Spirituality Matters 2017: August 10rd - August 16th

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(August 10, 2017: Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr)
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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?

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(August 11, 2017: Clare, Virgin)
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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?

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(August 12, 2014: Jane Frances de Chantal, Wife, Mother, Religious and Founder)
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~ 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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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?

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(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.

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(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)
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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)
* * * * *

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!

Spirituality Matters 2017: May 25th - May 31st

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(May 25, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 18:1-8     Ps 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4     Jn 16:16-20

“He stayed with them and worked…”

This snippet from the Acts of the Apostles reveals something noteworthy about the person of Paul. It seems that when he wasn’t working at preaching in the synagogue, he was working to earn his keep – at least, as we are told, until Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia. Put another way, notwithstanding the important work that Paul was doing in Corinth, he did not take Pontus’ and Priscilla’s hospitality for granted. No, he did what he could to support himself, or at least, to make himself less of a burden.

That action on Paul’s part may have provided just as powerful a message – if not more so – than the preaching he did in the synagogue.

This action of Paul brings to mind the famous saying of St. Francis of Assisi (for whom St. Francis de Sales was named): “Preach always, and when necessary, use words.”

Just this day how can our attempts to do our part in supporting ourselves help us to appreciate what others do for us? How can our willingness to pitch in be an expression of our gratitude for the generosity of others?

OR

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(May 25, 2017: The Ascension of the Lord)
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Acts 1:1-11     Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9     Eph 1:17-23     Mt 28:19a, 20b

“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

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

The rest – as they say – is history.

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(May 26, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 18:9-18     Ps 47:2-3, 4-5, 6-7     Jn 16:20-23

“You will grieve but your grief will become joy…”

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

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

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

Over and over again!

* * * * *
(May 27, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 18:23-28     Ps 47:2-3, 8-9, 10     Jn 16:23b-28

"Ask and you shall receive…”

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

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

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

* * * * *

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(May 28, 2017: Ascension of the Lord)
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Acts 1:1-11     Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9     Eph 1:17-23     Mt 28:16-20

“Go, make disciples of all nations.”

In speaking on the mystery of the Ascension of Our Lord, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We forsake our merely human life in order to live a loftier life above ourselves. We hide all this new life in God with Jesus Christ who alone sees it, knows it and gives it. Our new life is heavenly love, which vivifies and animates our soul, and this love is wholly hidden in God and the things of God with Jesus Christ. As the sacred words of the Gospel say, after Jesus had shown himself for a little while to his disciples, he ascended up to heaven, and at length a cloud surrounded him, took him and hid them from their eyes. Jesus Christ, then, is hidden in heaven in God. Jesus Christ is our love, and our love is the life of our soul. Therefore our life is hidden in God with Jesus Christ, and when Jesus who is our love and therefore our spiritual life shall appear in the Day of Judgment, we shall also appear with him in glory. That is, Jesus Christ, our love, will glorify us by communicating to us his own joy and splendor.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book VII, Chapter 6)

Our life is indeed hidden in God. The deepest reality of whom we are is known only to God. Still, for Francis de Sales, living a life hidden in God is not the same as keeping that life a secret. No, it is about giving witness to the deepest truth of whom we are - and who God is - by the quality of our relationships with one another. Consequently, it is appropriate that Francis de Sales would desire us to practice the hidden virtues, “those little, humble virtues which grow like flowers at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of your family, with all the tasks that go with such things and with all that useful diligence that will not allow you to stand idle.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 35)

Through the Ascension, Jesus has been removed from our sight - at least, from the view of our physical sight. Nevertheless, the same authority that Jesus claimed from his Father is given to us by virtue of our creation and confirmed in our baptism. We are called to continue the work that Jesus began, that is, to make disciples -- followers, leaders, believers -- of all nations. We are called to be convincing signs of the ongoing redemptive and challenging activity of the Triune God, but in the simple, ordinary and everyday tasks of everyday life.

Paradoxically, to the extent that we are faithful to practicing the little virtues -- the hidden virtues -- that grow “at the foot of the cross”, Jesus is no longer hidden. He becomes clearly visible in our love, our concern, our pursuit of justice, our promotion of peace, our willingness to forgive and our attempts to heal.

What could be a more powerful - and convincing - way of making disciples of all nations?

Or, at the very least, the people with whom we interact every day.

OR

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(May 28, 2017: Seventh Sunday of Easter)
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Acts 1:12-14     Ps 27:1, 4, 7-8     1 Pt 4:13-16     Jn 17:1-11a

“When they entered the city…they devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.”

A prayer life is essential for those who wish to live a life of devotion. Francis de Sales described prayer as “a stream of holy water that flows forth and makes the plants of our good desires grow green and flourish and quenches the passions that lie within our hearts.” ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II, Chapter 1)

What is prayer? In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis wrote:

“Prayer, generally speaking, comprehends all the acts of contemplation...a conference or conversation with God...a discussion with the divine majesty...an ascent or elevation of the mind to God. To the extent that prayer is a colloquy, discussion, or conversation of the soul with God, then by prayer we speak to God and God in turn speaks to us. We aspire to God and breathe in God; God reciprocally inspires us and breathes upon us.” (Book VI, Chapter 1)

Of all the methods of prayer, Francis recommended “mental prayer, the prayer of the heart, and particularly that which centers on the life and passion of our Lord. By often turning your eyes on Christ in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with him. You will learn Christ’s ways and form your actions after the pattern of his.” (Introduction, Part II, Chapter 1)

Regarding Mental prayer. Meditation and Contemplation, Francis observed: “They might seem to be words from another world, so few people try to grasp their meaning.” (Pulpit and Pew, page 191) For many of us, therein lies the rub: we are intimidated by and/or are discouraged in our attempts to practice mental prayer. We tell ourselves that we aren’t good at it, we get too distracted or it requires too much time or effort.

And so we stop praying.

Francis was no stranger to the challenges of practicing mental prayer, meditation, contemplation or “prayer of the heart”. He realized that just as there are a variety of people and personalities, there is more than one way to pray. He mentions two other approaches: (1) Vocal prayer, and (2) prayer of life or good works. “Vocal prayer consists in making use of a ready-made formula of words provided for us, trying to mean what we say.” ( Pulpit and Pew, page 180) “The prayer of life is the prayer of our good deeds, a hidden prayer. The good deed treasured in poor peoples’ hearts speaks for us to God.” (Ibid, p. 181)

Common to these (and other) forms of prayer is the simple — yet powerful — act of asking. “All prayer implies asking God for something: God’s glory or our need. It is our duty to pray, for...although God has no need of our prayers, they are useful to us by keeping alive in us the sense of our obligations to God.” (Ibid)

Prayer is to the soul what breathing is to the body; neither can continue nor flourish without the other. But adapt your devotion and practice of prayer to the state, stage and circumstances of life in which you find yourself. Don’t make prayer more complicated than it needs to be, while keeping it as important as it ought to be.

A story is told of a novice who, in the course of a monthly interview, told his novice master that, much to the former’s embarrassment and frustration, he was convinced that he could not pray deeply. The novice master replied: “If you cannot pray deeply, at least be a deep person...who prays.”

However deep, shallow, long or short, devote yourself to prayer any way, all ways...each and every day.

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(May 29, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 19:1-8     Ps 68:2-3ab, 4-5acd, 6-7ab     Jn 16:29-33

“In the world you will have trouble but take courage...”

In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (dealing with Christ’s prediction of persecution in the last two verses of the Beatitudes), William Barclay wrote the following:

“One of the outstanding qualities of Jesus was his sheer honesty. He never left men in any doubt what would happen to them if they chose to follow him. He was clear that he had come ‘not to make life easy, but to make men great’.” (The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 111)

Jesus – in his sheer honesty – tells us to expect trouble; Jesus – in his sheer honesty - doesn’t promise to shield or protect us from trouble. He does, however, challenge us to take courage, that is, to be people of heart. Recall some of the lyrics in a song from the musical Damn Yankees:

You've gotta have heart
All you really need is heart.
When the odds are sayin' you'll never win
That's when the grin should start.


When your luck is battin' zero
Get your chin up off the floor.
Mister you can be a hero
You can open any door.


You've gotta have heart
Miles 'n miles n' miles of heart.
Oh, it's fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart.
First you've gotta have heart.

Who minds those pop bottles flyin'?
The hisses and the boos
The team has been consistent
Yeah, we always lose
But we're laughin' cause... We've got heart
We've got heart... We've got heart

So, for what will you pray today? Will you ask God to spare you from trouble or will you ask God for the courage to deal with any trouble – big or small – that may come your way? Either way, be it with or without trouble being a person of courage is its own reward!

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(May 30, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 20:17-27     Ps 68:10-11, 20-21     Jn 17:1-11a

“This is eternal life: that they should know you, the only true God and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ…”

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Christ.

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(May 31, 2017: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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Rom 12:9-16     Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6     Lk 1:39-56    

“Anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal…”

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

One of the hallmarks of the Salesian tradition is this notion of “anticipating the need of our neighbor”. This quality invites us to be “on the lookout” for opportunities to do good for others. Simple things like holding open a door for another, offering to help carry someone’s groceries, assisting someone who may have dropped something on the floor, checking in on someone who’s under the weather, being the first to greet someone or to call someone by name, asking how someone is doing today. These actions are ordinary, everyday ways of honoring others by simply acknowledging their presence, by recognizing that they exist.

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2017: May 18th - May 24th

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(May 18, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 15:7-21     Ps 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 10     Jn 15:9-11

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

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

The Gift of Knowledge

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

Mere human knowledge only enables us to know the difference between good and evil. Just hearing God’s word doesn’t guarantee the ability to follow it! The Spirit’s gift of knowledge, by contrast, actually enables us to turn away from what is evil and to put our hands to doing what is good.

Francis concludes with this observation.

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

Many practicing Jews – considered knowledgeable of the Law and Prophets – rejected Jesus. Many Gentiles – considered by these same Jews – to be ignorant of the Law and Prophets – accepted Jesus! Tough pill for some to swallow.

The Gift of Understanding

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

There is no substitute for the knowledge that helps us to grow in our understanding of the ways of the Lord. However, we must be careful not to allow knowledge to take the place of understanding - ultimately, this became the Achilles’ heel of many of the Jews of Jesus’ day. While Francis de Sales recognizes the need to know the difference between good and evil (and, by extension, to actually do good and to actually avoid evil), such knowledge only comes to full flowering when we demonstrate our understanding of God’s ways through our practice of the Beatitude,; that is, by being sources of blessing, happiness and joy in the lives of others!

Today, how will Jesus make our joy complete? By helping us to be sources – perhaps even signs and wonders - of joy in the lives of one another!

(Based upon a sermon preached by St. Francis de Sales on the feast of Pentecost, date unknown. Translation from Pulpit and Pew: A Study in Salesian Preaching. Vincent Kerns, MSFS.)

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(May 19, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 15:22-31     Ps 57:8-9, 10 and 12     Jn 15:12-17

“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden...”

“Living Jesus” is not always easy. “Living Jesus” brings with it its share of difficulties and challenges. “Living Jesus” will certainly stretch us and challenge us to be more of the people that God calls us to be.

But one thing that “Living Jesus” is not supposed to be is burdensome.

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

“True devotion does us no harm whatsoever, but instead perfects all things. It not only doers no injury to one’s vocation or occupation, but on the contrary adorns and beautifies it. All kinds of precious stones take on greater luster when dipped into honey, each according to its color. In the same way every vocation becomes more agreeable when united with devotion. Care of one’s family is rendered more peaceable, love of husband and wife more sincere, service to one’s prince more faithful and every type of employment more pleasant and agreeable.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 3, p. 44)

If your practice of devotion is weighing you down, you must be doing something wrong. If your attempts at “Living Jesus” make your everyday life more complicated, something’s not right. Perhaps you’re trying too hard. Or, worse yet, maybe you’re trying to “Live Jesus” all by yourself.

Take Jesus at his word! Go to him when you find life burdensome. Let him refresh you. Take up his yolk and learn from him, for he is meek and humble of heart. And you’ll find rest for your soul, for his yolk is easy, and his burden light.

And if you let him, Jesus might even put a spring in your step - today!

* * * * *
(May 20, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 16:1-10     Ps 100:1b-2, 3, 5         Jn 15:18-21

"No slave is greater than the master…”

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

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

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

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(May 21, 2017: Sixth Sunday of Easter)
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Acts 8:5-8, 14-17     Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20     1 Pt 2:4-9     Jn 14:15-21

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus promises to ask the Father to send an Advocate (sometimes translated as Paraclete) to accompany his disciples.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English language defines advocate as: (1) “One who argues for a cause: a supporter or defender; (2) One that pleads in another’s behalf: an intercessor; (3) a lawyer.”

In addition, the dictionary notes that the word advocate comes from the Latin advocatus, past participle of advocare, to summon for counsel. Important derivatives include: vocal, voice, vowel, equivocal, vocation, vouch, advocate, avocation, evoke, invoke, provoke, revoke and epic.

The one derivative that catches my eye is vouch. In this context, this Advocate, this Paraclete, this Holy Spirit will vouch for those who follow Jesus. Put another way, this Advocate is someone who stands up for us.

But hold on, there’s even more! How many of us fail to notice that Jesus promises his disciples “another” Advocate? Unless I’m missing something here, “another” presumes that this is not the first Advocate; rather, this is a subsequent Advocate which, of course, begs the question: Well, who was the previous Advocate?

The answer - Jesus himself! Jesus stood up for us by becoming one of us, by becoming one with us and by becoming one for us. Jesus stood up for us by living with us, by laboring for us, by loving us and dying for us that we might one day stand up forever through the power and by the promise of the resurrection.

But wait. It seems that we still have one more Advocate to acknowledge - God, Yahweh, the Father.

God stood up for us by creating something out of nothing. God stood up for us by bringing form out of chaos. God stood up for us through Creation by giving us a share in God’s own divine image and likeness. God stood up for us through the Incarnation by taking on our human image and likeness.

In a word, it seems that God, our Eternal Advocate, is, among other things, a “stand up guy.”

As children of God, as brothers and sisters of Jesus, as temples of the Holy Spirit we, too, are called to be Advocates. We are called to stand up for what is just; we are called to stand up for what is right; we are called to stand up for what is peaceable; we are called to stand up for what is fair. And especially as members of the Salesian tradition, we are called to stand up for all that is of God in ways that are both courteous and considerate.

God has stood up for us by creating us, by redeeming us and by inspiring us. What better way in there to express our gratitude than through our willingness to stand up for one another?

Today!

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(May 22, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 16:11-15     Ps 149:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6a and 9b     Jn 15:26—16:4a

“I have told you this so that you may not fall away…”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(May 23, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 16:22-34     Ps 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 7c-8     Jn 16:5-11

"Where are you going…?”

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

- “By My Side” (Godspell, 1971)

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

Put yourself in their position. As Jesus keeps talking about going back to the Father, they are surely tempted to ask the question: “Where are you going?”. But if you dig a little bit deeper, the question that they’d really like to ask is: “Why can’t you stay?”. Either way, they are struggling with the fear of losing Jesus. They are struggling with the prospect of being left alone to fend for themselves.

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

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

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

Whether we actually see him or not, Jesus assures us that he is always with us through the outpouring – and indwelling – of the Holy Spirit.

Do you believe?

* * * * *
(May 24, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 17:15, 22—18:1     Ps 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14     Jn 16:12-15

“The Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth…”

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

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

Jesus promises that the “Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth.” How do we know, then, that the Spirit dwells in us? How do other people know that the Spirit dwells in us? We do - when we do our level best to tell the truth, when we do our level best to speak the truth, and when we do our level best to be truthful, truth-filled people.

Spirituality Matters 2017: May 11th - May 17th

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(May 11, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 13:13-25     Ps 89:2-3, 21-22, 25 and 27     Jn 13:16-20

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(May 12, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 13:26-33     Ps 2:6-7, 8-9, 10-11ab     Jn 14:1-6

“Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

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

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

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

* * * * *
(May 13, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 13:44-52     Ps 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4     Jn 14:7-14

"The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And perhaps even find joy in that!

* * * * *
(May 14, 2017: Fifth Sunday of Easter)
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Acts 6:1-7     Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19     1 Pt 2:4-9     Jn 14:1-12

“Do not let you hearts be troubled. Have faith in God; have faith in me.”

William Barclay sets the context for Jesus’ assurance to his disciples in today’s Gospel. “In a very short time life for the disciples was going to collapse. Their world was going to disintegrate in chaos all around them. At such a time there was only one thing to do: stubbornly hold on to trust in God… There comes a time when we have to believe what we cannot prove and to accept what we don’t always understand. If, in the darkest hour, we believe that somehow there is a purpose in life and that this purpose is love, even the unbearable becomes bearable and even in the darkness there is a glimmer of light.”

There are many things in life that can trouble our hearts. Worldwide, we witness the ravages of terrorism, the violence of religious intolerance, the hatred of cultural and social genocide and the devastation of natural disasters. On the domestic front, Americans appear polarized around the uncertainties associated with such issues as national security, social security, energy independence and affordable health care. Even closer to home, we harbor concerns and anxieties about families, friends, other loved ones…perhaps, even ourselves

Truth is that there is always something, be it global or local, which distracts our minds and troubles our hearts.

In the face of these difficulties and so many other things that seize our hearts, Jesus asks us to have faith in God. In the face of all that shakes our faith, Jesus asks us to have faith in him.

St. Francis de Sales observed:

“What can I say to stop the flux of these thoughts in your heart? Do not strive to heal yourself of them, for such anxious striving would make your heart sicker... Do not struggle to overcome these anxieties, for this effort would simply strengthen them…Fix your mind on Christ crucified.” He continued by concluding “If the whole world turns topsy-turvy, if all around us is darkness and smoke and din, yet God is still with us. For 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 keep close to God?” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 125)

There are those times in all our lives when we have done all we can to address a concern and need to leave the rest to God. There are other times when we do not even have a clue as to how to address a situation and need to place our trust in God. The wisdom of Francis de Sales’ advice is to recognize that to the extent that we allow our hearts to be troubled we lose the strength or ability to deal with those very things that trouble our hearts in the first place. Placing our trust in God – placing our trust in Jesus – placing our trust in the Spirit – better enables us to know how to better trust ourselves and others in dealing with the challenges of life. Placing our trust in God also reminds us that trusting ourselves and trusting others – even those we love the most – has its limits.

Placing our faith in God does not guarantee how the mystery of life will unfold. However, placing our faith in God should always be our first step in entering life’s mysteries more deeply…and faithfully.

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(May 15, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 14:5-18     Ps 115:1-2, 3-4, 15-16     Jn 14:21-26

“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me…”

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

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

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

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

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(May 16, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 14:19-28     Ps 145:10-11, 12-13ab, 21     Jn 14:27-31a

“Peace I leave you; my peace I give you…”

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

“God wishes our care to be a calm and peaceful one as we proceed faithfully along the road marked out for us. As for the rest, we should rest in God’s fatherly care, trying as far as is possible to keep our soul at peace, for the place of God is in peace and in the peaceful and restful heart. You know that when the lake is very calm – and when the winds do not agitate its waters – on a very serene night the sky with all its stars is so perfectly reflected in the water that looking down into its depths the beauty of the heavens is as clearly visible as if we were looking up on high. So when our soul is perfectly calm, unstirred and untroubled by the winds of superfluous cares, unevenness of spirit and inconstancy it is very capable of reflecting in itself the image of Our Lord.” (Conference III, On Constancy, pp. 50-51)

Why were people able to see reflections of the Father in the person of his son, Jesus? Because in the depths of his soul – in his heart of hearts – Jesus managed to rest in his Father’s care. No matter what happened around him on any given day, Jesus was able to keep himself “calm, unstirred and untroubled”. If we are having trouble seeing reflections of that same Father in ourselves (or others), perhaps it is because we have some work to do in our own efforts to remain “calm, unstirred and untroubled” as we try to “proceed faithfully along the road marked out for us”.

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(May 17, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 15:1-6     Ps 122:1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5     Jn 15:1-8

“Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit…”

From the perspective of St. Francis de Sales, the fruit that first comes to mind when hearing these words from Jesus is the most important fruit of all: charity or the love of God. Of course, this fruit-of-fruits is manifested in a whole host of ways. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

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

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

Simply put, how much – and what kind of – fruit do we bear?

Spirituality Matters 2017: May 4th - May 10th

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(May 4, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 8:26-40     Ps 66:8-9, 16-17, 20     Jn 6:44-51

“How can I understand…unless someone instructs me?”

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

The Gift of Knowledge

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

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

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

The Gift of Understanding

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

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

Understand?

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(May 5, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 9:1-20     Ps 117:1bc, 2     Jn 6:52-59

“Who are you?”

This question that Saul raises after falling to the ground and hearing a voice speaking to him is immortalized in our culture by Pete Townsend (and the group “The Who”) as the name of both an album and a song that débuted in 1978. The song raising this question “Who are you?” is also the theme to the CBS TV hit series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Setting aside the Top 40 charts and the Nielsen Ratings, the question that Saul asks of Jesus is worth being directed at each and every one of us: “Who – are – you?” Francis de Sales answers the question by asking us to consider the following:

  • “Consider that a certain number of years ago you were not yet in the world and that your present being was truly nothing.”

  • “Consider that God has drawn you out of nothingness to make you what you are now and he has done so solely out of his own goodness.”

  • “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 his Divine majesty.”
(IDL, Part I, Chapter 9, pp. 53-54)

Who are you? You are someone created by God. You are someone called to grow in union with God in this world. You are someone destined for eternal life in the next world. Most importantly, you are someone loved by God.

Just today what steps can you take to be the very best version of the person God calls you to be?

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(May 6, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 9:31-42     Ps 116:12-13, 14-15, 16-17     Jn 6:60-69

“How shall I make a return to the Lord?”

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

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

  • “Give thanks to the Lord. ‘Bless your God, O my soul, and let all my being praise his holy name,’ for his goodness has drawn me out of nothing and his mercy has created me.”
  • “Offer. O my God, with all my heart I offer you the being you have given me. I dedicate and consecrate it to you.”
  • “Pray. O God, strengthen me in these affections and resolutions.”
Today, how can I make a return to the Lord? The answer - by being the person that God has created me to be and by encouraging others to do the same!!

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(May 7, 2017: Fourth Sunday of Easter)
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Acts 2:14a, 36-41     Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b4, 5, 6     1 Pt 2:20b-25     Jn 10:1-10

“If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.”

We hear echoes of this first Letter of Peter in one of St. Jane de Chantal's exhortations to the members of her community, the Sisters of the Visitation. She remarked:

“Let us look to our Savior in the excess of his sufferings and the excess of his love. Let us keep our hearts always on these things, so that our divine Savior may communicate and give us the strength to suffer the things that his adorable hand may send us.” (Conferences, page 255)

How can our suffering ever compare with the suffering that Jesus experienced? If we are speaking about the suffering of the last day of his human life, there really is no comparison. However, if we consider the suffering that accompanies the efforts to suffer - that is, to bear with - others, we actually have a great deal more in common with Jesus' suffering than we might otherwise think.

Look at the word “suffering” itself. Suffering is not only about “putting up” with something difficult, harmful or painful. Suffering comes from the Latin sufferre, meaning, “to carry, to bear, to give birth…or life.”

Made in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by the love of Christ and inspired by the Spirit, we all have a responsibility to carry - to live our lives for others. We are called to carry the responsibility to love one another, to help one another, to challenge one another, to heal one another, to forgive one another and to encourage one another. Children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, we carry the burdens and inconveniences that come with living lives of generous service.

In short, we are called to live as Jesus lived……and to carry, to bear with whatever may come with that life choice. “It was for this that you were called, since Christ suffered for you and left you an example, to have you follow in his footsteps.”

St. Jane clearly recognized the suffering, the inconvenience, the stretching that living for others will bring:

“We must have a large heart toward our neighbor, which means in affection, love and help, being ever ready to serve, to assist, to comfort, bear with and support in every way in our power, but cheerfully and cordially. A large heart is a heart ready for all sorts of inconveniences, an open heart that loves before all things the will of God.” (Conferences, page 174)

This is God's will for us - that we should not endure a suffering that leads to death, but a suffering that leads, as St. Jane observed, “to a new life, in God's grace and in God's love, in this world, and then forever in glory…,” the suffering that comes from bearing with - carrying - one another in love. (Conferences, page 117 - 118) Or, as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, (4:2) let us live a life worthy of our calling, being completely humble and gentle, bearing with one another lovingly.

Today and every day!

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(May 8, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 11:1-18     Ps 42:2-3; 43:3, 4     Jn 10:11-18

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold…”

Jesus wants us to “have life, and to have it to the full” (John 10:10). That’s why Jesus cares so much for us. That’s why Jesus is the good shepherd who loves us so much that he is willing to lay down his life for us.

And lay down his life is exactly what the Good Shepherd did!

But the people saved by the Good Shepherd are not some exclusive club. There is no “in” group or “out” group when it comes to God’s love. Whether of his “fold” or not, Jesus lays down his life for everyone. Note that he says: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Truth be told, all of us are members of Jesus’ flock. Truth be told, Jesus is for all of us – without exception – our one, Good Shepherd.

Just today, how might we listen to the voice of this Shepherd in ourselves and in one another?

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(May 9, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 11:19-26     Ps 87:1b-3, 4-5, 6-7     Jn 10:22-30

"He rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart...”

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

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

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

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

With respect to tenderness of heart and firmness of heart, both have their place in the pursuit of holiness. Tenderness of heart can help us to enjoy the good times; firmness of heart can help us get through the tough times.

Today, what kind of heart might you need to have today?

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(May 10, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 12:24—13:5a     Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6 and 8     Jn 12:44-50

“His commandment is eternal life…”

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

“Many men keep the commandments in the same way that sick men take medicine – more from fear of dying in damnation than for the joy of living according to our Savior’s will. Just as some people dislike taking medicine – now matter how pleasant it may be – simply because it is called medicine, so there are some souls who hold in horror things commanded simply because they are commanded. On the contrary, a loving heart loves the commandments. The more difficult they are the sweeter sand more agreeable it finds them since this more perfectly pleases the beloved and gives him greater honor. It pours forth and sings hymns of joy when God teaches it his commandments. The pilgrim who goes on his way joyously singing adds the labor of singing to that of walking, and yet by this increase of labor he actually lessens his weariness and lightens the hardship of the journey. In like manner the devout lover finds such sweetness in the commandments that nothing in this mortal life comforts and refreshes him so much as the precious burden’s of God’s precepts.” (TLG, Book XIII, Chapter 5, pp. 67-68)

Perhaps in this observation from Francis de Sales we can hear the echo of Jesus’ words from Matthew 11: 29 – 30: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

Seeing the commandments of God as strong medicine that cures our sickness can surely weigh us down, but seeing the commandments of God as that which keep us healthy can surely lift us up.

How will you see – and experience – God’s commandments today - as burden or bounty?

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Spirituality Matters 2017: April 27th - May 3rd

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(April 27, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 5:27-33     Ps 34:2 and 9, 17-18, 19-20     Jn 3:31-36

“The one who is of earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things…

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

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

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

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

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(April 28, 2017: Weekday)
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Acts 5:34-42     Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14     Jn 6:1-15

“What good are these for so many?”

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

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

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

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(April 29, 2017: Catherine of Sienna, Virgin & Doctor of the Church)
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Acts 6:1-7     Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19     Jn 6:16-21

“The eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him…”

“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me…”

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

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

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

How might we imitate St. Catherine’s example in our attempts to ‘fear’ the Lord by doing the ordinary tasks that will be part and parcel of our experience - just today?

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(April 30, 2017: Third Sunday of Easter)
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Acts 2:14, 22-33     Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11     1 Pt 1:17-21     Lk 24:13-35

“They recounted how they had come to know him in the breaking of the bread.”

“Two disciples were making their way to a village named Emmaus. In the midst of their lively exchange, Jesus approached and began to walk along with them.”

We know that during most of this seven-mile walk with Jesus, the two disciples failed to recognize the true identity of their traveling companion. It was not until they were seated at table with him - and Jesus broke and shared bread with them - that their eyes were finally opened.

What was it about such a simple act that enabled them to recognize Jesus? Undoubtedly, it reminded them of that powerful moment that directly preceded Christ's betrayal, passion and death: the Last Supper. In addition, it may have reminded them of countless experiences of table fellowship with Jesus and the other disciples: simple, personal and intimate opportunities to understand more about Jesus' - and their own - identity. The ordinary - but profound - act of breaking and sharing bread had become for them a gateway to experiencing the divine precisely in the midst of everyday, human events. On an even broader scale, it may have reminded them of the experience of communion and community that they experienced with Jesus and their fellow travelers throughout all the ups, downs and in-betweens of living, learning and loving together.

The connection of this story to the Church's eventual understanding of communion was not lost on St. Francis de Sales. In his book entitled On the Preacher and Preaching, he wrote: "It is certain that since our Lord is really within us, he gives us brightness, for he is the light. After the disciples at Emmaus had communicated, 'their eyes were opened.'" (page 26) In our celebration as we gather around the table of the Lord, we are challenged to see both how Christ is present in the Eucharist and how Christ is present in us.

Still, we need to expand our notion of communion in order to more deeply understand the meaning of this scene in the Gospel. Jesus is especially present whenever there is table fellowship; He is embodied whenever people allow themselves to be broken and shared with - and for - others. Jesus is seen whenever people focus more on what brings them together and less upon those things that would drive them apart.

When we break bread with others - literally or figuratively - the ongoing power and promise of the risen Christ is made manifest to us. When we choose to break ourselves open to nourish and feed others, we embody in our own day and age something of the same Jesus who companioned these two disciples so long ago.

Two questions to consider today might be:

  • Do we recognize Jesus in our attempts to feed others?
  • Do we recognize Jesus when others attempt to do the same for us?
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(May 1, 2017: Joseph the Worker)
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Acts 6:8-15     Ps 119:23-24, 26-27, 29-30     Jn 6:22-29

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

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

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

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

Devotion enables us to follow the law of the Lord. Devotion enables us “to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired.” (Ibid) Such devotion enables us to experience the blessings of life for ourselves; this same devotion enables us to be a blessing in the lives of others.

Today, might we follow the law of the Lord?

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(May 2, 2017: Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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Acts 7:51—8:1a     Ps 31:3cd-4, 6 and 7b and 8a, 17 and 21ab     Jn 6:30-35

“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?”

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

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

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

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

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(May 3, 2017: Philip and James, Apostles)
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1 Cor 15:1-8     Ps 19:2-3, 4-5     Jn 14:6-14

“Hold fast to the word I preached to you…’

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

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

While not all of us are called to preach from a pulpit, all of us are called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ through our actions. When we preach to others through the lives we attempt to live, do they find themselves a more – or less – abundant life?

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Spirituality Matters 2017: April 20th - April 26th

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(April 20, 2017: Thursday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 3:11-26     Ps 8:2ab and 5, 6-7, 8-9     Lk 24:35-48

“The disciples recounted how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of bread…”

“Breaking bread…” Sharing food, sharing drink, sharing a meal. Something so simple, but it is in the context of such a common, ordinary, everyday human experience that the Risen Christ reveals himself!

Of course, “breaking bread” isn’t just about food and drink. It speaks of relationship; it speaks of intimacy; it speaks of welcoming another; it speaks of being home with another; it speaks of sharing who we are with another.

In the space of any given week how many times do we “break bread” with others? Have you ever stoped to think how the Risen Christ may be trying to reveal something of himself in the context of these common, ordinary and everyday human experiences in extraordinary ways?

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(April 21, 2017: Friday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 4:1-12     Ps 118:1-2 and 4, 22-24, 25-27a     Jn 21:1-14

“He learned obedience from what he suffered…”

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

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

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

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

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(April 22, 2017: Saturday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 4:13-21     Ps 118:1 and 14-15ab, 16-18, 19-21     Mk 16:9-15

“Perceiving them as uneducated, ordinary men, the leaders, elders and scribes were amazed [at] the companions of Jesus…”

Recall the words of Jesus in Chapter 11:25 of Matthew’s Gospel: “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the clever, and you have revealed them to children…”

William Barclay made the following observation about Jesus’ statement:

“Jesus is speaking out of his own experience, the experience that the Rabbis and the wise men rejected him, and the simple people accepted him. The intellectuals had no use for him; the humble welcomed him. We must be careful to see clearly what Jesus meant here. He is very far from condemning intellectual power; what he is condemning is intellectual pride. As Plummer has it, ‘The heart – not the head – is the home of the Gospel.’ It is not cleverness which shuts out; it is pride. It is not stupidity which admits; it is humility. A man may be as wise as Solomon, but if he lacks the simplicity, the trust and the innocence of the childlike heart, he shuts himself out.” (Daily Study Bible, Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, pp. 13 – 14)

Francis de Sales tells us that love of knowledge is a good thing. However, knowledge is only valuable to the extent that it empowers us to love. It’s not enough to know about God – we are invited to love God.

And to love one another!

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(April 23, 2017: Resurrection of the Lord)
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Acts 2:42-47     Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24     1 Pt 1:3-9     Jn 20:19-31

“He showed them his hands and his side.”

In the wake of Jesus' crucifixion and death, the apostles in fear were locked away together because they were afraid that they might suffer the same fate as their teacher.

Despite their anxious seclusion, Jesus breaks into their lives. Not merely into the physical space in which they were taking refuge, but he also breaks into the space of their minds and hearts. Jesus attempts to calm their fears; he challenges them to be at peace; he does this in a rather confrontational and mysterious manner: by showing them the wounds in his hands and side.

The transforming power of the Resurrection did not remove the scars of Jesus' woundedness, the lasting marks of pain, disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection, humiliation, abandonment, suffering and death. Notwithstanding these wounds, however, Christ's resurrection powerfully demonstrated that pain, sadness, suffering and injustice did not, ultimately, enjoy the last word. While suffering is clearly a part of life, there is much more to life than suffering.

St. Francis de Sales wrote:

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

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

The Scripture commentator William Barclay once wrote: “Jesus did not come to make life easy. He came to make us great!” Jesus clearly demonstrates in his own life that our wounds do not necessarily need to overwhelm or disable us. While these wounds may be permanent, they need not rob us of the power and promise of recovery, of renewal - of resurrection - unless we despair and we allow ourselves to be defeated by the nails of negativity. When you come right down to it, the only thing greater than adversity is the ability – literally – to rise above it.

The wounds of our past continue to leave their marks in our present: they don't necessarily determine the course of our future. Turn to the love of Jesus who knows what it means to be wounded and who shows us how to move through and beyond them. St. Francis de Sales wrote: “Look often on Christ, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, and overwhelmed by every kind of weariness, sadness, sorrow and labor.” Jesus triumphed over and through the wounds of his humanity. So too, with God's help, can we.

To be sure, life can be tough. But as we see in the life of Jesus, there is something in life even stronger than being tough: God’s transforming love!

What could be more merciful – more generous – than that?

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(April 24, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 4:23-31     Ps 2:1-3, 4-7a, 7b-9     Jn 3:1-8

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness…”

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

Not so for Peter and John. No sooner had they been released from imprisonment that they resumed proclaiming the Good News publically with vim and vigor, apparently without much – if any – care or concern about their own health, wealth or welfare. There can be no doubt that the Pharisees, Scribes and Elders might have considered Peter and John to be – in their own way – “bold, brazen articles”! Then again, these same Pharisees, Scribes and Elders had the same opinion of Jesus.

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

In those moments, do we have the courage to do so?

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(April 25, 2017: Mark, Evangelist)
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1 Pt 5:5b-14     Ps 89:2-3, 6-7, 16-17     Mk 16:15-20

“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…” (1 Peter 5: 5B-14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(April 26, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 5:17-26     Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9     Jn 3:16-21

“Whoever lives the truth comes to the light so that his works may be clearly seen…”

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2017: April 13th - April 19th

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(April 13, 2017: Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper)
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Ex 12:1-8, 11-14     Ps 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18     1 Cor 11:23-26     Jn 13:1-15

“Do you realize what I have done for you?”

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

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

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

Even to this very moment!

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(April 14, 2017: Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion)
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Is 52:13—53:12     Ps 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25     Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9     Jn 18:1—19:42

“He learned obedience from what he suffered…”

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

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

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

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

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(April 15, 2017: Holy Saturday – At the Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter)
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"God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good…”

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

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

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

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

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(April 16, 2017: Resurrection of the Lord)
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Acts 10:34a, 37-43     Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23     Col 3:1-4     Jn 20:1-9    

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

The above quote from St. Francis de Sales is the central mystery of our faith. Jesus, allowing himself to be consumed with passion for righteousness and swallowed by death has in turn, conquered death once and for all with the power that is the promise of eternal life.

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

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

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

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

Be certain of one thing - the daily dying to self that is part of living a passionate life is not about dying, stripping and letting go for its own sake. No, it is all of what we may be purified in order that we might live more faithfully and effectively lives of divine passion and compassion. God does not desire that we die to self out of self-deprecation, but that we die to self in order that, paradoxically, we may actually be more of whom God calls us to be.

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

This glory and honor is not just reserved for heaven. To the extent that we die a little each day and experience the fidelity of God's love in the midst of all adversity, trials, struggles and “letting go,” we can experience something of the resurrection every day.

And what better day is there for us to begin this journey?

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(April 17, 2017: Monday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 2:14, 22-33     Ps 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11     Mt 28:8-15

“Do not be afraid...”

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

In a letter he wrote to Jane de Chantal on the 6th of August 1606, Francis de Sales gave the following counsel:

“St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, was afraid. As soon as he was frightened, he began to sink and to drown, leading him to cry 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 the winds could not make him sink, but fear of the wind and waves will make him perish unless his master saves him. Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself. O daughter 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?” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 125)

What is there to fear? Great question! Perhaps that question is the first step to not being afraid. Perhaps that question is also the first step to avoid living in fear: to name what it is that you are tempted to fear.

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(April 18, 2017: Tuesday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 2:36-41     Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20 and 22     Jn 20:11-18

“You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…”

In today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles we hear St. Peter speaking of the gift – singular – of the Holy Spirit! Generally speaking we are used to speaking of the gifts – plural – of the Holy Spirit. Sounds strange to us, but not to St. Francis de Sales! In his Treatise on the Love of God, he wrote:

“The glorious St. Paul speaks thus, ‘But the fruit of the spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, constancy and chastity.’ Theotimus, see how this divine Apostle enumerates these twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit but sets them down as only one fruit. He does not say ‘The fruits of the Spirit are charity, joy’ but ‘the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy…’ The meaning of this manner of expression is this: ‘The charity of God is poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’ Charity is truly the sole fruit of the Holy Spirit, but this one fruit has an infinite number of excellent properties…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 19, p. 251)

In the big scheme of things, it is fair to say that the fundamental gift (singular) of the Holy Spirit is love - pure and simple. As Francis de Sales reminds us, however, this single gift has an “infinite number of excellent properties.”

Today, as temples of the Holy Spirit – as dwelling places of the Spirit’s gift of love – how many of the excellent properties associated with this one gift will we exhibit in our relationships with other people?

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(April 19, 2017: Wednesday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 3:1-10     Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9     Lk 24:13-35    

“I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have, I give to you…”

This simple phrase spoken by Peter in today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles serves as a simple shorthand for the Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matthew 5: 3 – 11)

Being poor in spirit requires that we do three things. First, we need to acknowledge our poverty; we need to name that which we lack. Second, we need to acknowledge our wealth; we need to name that which we possess. Third, we need to be willing to share our possessions – be they little or great – with others. Taken together, these steps can help us to be generous people.

Peter named his poverty; he named what he lacked. However, he was just as quick to state that he willingly shared with others what he did possess. As the Acts of the Apostles clearly demonstrates, Peter was a generous person in his service to Jesus’ mission and to God’s people!

How about us? How comfortable are we with acknowledging what we don’t have? By the same token, how comfortable are we with acknowledging what we do have…and most importantly, how willing are we to share what we have with others?

Be it little, great or something in between!

Spirituality Matters 2017: April 6th - April 12th

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(April 6, 2017: Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent)
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Gn 17:3-9     Ps 105:4-5, 6-7, 8-9     Jn 8:51-59

“I am making you the father of a host of nations…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, can the same be said of us?

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(April 7, 2017: Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent)
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Jer 20:10-13     Ps 18:2-3a, 3bc-4, 5-6, 7     Jn 10:31-42

“I hear the whisperings of many…”

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

Slander.

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

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

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

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

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

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(April 8, 2017: Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent)
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Ez 37:21-28     Jer 31:10, 11-12abcd, 13     Jn 11:45-56

"I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

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

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

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

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

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(April 9, 2017: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion)
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Is 50:4-7     Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24     Phil 2:6-11     Mt 26:14—27:66    

“The passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ…”

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

  • A passion for human justice.

  • A passion for divine justice.

  • A passion for doing what is right and good.

  • A passion for challenging others to promote the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(April 10, 2017: Monday of Holy Week)
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Is 42:1-7     Ps 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14     Jn 12:1-11

“Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my Spirit…”

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

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

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

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(April 11, 2017: Tuesday of Holy Week)
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Is 49:1-6     Ps 71:1-2, 3-4a, 5ab-6ab, 15 and 17     Jn 13:21-33, 36-38

“The LORD has spoken, who formed me as his servant from the womb…”

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

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

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

And to live accordingly!

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(April 12, 2017: Wednesday of Holy Week)
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Is 50:4-9a     Ps 69:8-10, 21-22, 31 and 33-34     Mt 26:14-25

“The Lord GOD is my help…”

Today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah paints the picture of a God who lifts up those who are weighed down. He is a God who clears a path for those burdened by the journey. He is a God who gives comfort in times of adversity. In short, our God goes out of His way to help those who are down and out. In a world with its share of challenges, trials and difficulty, our God is a God who lightens the load.

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

“We must take the greatest consolation from seeing how God exercises His mercy by the many diverse favors he distributes among angels and men – in heaven, and on earth – and how He exercises His justice by an infinite variety of trials and difficulties. Hence, death, affliction sweat and toil with which life abounds are by God’s justice the consequences of sin, but they are also by God’s sweet mercy ladders upon which to ascend to heaven, means by which to increase and grace and merits whereby to obtain glory. Indeed, blessed are poverty, hunger, thirst, sorrow sickness death and persecution: they are consequences of our humanity which nevertheless are so steeped and aromatized in God’s love, goodness and mercy that theirs is a most sweet bitterness.” (TLG Bk IX, Chapter 1, p.98)

Trials and difficulties are a part of life. Fortunately for us, God sees these same trials and difficulties as opportunities to console us, support us, nourish us and sustain us.

How – in the name of this merciful, generous God – do we do the same for one another?

Spirituality Matters 2017: March 30th - April 5th

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(March 30, 2017: Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent)
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Ex 32:7-14   Ps 106:19-20, 21-22, 23    Jn 5:31-47

“Moses, his chosen one, withstood him in the breach…”

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

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

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

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

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(March 31, 2017: Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent)
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Wis 2:1a, 12-22    Ps 34:17-18, 19-20, 21 and 23    Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted…”

Even a cursory reading of both the Old Testament and the New Testament demonstrates that Yahweh has a special place in His heart for the weak, the poor, the lonely, the disadvantaged, the marginalized, the exploited, the vanquished and the down-and-out. But there’s more to Yahweh. God also has plenty of room in His heart for the strong, the wealthy, the powerful, the streamlined, the victorious and the up-and-comers.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales remarked: “The Apostle (St. Paul) says, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” (Part III, Chapter 1, p. 121) God finds room in his heart for all kinds of people and for all kinds of occasions. God’s heart knows that it takes all kinds, all types and all times to promote His kingdom on this earth.

God makes so much room in his heart for us. How generous are wee in attempting to make room in our hearts for others?

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(April 1, 2017: Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent)
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Jer 11:18-20    Ps 7:2-3, 9bc-10, 11-12    Jn 7:40-53

"Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing…”

It’s very tempting to judge others by their appearance. It’s very tempting to judge others by what others say about them. It’s very tempting to judge others by first impressions.

Not only is it very tempting, but it is also very wrong. At least, in the eyes of God it is!

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

“How offensive to God are rash judgments. When the children of men pass judgment on others they usurp the office of our Lord. They are rash because every man has enough on which to judge himself without taking it upon himself to judge his neighbor. By judging our neighbor on every occasion, we never stop doing what is forbidden and we never do what is expected of us, that is, the challenge to judge ourselves.”

In another place, Scripture tells us this about God: “Not by appearance does He judge.”

Today, as people made in God’s image and likeness, can the same be said about us?

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(April 2, 2017: Fifth Sunday of Lent)
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Ez 37:12-14     Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8     Rom 8:8-11     Jn 11:1-45    

“You are in the spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

Rather than talk about what Francis de Sales has to say about living in the Spirit of God, we shall allow him to speak – or, in this case – to write for himself.

“To live according to the spirit means to think, speak and act according to the virtues which reside in the spirit and not according to the senses and feelings which reside in the flesh. We must use and master the latter and not live according to them; but the spiritual virtues must be nurtured and all the rest made subject to them.”

“What are the virtues of the spirit? There is faith, which shows us the truths that are not accessible to the senses; hope, which makes us strive for things unseen; charity, which makes us love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves, not with a sensual, natural or selfish love but with a love that is pure, firm and changeless, being grounded in God.”

“The spirit, which relies on faith, grows in courage when it is hemmed in by difficulties, for it knows well that God loves supports and helps those who are needy, provided they fix their hope in God. Human reason, by contrast, wants to know everything that is going on because it imagines that nothing in which it cannot have its say is any good; the spirit, on the other hand, cleaves to God and often says that whatever is not of God does not really matter…”

“Living according to the spirit means doing the actions which the spirit of God asks of us, saying the words and thinking the thoughts that God wants. And when I say saying the words and thinking the thoughts that God wants, I am referring to your willed thoughts. I am miserable and so I don’t feel like talking: parrots do as much. I feel miserable, but since charity demands that I should talk I will do it. That is what people who live in the spirit do. I have been slighted so I grow cross: peacocks and monkeys do as much. I have been slighted and rejoice: that what the apostles did. So to live according to the spirit is to do what faith, hope and charity teach us to do, whether in things temporal or things spiritual.”

“Live wholly to the Spirit; live gently and in peace. Be quite confident that God will help you, and in all that happens, rest in the arms of God’s mercy and goodness. May God be your all forever.”

The Spirit is alive and well in us, active in our lives, shaping our attitudes and impacting our actions. This activity is obvious to those people we encounter every day.

Well, isn’t it? And if not, why not?

(These quotes are taken entirely from a letter written in April or May 1616, to Sister Marie-Aimee de Bloney, Mistress of Novices at the Visitation at Lyons, France. It is found in Selected Letters of St. Francis de Sales. Translated with an Introduction by Elisabeth Stopp. Published in 1960 by Harper & Brothers)

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(April 3, 2017: Monday of Fifth Week of Lent)
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Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62     Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6     Jn 8:1-11

“It’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up.”

“After the Watergate break-in, ‘quick action, resolution on the spot,’ could have saved President Nixon, said Prof. Michael Useem, an expert in business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

‘It was the inaction, the cover-up, that absolutely ruined his reputation in history forever,’ he said. Since the Nixon administration, a mantra repeated during many scandals has been, ‘It's not the crime, it's the cover-up.’”

(http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/01/business/choosing-whether-to-cover-up-or-come-clean.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm)

In today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel, we are presented with what might be considered as the Watergate scandal of the Old Testament: the story of Susanna. In short, two elders of the people attempted to have their way with her – the crime. When she resisted, they accused her of adultery – the cover-up. In effect, they sinned against Susanna twice by (1) attempting to physically assault her, and (2) by falsely assaulting her reputation. In the end, their crime – and perhaps even more so, the cover-up – results in their paying the ultimate price – death.

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

“A soul that has consented to sin must have horror for itself and be washed clean as soon as possible out of the respect it must have for the eyes of God’s Divine Majesty who sees it. Why should we die a spiritual death when we have this sovereign remedy at hand?” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 19, p. 111)

Anyone can make a mistake. Don’t make it even worse for yourself or others by covering it up!

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(April 4, 2017: Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent)
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Nm 21:4-9     Ps 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-21     Jn 8:21-30

“We have sinned in complaining against the Lord…”

How quickly we forget.

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

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

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

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

On some level, we can all relate to the Israelites. We’ve all experienced tough times. We’ve all gotten bad breaks. We’ve all had our share of difficulties and disappointments. We’ve all had moments when we felt that the road to happiness shouldn’t take so much time, effort and energy. But we also know from our own experience that chronic complaining is toxic. It poisons our perceptions and perspectives, and it ultimately does nothing to address or reduce whatever difficulties we may be facing, be they real and/or imagined. In fact, chronic complaining simply makes things worse – for us, as well as for those around us.

Do you suffer from chronic complaining? Try applying the surest remedy of all.

Gratitude!

And why not begin today?

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(April 5, 2017: Wednesday of the Fourth Week of lent)
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Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95     Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56     Jn 8:31-42

“The truth will set you free…”

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

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

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

How might this truth set you free today?

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