought peace for him with God, and Elizabeth’s efforts were finally rewarded when he gave up his life of sin. She repeatedly sought and effected peace between the king and their rebellious son, Alfonso, who thought that he was passed over to favor the king’s illegitimate children. Elizabeth acted as peacemaker in the struggle between Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and his cousin James, who claimed the crown. When she had retired as a Franciscan tertiary to the monastery of the Poor Clares after the death of her husband, Elizabeth was able to bring about a lasting peace between her son Alfonso, then king of Portugal, and his son-in-law, the king of Castile.”

“The work of promoting peace is anything but a calm and quiet endeavor. It takes a clear mind, a steady spirit and a brave soul to intervene between people whose emotions are so aroused that they are ready to destroy one another. This is all the more true of a woman in the early 14th century. But Elizabeth had a deep and sincere love and sympathy for humankind, almost a total lack of concern for herself and an abiding confidence in God. These were the tools of her success.” ( www.americancatholic.org)

Elizabeth of Portugal was named for her great aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Regarding St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Francis de Sales observed:

“St. Elizabeth, daughter of the king of Hungary, often visited the poor...how poor was she in the midst of all her riches and how rich was she in her poverty!” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 166)

The Lord hears the cry of the poor. The Lord also hears the cry of those who minister to the poor and who try to sow the seeds of peace.

Today, in what ways might the Lord hear our cries today?

Spirituality Matters 2017: June 22nd - June 28th

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(June 22, 2017: Thursday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

2 Cor 11:1-11     Ps 111:1b-2, 3-4, 7-8     Mt 6:7-15

“Please put up with me.”

In a letter of spiritual direction and encouragement, St. Francis de Sales made the following observation:

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

As followers of Jesus we are challenged to “put up” with one another as an expression of our love for one another. Note, however, that while Francis de Sales says in this case that we must “put up” with another’s imperfections, in other cases he also reminds us that if we really love others we must not put up with another’s sinfulness or immorality. In the case of the latter we are obligated to draw their attention to it, not as an occasion to embarrass them, but as an opportunity to help them to become more of the person that God wants them to be.

What’s the moral to the story? When it comes to the people we love, there is a distinction that we need to make – there are some things with which we need to put up, but there are other things about which we need to be put out.

And to point it out!

* * * * *
(June 23, 2017: Most Sacred Heart of Jesus)
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Dt 7:6-11     Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 10     1 Jn 4:7-16     Mt 11:25-30

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”

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

“God’s love is seated within the Savior’s heart as on a royal throne. He beholds through the cleft of his pierced side all the hearts of the children of men. His heart is the king of hearts, and he keeps his eyes fixed on our hearts. Just as those who peer through a lattice see clearly while they themselves are only half seen, so too, the divine love within that heart, or rather, that heart of divine love, always clearly sees our hearts.” (TLG, Book V, Chapter 11, p. 263)

In the person of the meek and humble Jesus, God makes room in his heart for all of humanity. In imitation of that divine, Sacred Heart, let us try our level best to make room in our hearts for all those people whom we encounter - just this day.

* * * * *
(June 24, 2017: Nativity of St. John the Baptist)
* * * * *

Is 49:1-6     Ps 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 14c-15     Acts 13:22-26     Lk 1:57-66, 80

“The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

Francis de Sales wrote:

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

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

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

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

Today, what unique role might God ask you to play in his ongoing plan of salvation just this day?

* * * * *
(June 25, 2017: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Jer 20:10-13     Ps 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35     Rom 5:12-15     Mt 10:26-33

“Do not fear those who deprive the body of life but cannot destroy the soul.”

“Fear, dread, fright, alarm, panic, terror, trepidation mean painful agitation in the presence of or anticipation of danger. Fear is the most general term and implies anxiety and usually the loss of courage; dread usually adds the idea of intense reluctance to face or meet a person or situation and suggests aversion as well as anxiety; fright implies the shock of sudden, startling fear; alarm suggests a sudden and intense awareness of immediate danger; panic implies unreasoning and overwhelming fear causing hysterical activity; terror implies the most extreme degree of fear; trepidation adds to dread the implications of timidity, trembling and hesitation.” (Webster's Dictionary)

As with so many other emotions, fear - as well as its related feelings - is a part of life. Who of us has never been afraid, alarmed or anxious? Who of us exercises ultimate control over the things, people or situations that may cause us to fear?

While we may be unable to avoid fear, we do have a choice as to how to deal with it. Francis de Sales observed: “St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, was afraid; and as soon as he was afraid, he began to sink and to drown, so he called out: ‘Lord, save me.’ And 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 footed on the water, the waves and the winds could not make him sink; but fear of the wind and the waves will make him perish unless his Maker saves him. Fear is a greater evil than evil itself. Oh you of little faith, what do you fear? No, do not be afraid; you are walking on the sea, surrounded by wind and water, but you are with Jesus: so what is there to fear? But if terror seizes you, cry out loudly: O Lord, save me. He will stretch forth his hand towards you; clasp it tightly and go joyfully on your way.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 125)

The secret to dealing with fear is to be patient, to be self-possessed, that is, to be centered and grounded. Francis de Sales wrote: "By your patience you will win your souls. It is our great happiness to possess our own souls, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls." (Introduction, Part III, Chapter 3) Regardless of the intensity of the fear that we may experience, we cannot be ultimately overwhelmed or defeated so long as we do not lose possession of our souls.

“In short, don't philosophize about your trouble; don't argue with it, just go straight on, quite simply. God would not allow you to be lost while you live according to your resolutions so as not to lose him. If the whole world turns topsy-turvy, if all around is darkness and smoke and din, God is still with us.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 125)

Fear is a part of life. It is a powerful and troubling part of life that can have a profound effect upon us. However, no matter how formidable or frequent, fear cannot prevail…unless, of course, we allow it to rob us of our courage…to rob us of our hearts.

* * * * *
(June 26, 2017: Monday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 12:1-9     Ps 33:12-13, 18-19, 20 and 22     Mt 7:1-5

“The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you…”

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

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

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

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

  1. We never know all of the facts or everything about the person.
  2. We are rarely impartial in our judgment.
  3. None of us is so perfect as to presume to judge any other person.
    (The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 119-120)
If these reasons aren’t enough to curb our tendency to judge other people, then heed Jesus’ warning: “The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”

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

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

* * * * *
(June 27, 2017: Tuesday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 13:2, 5-18     Ps 15:2-3a, 3bc-4ab, 5     Mt 7:6, 12-14

"Do to others whatever you would have them do to you…”

The “Golden Rule” has been around for a very long time. It predates Jesus, but it’s still important enough for Jesus to refer to it in the context of his “Sermon on the Mount”. It also predates St. Francis de Sales, but it is still important enough for him to refer to it in the context of his Introduction to the Devout Life. He wrote:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and him 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. Resolve to examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor as you would like his to be toward you were you in his place. This is the touchstone of true reason.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

The “Golden Rule” seems so simple, doesn’t it? It’s tempting to say, “You mean to tell me that living the Gospel boils down to doing something so simple? Heck, anybody can do that!” Maybe so, but we know that not everybody actually does does it when push comes to shove.

Do you?

* * * * *
(June 28, 2017: Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr)
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Gn 15:1-12, 17-18     Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9     Mt 7:15-20

“By their fruits you will know them…”

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

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

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

How would other people describe us by the fruits that they discover growing in and on us today?

Spirituality Matters 2017: June 15th - June 21st

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(June 15, 2017: Thursday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor 3:15—4:1, 3-6     Ps 85:9ab and 10, 11-12, 13-14     Mt 5:20-26

“Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

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

“Our free will is in no wise forced or necessitated by grace. In spite of the all-powerful strength of God’s merciful hand, which touches, enfolds and bends the souls with so many inspirations, calls and attractions, the human will remains perfectly free, unfettered, and exempt from every form of constraint and necessity. Grace is so gracious, and so graciously does it seize our hearts in order to draw them on, that it in no wise impairs the liberty of our will…grace has a holy violence, not to violate our liberty but to make it full of love…it presses us but does not oppress our freedom…” (Treatise 2: 12, p 133)

For a follower of Jesus, true freedom is not a matter of being able to do whatever you want – true freedom is wanting to be the best version of yourself and being willing to transform your liberty into love for God, self and others.

How might God ask you to be authentically free today?

* * * * *
(June 16, 2017: Friday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Mt 5:20-26     Ps 116:10-11, 15-16, 17-18     Mt 5:27-32

“We hold this treasure in earthen vessels…”

In Letters of Spiritual Direction, we read:

“In Salesian thinking the human person is believed to be made in the divine likeness and image. Drawn to union with divinity by the affinity of natures and propelled by the power of mutual love, the human person, no matter what his or her visible vocation, and a more compelling and far-reaching vocation – to realize his or her fullest capacity for love of God…With the whole of his or inner and outer capacities, a man or woman responds to the essential truth of human nature, a nature created and, though wounded by original sin, still capable, through an ever-increasingly identification with the living Jesus, of realizing the divine marriage to which it is drawn.” (LSD, p.36)

The life that God has bestowed on us is indeed a treasure. But then, the earthen vessels into which God has poured that gift of life – people like you and me – are treasures, also, to say nothing of being treasured by God.

Just today, how might we treasure the God-given earthen vessel in ourselves. How might we treasure the God-given earthen vessels in others?

* * * * *
(June 17, 2017: Saturday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor 5:14-21     Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12     Mt 5:33-37

“We are ambassadors for Christ…”

“Ambassador” is defined (among other things) as “a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity”.

As Christians, the ambassador par excellence of God’s love is no one other than Jesus himself. Son of God that he is, who else but Jesus shows us definitively how to be ambassadors of God’s life, God’s love, God’s healing, God’s mercy, God’s justice and God’s peace.

In an entry on Wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambassador ), the article cites three functions that lie at the heart of what an ambassador does:

  • Protecting citizens
  • Supporting prosperity
  • Working for peace

Jesus clearly attended to all three of these priorities during his earthly ministry. He met the needs of all of his Father’s children, especially the poor, the abandoned, the marginalized and forgotten (“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”). Jesus pursued prosperity for all people (“I have come that you might have life, and have life to the full”). Jesus worked for peace and promised the gift of peace to all those who believe in him (“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”).

By virtue of our creation and confirmed by our Baptism, we continue Christ’s work of being ambassadors of life, love healing, mercy, justice and peace – we are, indeed, ambassadors for and with Christ!

Today, what are some of the ways that we might be able to fulfill such a high calling for the people with whom we interact just today?

* * * * *
(June 18, 2017: Body and Blood of Christ)
* * * * *

Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a     Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20     1 Cor 10:16-17     Jn 6:51-58

“Do this in memory of me.”

Eucharist - a word that literally means thanksgiving - is the central celebration of the Christian community. It speaks volumes of whom God is in our lives. It speaks volumes of whom we are called to be in the lives of one another.

Eucharist is the heart of our faith.

Eucharist celebrates the truth that God so loves us that God sent Jesus to be our redeemer. Eucharist celebrates the truth that God so loves us that God allowed Jesus’ body to be broken and Jesus’ blood to be poured out for us. Eucharist celebrates the truth that God loves us so much that the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead that we might share in the power and promise of eternal life.

The former Eucharistic Prayer III for Children said it this way: Jesus “brought us the good news of life to be lived with you for ever in heaven. He showed us the way to that life here on earth; the way of love……He now brings us together to one table and asks us to do what he did.” The former Eucharistic Prayer II for Reconciliation told us that Jesus “has entrusted to us this pledge of his love”.

Eucharist celebrates the truth that we are called to do more than simply receive the body and blood of Christ. Eucharist celebrates the truth that we are – we must be – the body and blood of Christ for one another. Eucharist celebrates the truth that we are called to allow ourselves to be broken and poured out for others, to spend our lives in the pursuit of justice, peace, reconciliation, healing, freedom, life and love.

We are called to proclaim the death of the Lord in our willingness to be bread and wine for others. We are called to proclaim the death of the Lord - the power of the Lord - the promise of the Lord - in our willingness to lay down our lives, our talents and our efforts to continue the redeeming, saving work that Jesus began.

We demonstrate our Eucharistic dignity and Eucharistic destiny when we embrace Jesus’ command to “do this in memory” of him - not only by celebrating Eucharist on the first day of the week, but by being Eucharist for one another every day of the week by feeding, nourishing and forgiving one another.

Eucharist is not simply something that we receive. Eucharist is something that we must become. Eucharist is something to be shared with others. Eucharist, in short, is a way of life.

Especially today, let us be Eucharist for one another. Let us feed, nourish and forgive…in memory of him…in fellowship with one another.

* * * * *
(June 19, 2017: Monday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor 6:1-10     Ps 98:1, 2b, 3ab, 3cd-4     Mt 5:38-42

“Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.”

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

“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 by us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But in the meantime, in each passing moment 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)

Seen through the lens of Salesian spirituality, St. Paul’s exhortation makes absolute sense. The seed “of all eternity” isn’t found in the past; it isn’t found in the future. It is found only in each and every present moment as it comes!

Just this day.

* * * * *
(June 20, 2017: Tuesday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor 8:1-9     Ps 146:2, 5-6ab, 6c- 7, 8-9a     Mt 5:43-48

“The abundance of their joy and their profound poverty overflowed into a wealth of generosity...”

In Part III of his Introduction to the Devout Life Francis de Sales counseled:

“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches 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 one.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 165)

In his own words, Francis de Sales is describing what St. Paul witnessed in the early Christian community. People practiced the virtue of poverty by sharing their possessions with others and in the process enriched themselves as well.

In the Salesian tradition poverty isn’t about having nothing – poverty is about sharing what we have with others. Poverty isn’t about doing without – it’s about being generous with and to other people.

Today, how can we practice poverty, that is, how can we give to others with “a generous heart”?

* * * * *
(June 21, 2017: Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious
* * * * *

2 Cor 9:6-11     Ps 112:1bc-2, 3-4, 9     Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

“Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

“Karma” is a word that comes from Buddhist and Hindu traditions. It can be defined in many ways, for example:

  • the law of cause and effect
  • what goes around comes around
  • you reap what you sow
  • totally innocent victims are rare
  • no good deed goes unpunished
  • your actions create ripples that spread out, echo and constructively or destructively interfere with the ripples from the actions of others
St. Paul may have known nothing about karma, but in effect, it is this notion about which he wrote in today’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. For his part, Jesus tells us that whatever we do won’t simply come back to us, but that whatever we do will come back to us thirty, sixty and a hundred-fold!

As we heard yesterday in Part III of his Introduction to the Devout Life Francis de Sales counseled:

“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches 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 one.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 165)

What we do in this life does matter. In fact, everything we do has the potential for becoming a spiritual, moral and/or actual boomerang in our lives. God will repay us not only in the next life but even in this one.

So, what seeds for tomorrow will you sow bountifully - today?

Spirituality Matters 2017: June 8th - June 14th

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(June 8, 2017: Thursday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Tb 6:10-11; 7:1bcde, 9-17; 8:4-9a     Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5     Mk 12:28-34

“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

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

“Imagine yourself to be standing in an open field with your guardian angel and that you see the devil seated high upon a huge throne, attended by many infernal spirits and surrounded by a great throng of worldly people who, with uncovered heads, hail him as their lord and pay him homage, some by one sin and some by another. Note the faces of all the unfortunate courtiers of that abominable king. See how some of them are furious with hatred, envy and anger, while others are consumed with care and burdened down by worries as they think and strive to heap up wealth. See how others are bent upon their own vain pursuits that bring empty and unsatisfying pleasure and how others are defiled, ruined and putrefied by their brutish lusts. See how they are without rest, order and decency. See how they despise one another and make only a false show of love. In a word, you see a kingdom lying in ruins and tyrannized over by this accursed king.”

“In the other direction you see Jesus Christ crucified. With heartfelt love he prays for those poor tormented people so that they may be set free from such tyranny, and he calls them to himself. Around him you see a great throng of devout souls together with their guardian angels. Contemplate the beauty of this devout kingdom. How beautiful it is to see this throng of virgins – both men and women – all whiter than lilies, and this gathering of widows filled with sacred mortification and humility! See the crowded ranks of the married who live so calmly together in mutual respect, which cannot be attained without great charity. See how these devout souls wed care of the exterior house to that of the interior, that is, the love of their earthly spouse with that of the heavenly Spouse. Consider them all as a group and see how all of them in a holy, sweet and lovely manner attend our Lord and how they long to place Him in the center of their hearts. They are joyful, but with a gracious, loving and well-ordered joy. They love one another with a most pure and sacred love. Among these devout people those who suffer afflictions are not over-concerned about their sufferings and never lose courage. To conclude, look upon the eyes of the Savior who comforts them and see how all of then together aspire to Him” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 18, pp. 69-70)

Conversely, at any given moment in our lives we are, indeed, not far from the kingdom of God. However, it is also true that at any given moment in our lives we are likewise not far from the kingdom of Satan.

Today, which kingdom will you choose during the course of these moments -Satan’s or God’s?

* * * * *
(June 9, 2017: Friday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Tb 11:5-17     Ps 146:1b-2, 6c-7, 8-9a, 9bc-10     Mk 12:35-37

“The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the just. The LORD protects strangers.”

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

“You see this glass of water or that little piece of bread which a devout soul gave to some poor man in the name of God. It is a little matter, certainly, a thing almost unworthy of consideration according to human judgment. Yet, God rewards it and in return for it God immediately gives an increase in charity…A soul endowed with charity not only works naturally excellent but little deeds as well in holy love.” (LSD, Book III, Chapter 2, pp. 45-46)

The Lord loves the just. And who are the just? They are the people who raise up those who are bowed down and protect the stranger. Such examples may seem like little things, but in the eyes of God, little things mean a lot.

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(June 10, 2017: Saturday Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Tb 12:1, 5-15, 20     Tobit 13:2, 6efgh, 7, 8     Mk 12:38-44

“Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness.”

Part and parcel of the spiritual life is the need to closely examine our relationship with God, ourselves and one another in an ongoing manner. One dimension of this examination is acknowledging our need to name those sins, vices, weaknesses -- anything -- that prevent us from making real in thought, word and deeds our God-given dignity.

A popular way of ritualizing this inner journey is to fast – to “give up” something. Some people may refrain from tobacco; others may eschew alcohol; still others may pass on desserts. Some people may give up something good; other people may give up something bad, while still others may give up a combination of both.

Fasting, however, is only part of the program of self-discipline and self-mastery. In its fullest expression, feasting is also as important as fasting in the spiritual life.

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

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

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

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

Francis continued:

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

Whether through fasting or feasting, turning away from sin or turning toward virtue, living a life of devotion consists in integrating our spiritual interior in such a way as it can be seen as a source for good on the outside.

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(June 11, 2017: Most Holy Trinity)
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Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9     Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56     2 Cor 13:11-13     Jn 3:16-18

“Encourage one another. Live in harmony and peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

St. Francis de Sales had this to say about one of the most profound mysteries of our faith - the Triune Nature of God.

“From all eternity there is in God an essential communication by which the Father, in producing the Son, communicates his entire infinite and indivisible divinity to the Son. The Father and the Son together, in producing the Holy Spirit, communicate in like manner their own proper divinity to him. So also this sovereign sweetness was communicated so perfectly outside itself to a creature that the created nature and the godhead each retained its own properties while still being united together in such wise that they were only one self-same person…In short, God's supreme wisdom has decided to intermingle this original love with his creatures’ will in such wise that love would not constrain the will but leave it possessed of its freedom.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 2, Chapter 4)

What can we hope to consider or explain about the profound mystery of the Trinity in a way that makes a practical difference in our lives and in the lives of those we touch? For the sake of simplicity, let us look at each person of the Trinity in very broad strokes, looking at those activities – in our attempt to take in the mystery of the divine nature – which we associate with the Father, the Son and the Spirit in recalling the history of our salvation:

  • In the Trinity, we experience a Father who creates us out of love.
  • In the Trinity, we experience a Son who redeems and reconciles us out of love.
  • In the Trinity, we experience a Spirit who encourages and enlivens us out of love.

We are most like the Trinity when we establish and sustain in ourselves the things that most clearly reflect our God-given, Trinitarian nature - when we create, feed and nourish relationships in which we are redeemed, reconciled and inspired to live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the words of St. Paul, we are faithful to our divine dignity and destiny when we “encourage one another…living in harmony and peace…”

We are most like the Trinity when we forgive, when we are willing to let go of hurts, disappointment, injury and betrayal. We are most like the Triune Godhead when we inspire, encourage, challenge and support one another to do the same.

Today, might we best act in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit? How might we encourage (a word that literally means, “give heart to”) one another?

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(June 12, 2017: Monday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor1:1-7     Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9     Mt 5:1-12

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement…”

In his Spiritual Conferences, Francis de Sales observed:

“It is a good practice of humility not to study the actions of others save to discover their virtues, for as to their imperfections, as long as we are not in charge of them we must never turn either our eyes or our consideration in that direction. Whatever we see our neighbor do, we must always interpret another’s conduct in the best manner possible. In doubtful situations, we must persuade ourselves that what we may have noticed was not wrong, but that it was our own imperfection which caused us to think it was wrong. This helps us to avoid making rash judgments of the actions of others. Even in cases in which someone is doing something that is undoubtedly wrong, we must be full of compassion and humble ourselves for our neighbor’s faults as for our own, praying to God for their amendment with the same fervor as we should employ if we were subject to the same faults,”

God is the source of all compassion and encouragement. We imitate our God by being compassionate toward others when experiencing their faults and by encouraging others when witnessing their goodness.

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(June 13, 2017: Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church)
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2 Cor 1:18-22     Ps 119:129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 135     Mt 5:13-16    

"You are the salt of the earth.”

Today’s Gospel makes it crystal clear the kind of people that Jesus expected his disciples to be. Jesus challenged them to be “salt of the earth”.

In the time of Christ, salt was highly prized. Salt was indispensable as a preservative for food, especially meats, foul and fish. Obviously, salt was used as a seasoning. Salt added zest and tang to food, making it more palatable and enjoyable. Sometimes, new-born babies were rubbed with salt for what was believed to be medicinal purposes. Salt was even used to seal covenants of friendship (which were also called covenants of salt), inviolable and unbreakable covenants to be preserved for life.

Salt was considered to be as valuable as a person's life – in some cases, even more valuable than a person’s life. Soldiers were often paid for their work with bags of salt. In fact, the Latin word for salt is the root for the English word salary.

Ironic, isn’t it, that something so small is so powerful. Salt makes a huge difference even in very small quantities. A mere pinch has an effect out of all proportion to its weight. Yet, salt is inconspicuous, ordinary and often admixed with a variety of other common things. Take it away and you can tell immediately that it is missing. (Just ask anyone who has been on a salt-free diet.)

Like Jesus’ first disciples, we, too, must be salt of the earth. Jesus challenges us to preserve all that is good, loving and life-giving in life. Jesus commissions us to add zest to life with ingredients such as joy, laughter, enthusiasm, truth, peace, and justice. Jesus calls us to be a healing remedy for anxiety, alienation, marginalization and isolation. Jesus encourages us to immerse ourselves into the thick of things, to enrich and enliven the stew that is our lives. Jesus urges to use all of our God-given abilities, skills, time and talent for the benefit of others. In short, Jesus expects us to be worth our salt.

Jesus tells us, “You are the salt of the earth.” In our day and age, salt might be an everyday thing, but from Jesus’ perspective, being salt of the earth is everything. Just this day, how can we be salt of the earth in the lives of others?

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(June 14, 2017: Wednesday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor 3:4-11     Ps 99:5, 6, 7, 8, 9     Mt 5:17-19

“Our qualification comes from God…”

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

“The Sacred Council of Trent assures us that God’s friends, going from ‘strength to strength’ are ‘renewed from day to day’.” That is, by good works they increase their justice they have received from divine grace, and they are more and more justified in accordance with heavenly admonitions: He who is just, let him be justified still, and he who is holy, let him be sanctified still more.” (TLG, Book 3, Chapter 1, p. 163)

Our qualification – our justification – isn’t something we earn. Our qualification – our justification – is a gift from God. Our qualification – our justification – is from beginning to end a result of God’s grace.

However, our God-given qualification – our God-given justification – can be augmented by how we live our lives day in and day out. In other words, while our qualification – our justification – comes from God, God expects us to make good use of it by putting it to work for our own good and the good of one another.

Francis de Sales elaborated:

“We know from our own experience that plants and trees have not reached full growth and maturity until they have brought forth seeds and pods that serve to raise up other trees and plants of the same kind. Our virtues never come to full stature and maturity until they beget in us desires for progress, which, like spiritual seeds, serve for the production of new degrees of virtue. I think that the earth which is our heart has been commanded to bring forth plants of virtue bearing the fruits of holy works, ‘each one after its kind’, and having as seeds desires and plans of ever multiplying and advancing in perfection...In this world, nothing is either lasting or table, but even more especially it is said of man that ‘he never remains in the same state.’ It is necessary, then, for us to either move forward or to fall behind.” (TLG, Book 8, Chapter 7, pp. 75-76)

We are justified by God, but we can increase that justification by doing what is just for one another.

Spirituality Matters 2017: June 1st - June 7th

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(June 1, 2017: Justin, Martyr)
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Acts 22:30; 23:6-11     Ps 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11     Jn 17:20-26

“Take courage…”

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

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

Be brave; be confident; be courageous.

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

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

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(June 2, 2017: Easter Week Day)
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Acts 25:13b-21     Ps 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab     Jn 21:15-19

“Do you love me…?”

In the context of a post-Resurrection appearance, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” not once, not twice but three times. With all the sincerity that he can muster, Peter responds each time with, “You know I love you.” The Scripture passage also includes an interesting - and not unsurprising - observation: by the time that Jesus asks his question the third time, Peter has become distressed and agitated. It’s not a stretch to suggest that Peter may have been having a flashback of his threefold promise to stand by Jesus – even to the point of death – shortly before Jesus’ arrest, only to have Peter’s resolve fold like a five-dollar suitcase.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but perhaps Jesus is simply reminding Peter that when it comes to love, talk is cheap.

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

“Just as the dawn of day may be termed day, so complacence of the heart may be called love because it is the first step of love. However, just as the day’s true heart extends from the beginning of dawn to the end of sunset, so the true essence of love consists in movement…Let us state it thus: by complacence, the good takes, grasps and binds the heart, but by love it draws, conducts and leads the heart to itself. Complacence causes the heart to begin the journey, but love keeps it on the road and enables it to finish the journey. Complacence is an awakening of the heart, but love is the heart in action. Complacence makes the heart rise up, but love makes the heart move forward. Complacence may help us to spread our winds, but only love actually enables us to take flight.” (TLG, Book I, Chapter 7. p. 6)

Saying, “I love you” is easy. Showing, “I love you” is something else entirely. Is it any wonder, then that as this interchange between Jesus and Peter comes to some kind of resolution, Jesus’ final words to Peter are, “Follow me”? In other words, Jesus is saying: don’t just tell me you love me – show me you love me.”

Love begins with words – love ripens and matures with action.

Toady, how can we show Jesus that we love him?

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(June 3, 2017: Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs)
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Acts 28:16-20, 30-31     Ps 11:4, 5 and 7         Jn 21:20-25

“Who is the one who will betray you…?”

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

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

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

Each of us betrays Jesus when we sin.

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

Thanks be to God!

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(June 4, 2017: Pentecost)
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Acts 2:1-11     Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34     1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13     Jn 20:19-23

“Each of us hears them speaking in our own tongue about the marvels that God has accomplished.”

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

How was this possible?

Enflamed by the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were speaking the language of the heart. They were speaking with enthusiasm. They were speaking with gratitude. They were speaking with praise and thanksgiving. They were speaking from the core. They were speaking from the soul.

In short, they were speaking the universal language - the language of the heart.

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

As we know all too well from our own experience, there is more to communication than meets the eye, or for that matter, even the tongue or the ear. Communicating is often a lot easier said than done. We frequently misunderstand one another. We frequently presume to know what others are thinking or feeling. We frequently use the same words for which there are different meanings. We frequently have different ways of saying the same thing. We frequently hear, but we frequently fail to listen. We are always talking, but talking is not the same as communicating or speaking from one heart to another.

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

Francis de Sales offers this observation:

“Speak always of God as God, that is, reverently and devoutly, not with ostentation or affectation, but with a spirit of meekness, charity, and humility. Distill as much as you can of the delicious honey of devotion and of divine things imperceptibly into the ears of now one person and then of another. Pray to God in your soul that it may please God to make this holy dew sink deep into the hearts of those who hear you. It is wonderful how powerfully a sweet and amiable proposal of good things attracts to hearts of hearers.”

Today, how might we need to speak, to listen and to practice the language of love?

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(June 5, 2017: Boniface, Bishop and Martyr)
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Tb 1:3; 2:1a-8     Ps 112:1b-2, 3b-4, 5-6     Mk 12:1-12

“I…have walked all the days of my life on the paths of truth and righteousness.”

“Saint Boniface (Latin: Bonifatius) (c. 675? – 5 June 754), born Winfrid, Wynfrith, or Wynfryth in the kingdom of Wessex in Anglo-Saxon England, was a leading figure in the Anglo-Saxon mission to the German parts of the Frankish Empire during the 8th century. He established the first organized Christianity in many parts of Germany. He is the patron saint of Germany, the first archbishop of Mainz and the ‘Apostle of the Germans’. He was martyred in Frisia in 754, along with 52 others. His remains were returned to Fulda, where they rest in a sarcophagus which became a site of pilgrimage. Facts about Boniface's life and death - as well as his work - became widely known, since there is a wealth of material available - a number of vitae, especially the near-contemporary Vita Bonifatii auctore Willibaldi, and assorted legal documents, possibly some sermons, and above all, his correspondence.”

“Norman F. Cantor notes the three roles Boniface played that made him ‘one of the truly outstanding creators of the first Europe, as the apostle of Germany, the reformer of the Frankish church, and the chief fomenter of the alliance between the papacy and the Carolingian family.’ Through his efforts to reorganize and regulate the church of the Franks, he helped shape Western Christianity, and many of the dioceses he proposed remain today. After his martyrdom, he was quickly hailed as a saint in Fulda and other areas in Germany and in England. His cult is still notably strong today. Boniface is celebrated as a zealous missionary; he is regarded as a unifier of Europe, and he is seen (mainly by Catholics) as a German national figure.” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=29 )

Boniface did spend his life - and ultimately, gave his life - walking in the paths of truth and righteousness.

How might we follow his example in our own lives just this day?

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(June 6, 2017: Tuesday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Tb 2:9-14     Ps 112:1-2, 7-8, 9     Mk 12:13-17

“The heart of the just one is firm, trusting in the Lord.”

In a conference given to the Sisters of the Visitation on ‘Hope’ (July 1620), Francis de Sales remarked:

“O my God, how happy should we be if we can accustom ourselves to make this reply to our hearts when they are anxious and troubled about anything: ‘The Lord will provide,’ and after saying that, to have no more care, anxiety or disturbance…Great indeed is the confidence that God requires us to have in His paternal care and in His divine Providence. Why should we not have it, seeing that no one has ever been deceived in it? No one ever trusts in God without reaping the fruits of His confidence…Continue to trust in God. Do you think that the God who takes care to provide food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth – which neither sow nor reap – will ever forget to provide all that is necessary for the one who trusts wholly in His Providence, seeing that we are capable of being united to God, our sovereign good?” (Conferences, Conference VI, pp. 89-90)

Today, is your heart anxious or troubled about anything? Then, speak with God. Pray to God. Walk with God. And most importantly, trust in God and reap “the fruits of His confidence.”

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(June 7, 2017: Wednesday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Tb 3:1-11a, 16-17a     Ps 25:2-3, 4-5ab, 6 and 7bc, 8-9     Mk 12:18-27

“To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.”

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

“Consider the nobility and excellence of your soul. It is endowed with understanding, which knows not only this visible world but also that there are angels and a paradise. It knows that there is a God, most sovereign, most good and most ineffable. It knows that there is an eternity and knows also what manner is best designed for living well in this visible world so that our soul may be joined with the angels in paradise and enjoy God for all eternity. Moreover, your soul has a most noble will and that same will is capable of loving God...”

“‘O beauteous soul!’ you must acclaim, ‘Since you can know and desire God, why would you beguile yourself with any lesser thing? Since you can advance your claim to eternity, why should you beguile yourself with passing things? One of the prodigal son’s regrets was that he might have lived in plenty at his father’s table whereas he had eaten among the beasts. O my soul, you are made for God! Woe to you if you are satisfied with anything less that God! Raise your soul aloft on this consideration. Remind it that it is eternal and worthy of eternity. Fill it with courage for this project.” (IDL, Pat V, Chapter 10, pp. 282-283)

In the midst of all the things that you may experience and the people that you may encounter today, remember to lift up and to raise your soul aloft by reminding yourself of the respect and reverence with which you must treat yourself, worthy, as you might be, of eternity right here – right now – in this visible world. For that matter, remember to lift and raise up the souls of other people by also treating them with respect and reverence.

Worthy, as they also might be, of eternity in this visible world, too!