Spirituality Matters 2018: November 29th - December 5th

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(November 29, 2018: Thursday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Your redemption is at hand...”

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

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

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

Francis de Sales insists that our future depends heavily upon our present. At any given moment we can think, feel and act in ways bring us closer to either (1) redemption, or (2) damnation.

It turns out that our redemption and damnation are both “at hand” not solely on our last day, but on each and every day! Which will you choose?

Today!

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(November 30, 2018: Andrew, Apostle)
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“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!”

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

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

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

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

Andrew - once a fisherman, always a fisherman. A fisherman doesn’t get to pick the day, time, situations or circumstances in which he fishes. He simply fishes, come what may. Such an avocation requires tenacity, patience, determination and a willingness to go wherever a “catch” might be found. Perhaps, that’s why Jesus called him to be a disciple: such qualities could come in quite handy when it came to preaching the Good News.

Jesus calls each of us - in our own unique ways - to be fishers of “men.”

Today, to what degree does Jesus see in us the same qualities he saw in Andrew?

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December 1, 2018: Saturday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy and that the day catch you by surprise like a trap...”

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

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

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

Be watchful! Be alert! Be on the lookout! Avoid carousing, drunkenness and anxiety in all their forms. However, don’t limit your vigilance to the last moment of your life. No, expand your vigilance to include every moment of your life! In so doing, you not only avoid having your last day catch you like a trap, but also you will be able transform every day into an opportunity to grow in your knowledge and love of God, your neighbor and yourself now – and forever.

Spirituality Matters 2018: November 22nd - November 28th

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(November 22, 2018: Thanksgiving Day )
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“He fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him…”

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

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

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

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(November 23, 2018: Miguel Pro, Priest and Martyr)
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“The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile, were seeking to put him to death.”

Today the Church celebrates the life, legacy and ultimate sacrifice made by Blessed Miguel Pro.

“Born on January 13, 1891 in Guadalupe, Mexico, Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez was, from an early age, both remarkably spiritual and equally mischievousness, frequently exasperating his family with humor and practical jokes. Miguel was particularly close to his older sister and after she entered a cloistered convent, he eventually recognized his own vocation to the priesthood. Although he was popular with the senoritas and had prospects of a lucrative career managing his father's thriving business concerns, Miguel the Jesuit novitiate in El Llano, Michoacan in 1911.

“He studied in Mexico until 1914, when tsunami of anti-Catholicism swept through Mexico, forcing the novitiate to disband. Miguel and his brother seminarians trekked through Texas and New Mexico before arriving at the Jesuit house in Los Gatos, California. In 1915, Miguel was sent to a seminary in Spain; in 1924, he went to Belgium where he was ordained a priest in 1925. Miguel suffered from a severe stomach problem and after three operations, when his health did not improve, his superiors, in 1926, allowed him to return to Mexico in spite of the grave religious persecution in that country.”

“Back in his native land, churches were closed and priests went into hiding. Miguel spent the rest of his life in an attempt to sturdy and strengthen Mexican Catholics. In addition to fulfilling their spiritual needs, he also carried out works of mercy by trying to meet the temporal needs of the poor in Mexico City. To protect his real identity, he used a number of disguises while carrying out his clandestine ministry. He would arrive in the middle of the night dressed as a beggar to baptize infants, bless marriages and celebrate Mass. He would appear in jail dressed as a police officer to bring Holy Viaticum to condemned Catholics. When going to fashionable neighborhoods to procure money food and other resources for the poor, he would show up at the doorstep dressed as a fashionable businessman with a fresh flower on his lapel. Falsely accused in the attempted assassination of a former Mexican president, Miguel became a hunted man. Betrayed to the police by an informer, he was sentenced to death without the benefit of any legal process. On the day of his execution (which the Mexican president personally ordered to have photographed and filmed), Fr. Pro forgave his executioners, prayed, refused the blindfold and died proclaiming, ‘Viva Cristo Rey.’” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=86 )

Miguel Pro was courageous in the face of persecution, arrest, imprisonment and execution…just as Jesus was.

How might we imitate his courage just this day by serving the needs of others…in the name of Christ the King?

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(November 24, 2018: Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest and Companions, Martyrs)
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“He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

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

“Jesus gave the Sadducees an answer that has a permanently valid truth to it. He said that we must not think of heaven in terms of this earth. Life there will be quite different because we will be quite different. It would save a mass of misdirected ingenuity – and no small amount of heartache – if we ceased to speculate on what heaven is like and left such things to the love of God.” (pp. 250-251)

But there is also another takeaway from today’s Gospel, according to Barclay:

“Out of this arid passage emerges a great truth for anyone who teaches or who wishes to commend Christianity to one’s fellows . Jesus used arguments that the people he was arguing with could understand. Jesus talked to them in their own language; he met them on their own ground; and that is precisely why the common people heard him gladly.” (251)

William Barclay’s insight here is very much in keeping with Fr. Brisson’s understanding of one of the fundamental qualities of Salesian spirituality – if you want to speak to the hearts of people, you (1) need to meet them where they are and (2) use words that they can understand.

How might we “Live + Jesus” just this day by meeting others where they are…and speaking to them in ways that they can understand?

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(November 25, 2018: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe)
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“His Dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed.”

Today we celebrate Christ’s kingship, Christ’s power, Christ’s royal character. Unlike earthly kings, however, Christ’s dominion, as we hear in the Book of the Prophet Daniel, is an everlasting dominion. Unlike other kings, Christ’s reign will never pass away.

What kind of king is Christ? How is his dominion unique among other monarchs? We look to the words of St. Francis de Sales in a conference on “Hope” he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation in 1620. The occasion was the founding of yet another Visitation community (some 80+ of which were established by the time St. Jane de Chantal died in 1641):

“You have always only one and the same king, our crucified Lord, under whose authority you will live secure and safe wherever you may be. Do not fear lacking anything, for as long as you do not choose any other king, he will always be with you. Take care to increase in love and fidelity towards Christ’s divine goodness, keeping as close to this king as possible, and then all will be well with you. Learn from him all that you have to do. Do nothing without his advice. This king is the faithful friend who will guide you and govern you and take care of you as, with all my heart, I ask him to do.”

No benign dictator here! No benevolent tyrant here! No monarch here who lords his power over others! No self-serving leader here who consolidates his wealth or influence at the expense of others!

Christ is a crucified king. He is a monarch who lays down his life for others. His dominion serves the needs of others. His prestige gives others guidance and hope. His wisdom provides sound advice. His commonwealth is all about faithful, loving friendship.

Francis de Sales (as he so often does) really nailed it when he wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life: “We lose nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously, and with a royal, just and noble heart.” (Part II, Chapter 36)

Like Christ, we are called to use our God-given power and promise to serve the needs of others. Like Christ, our royal “divine right” demands that we love one another with “a royal, just and noble heart.”

Today, consider - how do we use our “divine right” as sons and daughters of God?

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(November 26, 2018: Monday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“She has offered her whole livelihood…”

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

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

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

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

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(November 27, 2018: Tuesday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“When you hear of wars and insurrections do not be terrified…”

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

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

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

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

Trouble is a part of life. Don’t make it worse by allowing the trouble to upset you on the inside to the point where you can’t manage it on the outside - for your own sake, as well as for the sake of those who depend on you.

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(November 28, 2018: Wednesday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Great and wonderful are your works.”

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

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

When’s the last time you considered the “great and wonderful” things that God has done and is doing in your life and in the lives of others?

Today, how can you bless, exalt, praise, honor and adore God for his goodness?

Not just in words, but also in deeds!

Spirituality Matters 2018: November 15th - November 21st

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(November 15, 2018: Albert the Great, Bishop and Doctor of the Church )
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“I urge you out of love...so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.”

As the saying goes, there are two ways to get something accomplished - the easy way or the hard way.

In his instructions of preaching, Blessed Louis Brisson observed:

“There are two methods of reaching our neighbors and obtaining their obedience. The first method is the method of authority. ‘I am the master. I have the authority. I command. Obey!’ This is the most common method, but it is not our method. Why? Because it isn’t Our Lord’s method. We don’t see Our Lord speaking or acting like this in the Gospels. He never played the master.”

“There is a second method, the method of persuasion. We don’t wait for souls to come; we go out to meet them. We take a good look at them and we study them up close. We try to discover the point through which we can reach them; we take hold and lift them up by the ‘handle’ which they offer us.” (The Oblate Preacher, James Finnegan, OSFS, trans., p. 61)

You get more cooperation from people by attempting to win them over rather than by running them over. You get more done by being more persuasive than punitive. You get people on your side by urging out of love. Jesus knew it, St. Paul knew it; St. Francis de Sales knew it and Blessed Louis Brisson knew it.

How about you? What method do you use when dealing with other - especially problematic - people?

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(November 16, 2018: Margaret of Scotland)
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“Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather...”

We’ve probably all had this experience while travelling by car in the open country - seeing birds circling somewhere in the sky up ahead. As we drew closer to where they were circling, we realized that these were not just any bird but birds of prey. And, at that point, we anticipated what we were going to see within the next minute or two - road kill.

Hence, we associate the gathering – or circling – of vultures with death.

By contrast, what would we expect to see gathering or circling around life? St. Francis de Sales mentions a few of the things for which we should look:

“Patience; meekness; self-discipline; humility; obedience; poverty; chastity; tenderness toward our neighbors; bearing with our neighbors’ imperfections; holy fervor.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 2, p. 127)

Which begs the question: what do other people see gathering – or circling – around us?

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(November 17, 2018: Elizabeth of Hungary, Religious)
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“Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(November 18, 2018: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“But of that day or hour, no one knows it…except the Father.”

Scripture is very clear: the world as we know it will pass away. Scripture also makes it very clear that we cannot hope to know “the exact day or hour” that moment will come.

Still, it is only natural that we sometimes become anxious when we imagine that the world as we know it will cease to be. It is even more understandable that we should become anxious when we consider the inevitability of our own personal death. Here, too, however, we do not know “the exact day or hour.”

Francis de Sales himself reminds us: “We, in this life, are walking, as it were, on ice.”

How should we deal with the reality that one day our earthly lives will end?

We deal with an uncertain future by living well each and every present moment. The present moment is the only time we have at our disposal. The present moment is the only time we have to make choices that either help – or hinder – our efforts at preparing for eternity.

St. Francis de Sales advises us:

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

To the extent that we live each present moment we can experience the gift of peace. St. Francis de Sales observed:

“We must in all things and everywhere live peacefully. If trouble, exterior or interior, comes upon us, we must receive it peacefully. If joy comes, we must receive it peacefully, without throbbing of heart. If we must avoid evil, we must do so peacefully, without disquieting ourselves. If there is some good to be done, we must do this peacefully, too.”

And so then, place yourself in the hands and heart of Jesus who, St. Francis reminds us, is “the Prince of peace: where you make him your absolute master, all is peace." Place yourself in the hands and heart of Jesus who is the master of each present moment. For when you live each present moment there, you are best prepared for your last moment.

When we are at peace, when we live intentionally, we can handle everything that life has in store for us - everything, including death itself…a death that leads to eternal life.

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(November 19, 2018: Monday, Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Lord, please let me see…”

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

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

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

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(November 20, 2018: Tuesday, Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“And he came down quickly and received him with joy…”

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

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

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

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

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

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(November 21, 2018: Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“To everyone who has, more will be given.”

Everyone who has…what? Perhaps it’s the courage to say ‘yes.’ Perhaps it’s the courage to take the risks that come with that “yes”.

In today’s Gospel two of the three servants took a risk when they invested that which their master had entrusted to them. As a result, they were able to make a return on their master’s investment with salutatory results. By contrast, the third servant – afraid that he might lose what his master had entrusted to him – played it safe by simply sitting on what he had received - with dire results.

Yesterday, in the selection from the Book of Revelation, we heard of God’s distaste for indifference. Today, we hear of God’s impatience regarding inaction brought about by fear - fear of failure and perhaps sometimes even fear of success. Better to be hot or cold than indifferent; better to have risked everything and lost than to have never risked whatever it is you received.

Today, consider what God has entrusted to you. Consider what God has invested in you. How can you make a return to God for his generosity to you?

Spirituality Matters 2018: November 8th - November 14th

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(November 8, 2018: Thursday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time )
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“There will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Whence comes all this rejoicing over repentant sinners? In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“God’s favor floats over all life’s difficulties and finds joy in turning all miseries to the greater profit of those who love him. From toil he makes patience spring forth, contempt of this world from inevitable death, and from concupiscence a thousand victories. Just as the rainbow touches the thorn of aspalathus and makes it smell sweeter than the lily, so our Savior’s redemption touches our miseries and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. The angels, says our Savior, have ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance.’ So, too, the state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence. Truly, by the watering of our Savior’s blood – made with the hyssop of the cross – have been restored to a white incomparably better than that possessed by the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we come out of the stream of salvation more pure and clean than if we had never had leprosy.” (TLG, Book II Chapter 6, pp. 116 – 177)

“Redemption is a hundred times better than innocence.”

Given the fact that all of us suffer from the leprosy of sin in any number of ways, not only should the power of repentance make for rejoicing among the angels in heaven, but this repentance should also produce even greater rejoicing among us here on earth! Who else but God could have the power to turn our sins into a means of our salvation?

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(November 9, 2018: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica)
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“You are God’s building...”

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

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

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

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

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(November 10, 2018: Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church)
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“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones…

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

“Put your hand to strong things by training yourself in prayer and meditation, receiving the sacraments, bringing souls to love God, infusing good inspirations into their hearts, and in fine, by performing big, important works according to your vocation. But never forget your distaff or spindle. In other words, practice those little, humble virtues which grow like flowers at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of your family with all the duties and responsibilities that accompany such things.”

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

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

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(November 11, 2018: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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In the first reading today and in the Gospel, we meet two widows who have one thing in common - both put their trust in God rather than in things. In turn, both are rewarded and recognized for their trust and for their faith in God.

In the first reading, the widow is a foreigner to the Hebrews. She is from Zarephath, a coastal city on the Mediterranean. Elijah traveled through this land during a famine. As in all famines, the rich complain and the poor starve. The woman was poor. When Elijah met up with her, she was putting her last scraps together before she and her son would die. Imagine a stranger going up to this woman and asking for food in the name of the Lord. And imagine this woman putting her faith in God and feeding the prophet. Because of her putting her total trust in God, she received enough to eat for a full year.

In the Gospel, the widow puts two small coins into the temple treasury. Jesus said that her donation, although it seemed insignificant, was tremendous because she gave all that she had. Her donation was an act of faith that God would provide for what she needed.

What these two widows did is extremely difficult for most of us to imitate. No matter how great our faith is, it is profoundly difficult to put our total trust in God. There is something within us all that looks for solutions to our problems outside of the realm of faith, or at least, to have a back-up plan ready to go if our prayers don’t pan out.

A great fallacy of our age is that money can solve our problems. It is the job of advertisers to convince us that we can buy happiness. Paradoxically, the happiest of those blessed with material wealth and riches are those who freely share their success with others. Authentic, lasting happiness requires the practice of humility. Only a humble person who recognizes his or her profound need for God is certain that the presence of God in his or her life is fundamental to happiness.

Someday, perhaps we will grow in our ability to acquire the kind of faith that these two widows displayed. But, then again, that is the fundamental reason why we gather together to worship to pray and to celebrate the Sacraments - while we realize that our faith can always be deepened, we also acknowledge that we cannot do that alone. We need God and we need one another.

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(November 12, 2018: Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr )
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“I directed you…that a man be blameless…”

The qualities that Paul associates with a “blameless” bishop include: not being arrogant, not being irritable, not being a drunkard, not being aggressive, not being greedy for sordid gain. On the positive side, a bishop should also be hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy and self-controlled.

The adjective “blameless” is defined as: “Free of blame or guilt; innocent.” Synonyms include “clear, clean, upright, stainless, honest, immaculate, impeccable, virtuous, unsullied, unimpeachable, untarnished, above suspicion, irreproachable, guiltless, unoffending and above suspicion.”

You get the idea!

But notice what being blameless does not require: it does not require being a sinless person or being a perfect person. However, being blameless does seem to imply that as imperfect as we are – and as sinful as we are – we should be people of integrity.

Bishop or no bishop, it’s probably a safe bet that Jesus expects all of us who bear the name “Christian” to be blameless. Given the fact that He himself shows us how to be blameless and gives us the means to become blameless, can you (wait for it) blame Him?

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(November 13, 2018: Frances Xavier Cabrini, Religious and Founder)
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“You must say what is consistent with sound doctrine…so that the word of God may not be discredited.”

What should we infer from today’s selection from Paul’s Letter to Titus? We can talk all we want about what we believe as Christians, but if we really want to give credible witness to the power and promise of God’s word, we need to be more concerned with how we live what we believe. In other words, we actually need to do what we say!

So, what does it look like when we are talking the talk and walking the walk? Paul tells us that we need to be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, loving, reverent, self-controlled and chaste…among other virtues.

When push comes to shove, what do authentic, credible Christians look like? Paul suggests we look for folks who are “eager to do what is good.”

Today, can the same be said about us?

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(November 14, 2018: Wednesday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

We all have skeletons in our respective closets. We all have things in our past about which we are embarrassed or ashamed. In his Letter to Titus, Paul remarks: “We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another.”

As we considered on Monday, who of us can claim to be ‘blameless’?

And yet, because of God’s mercy – because of God’s generosity – there’s more to us than our past. We can have a new present; we can have a new future. Paul continues: “When the kindness and generous love of God our Savior appeared - not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy - he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

The Gospel story of the ten lepers is a powerful illustration of how God’s love can change and transform our past. Jesus cured these men not because of anything that they did to deserve it, but rather Jesus cured them simply because he wished to do so. However, if Jesus did expect anything in return for his pity – for his mercy – for his generosity – he expected some semblance of gratitude.

Today, think about all the good things that God has done for you. Think about how merciful God is. Think about how generous God is. How can we show our gratitude? How can we say “thank you”? Perhaps, Paul says it best.

“Be peaceable, considerate, exercising all graciousness toward everyone.”

Spirituality Matters 2018: November 1st - November 7th

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(November 1, 2018: All Saints)
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“He began to teach them...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(November 2, 2018: Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed)
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“The souls of the just are in the hands of God...”

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

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

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

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

Here’s hoping that we pray for our faithful departed. Here’s hoping that our faithful departed pray for us.

And isn’t it true that all of us could stand to do with some purgation of one kind or another!

Today, and every day!

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(November 3, 2018: Martin de Porres, Religious)
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“I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two...”

In today’s letter to the Philippians, Paul appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place. He is at one and the same time attracted to continuing to live in this world so as to continue his labor for Christ even as he longs to leave this world so as to experience Christ in his fullness. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“What does it matter to me whether God’s will is offered to me in tribulation or consolation? In each of them I neither desire nor seek anything except the divine will, which is better seen because no other beauty is present there but that of God’s most holy, eternal good pleasure. Heroic, yes, more than heroic, is the indifference of St. Paul the incomparable. ‘I am hard pressed,’ he says to the Philippians, ‘from two sides, desiring to be delivered from this body and to be with Christ – a thing far better – and yet to remain in this life for your sake.’”

“Admirable indifference of the Apostle! He sees paradise open to him; he sees a thousand labors on earth. Choice of one or the other is indifferent to him. Only God’s will can give counterweight to his heart. Paradise is no more worthy of love than the miseries of this world if God’s good pleasure lies equally in them both. For him to toil is paradise if God’s will is found in it, whereas paradise is a trial if God’s will is not found in it…” (TLG, Book IX, Chapter 4, p. 106)

In the end, Paul continued his labors of love for Christ and his children in this world until God’s will clearly indicated that it was time for Paul to rest from his labors in the next world. So, too, with us - until the day comes when God clearly indicates that the time has arrived for us to live forever with him and each other in heaven, let’s devote our time and energy to living as best as we possibly can with him and each other on this earth.

No rock and hard place there!

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(November 4, 2018: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In today’s reading, a scribe - that is, a Pharisee with a degree in canon law - “steps up”, presumably in an attempt to put Jesus down. Hence, the question: which of the Ten Commandments plus the six hundred and thirteen rules [the Deuteronomic laws] that rabbis believed God orally gave Moses was the most important of all?

Some rabbis thought all were equally important - a kind of early example of “the seamless garment” notion. Most others used to spend a great deal of time disputing which ones were the greatest.

Jesus’ response is an acceptable one, quoting DT: 6:5 (today’s first reading!), stressing that the love of God must involve the total person: heart, soul, and mind. There are no half measures. Then, Jesus goes on to quote LV19:18, which stresses that we should love our neighbors as ourselves.

Jesus combines these two commandments and declares that they are the foundation of God’s entire revelation. That is, the whole law and the prophets rest on these two pillars. Combining these two may not be unique to Jesus, but it clearly shows his position on his understanding of the Torah.

We have the saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When one part fails, the entirety fails. This saying also applies to love, too, in regard to the three-link chain of love: for ourselves, for our neighbor and for our God. Note the order in which the “loves” are named in the Gospel, however: God, neighbor and self. Love of self, perhaps, is the trickiest one of all.

On the one hand, love of self (what Francis de Sales referred to as “self-love”) from a solely earthly perspective can all-too-easily revert to infantile behavior - life is all about me. I have trouble learning that I am not the center of the universe - as a young child believes. If I fail to learn to admit that I am a sinner, then I am in for trouble. While I might admit that I am not perfect, I might have trouble admitting being wrong in any specific instance. Frequently enough, I will do anything to avoid admitting failure. In sum, I have an overblown sense of the person I really am.

On the other hand, some of us may have been love-starved or abused when young in any number of ways. Authority figures or other powerful role models in our early development may have put us down so heavily that our self-image is badly damaged. From a solely earthly perspective, I may have real trouble loving myself. I may see myself as having little or no value. In sum, I sell myself way too short.

The Romans said it well: in medio stat virtus - in the middle (between the extremes) stands virtue. A healthy self-image stands in the middle. I am not the center of the universe, but neither am I a doormat. I need to check for the need for balance on this first step in the progression from what Francis de Sales calls “self-love” to “love of self”. Which begs the question – what is the difference between the two?

Simply put, “self-love” is all about how I see myself from an earthly perspective. “Love of self” is all about how God sees me; that is, with a heavenly perspective.

What better way to live this virtue than how Jesus did it – by meeting others where they are and by meeting ourselves where we are. After all, we can’t love ourselves and others for the person we aren’t – we can only love ourselves and others for the person we are.

As God sees us.

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(November 5, 2018: Monday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Complete my joy…”

In the movie Sudden Impact (1983), hard-nosed San Francisco detective, Harry Callahan, (played by Clint Eastwood) uttered these now-famous words while challenging a would-be robber to do something stupid (specifically, to pull a gun on him): “Go ahead. Make my day”.

One can hear a parallel in today’s first reading. For all intents and purposes, Paul says the same thing – “Go ahead. Make my day” – while challenging the Philippians to do something good, appealing to “any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, and compassion and mercy.” What will make Paul’s day?

  • Being of the same mind with others
  • Being of the same love with others
  • Being united in heart
  • Doing nothing out of selfishness
  • Putting others first
  • Looking out for others’ interests.
Today, imagine Jesus saying, “Go ahead, make my day” or if you prefer, “Complete my joy”. How can we make Jesus’ day? How can we complete his joy? Try to be of the same mind, heart and love with others. Try to do nothing out of selfishness. Try to put others first by looking out for their interests.

And make your own day – and complete your own joy – in the process!

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(November 6, 2018: Tuesday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus…”

What does it mean to have the ‘attitude’ of Christ? In his great ‘hymn’ to the Philippians, Paul notes that Jesus did not cling to his divinity nor to his power. However, Jesus’ self-emptying is not self-deprecation, because Jesus viewed his divine power as something which – by its very nature – is meant to be placed at the service of others. His self-emptying is the ultimate expression of divine – and, for that matter, human – generosity!

This ‘attitude’ of Christ lies at the very heart of the Beatitude that Jesus taught (and lived): “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Blessed – happy – are those who realize that whatever they possess – whoever they are – is designed, deemed and destined, to be shared with others.

Francis de Sales certainly understood the necessity of having the attitude of Christ. “Our possessions are not our own”, he wrote in the Introduction to the Devout Life. “God has given them to us to cultivate and God wants us to make them fruitful and profitable.” How do we make our possessions – our power – “fruitful and profitable?” The Gentleman Saint is quite clear: “Make yourself a servant of the poor.” (IDL, Part Three, Chapter 15, pp. 164-165)

Do you want to have the “attitude” of Christ? Be generous! Put what you have – and who you are – at the service of others.

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(November 7, 2018: Wednesday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work…”

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

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

“Consider that a certain number of years ago you were not yet in the world and that your present being was truly nothing. The world had already existed for a long time, but of us there was as yet nothing. God has subsequently drawn you out of nothingness to make you what you are and God has done so solely out of his own goodness. Consider the nature God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world. It is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine majesty.” (IDL, Part One, Chapter 9, p. 53)

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

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

Remind yourself throughout this day that God has made you a good person – after all, you are made in God’s very own image and likeness. In like manner remind yourself throughout the day to ask for the grace you need to be instrument’s of God’s good purpose in the lives of other.

Spirituality Matters 2018: October 25th - October 31st

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(October 25, 2018: Thursday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

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

The name of the film is Man on Fire.

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

Earlier this week, we remembered the life and legacy of John Paul II. Like Jesus himself, John Paul II was a man on fire for the Gospel. We recall the electricity that he generated wherever he went when he was in the prime of his life and papacy - he literally traveled all around the globe in his attempts to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. We remember his surviving being shot by a would-be assassin, and how that attempt on his life began a slow and protracted period of physical decline. We witnessed his battle with Parkinson’s disease, and the death that it inevitably hastened. Yet through it all, John Paul faced his mortality with grace and confidence and with a fire – however diminished in the end – that was forever part and parcel of the person he was.

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

Today, how might we get “fired up” for the sake of the Gospel?

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(October 26, 2018: Friday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received...”

What call have we received? We are sons and daughters of God; we are brothers and sisters of Jesus; we are temples of God’s Holy Spirit.

How do we live in a manner worthy of this call? St. Paul is clear and unambiguous: “Live with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

In today’s Responsorial Psalm, we prayed the words “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face”. How do we know if we are making progress in our efforts to “live in a manner worthy of the call” we have received?

The answer is - look to see if other people see in our thoughts, our affections, our attitudes and our actions something of the face of God.

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(October 27, 2018: Saturday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of God’s gift....”

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!”

God has great expectations for us: “Life on high with Jesus Christ”. God – through his mercy, that is, through his generosity – also gives us the grace we need to strive to meet those expectations. How can we possibly show our appreciation for the “grace that was given to each of us according to the measure of God’s gift”? Perhaps St. Francis de Sales said it best. “The measure of love is to love without measure.”

God’s love in our regard is certainly without measure. To what degree can the same be said of our love for one another?

Today!

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(October 28, 2018: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”

Today’s first reading reminds us of the Lord’s promise to the people of Israel that God will protect them and bring them home for He is “the Father of Israel and Ephraim is my firstborn”. God is particularly solicitous of the weak - the blind and the lame, women with children and those who cannot survive on their own.

This concern exhibited by a loving Father gives us some glimpse into the unique relationship between God and His people. St. Francis de Sales continually reminds us of God’s love for his creation. This “truth” certainly makes sense and is very consistent with the fundamental reason for our existence. After all, what child is not loved by his or her parents in a totally gratuitous fashion?

In the second reading, we are confronted with the role of the high priest, human as we all are. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews makes clear that the high priest is able to be compassionate because he, himself, is a wounded healer. Here again, we see the gratuitous nature of our relationship to our God. God gives us a vocation, no matter what our state in life. It is not ours to take, but rather to respond to his invitation.

The Gospel recounts the story of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. What a powerful example of how deeply God loves all of us, but especially those who are disadvantaged. This relationship, while gratuitous, is not passive – in fact, there is a real sense of mutuality on display here. Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus to have pity on him. Jesus, in return, restore the sight of the blind man. The blind man asks that he might be able to see and Jesus tells him that his faith has saved him.

In other words, both men contributed to an interaction that resulted in a miracle!

We ask for the faith that we need to see the fundamental relationship between God and his people. Sometimes, our own brands of blindness prevent us from seeing the unique God-given goodness in other people. Perhaps even more tragically, our blindness prevents us from seeing the unique, God-given goodness in ourselves. This inability to see the good imprisons us and others by denying the possibility of maximizing our gifts and talents for our own good and the good of our brothers and sisters.

Francis de Sales challenges us to emulate the faith of Bartimaeus. He challenges us to be confident enough in our own intrinsic self-worth that we dare to ask our Lord that we might see more of whom we – as well are others – really are, especially in the sight of God.

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(October 29, 2018: Monday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Live as children of the light…”

In his Letter to the Ephesians Paul describes what it looks like when we are living as “children of the light”:

  • We are kind and compassionate to others.
  • We forgive others.
  • We avoid even speaking of things like immorality, impurity or greed.
  • We eschew obscene, silly or suggestive speech.
  • We dedicate ourselves to thanksgiving and gratitude.
Even as we strive to “be imitators of God”, we are still imperfect people. Each of us still retains our share of shadows; all of us still struggle with some elements of darkness. What are we – as children of the light – to do about this dilemma? Francis de Sales certainly offers this encouragement:

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

The presence of shadows – and even darkness – should not discourage us in our attempts to be children of the light. Rather, let us “live in love” – and demonstrate that love – through our support and encouragement of one another.

Today!

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(October 30, 2018: Tuesday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“To what can I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed…”

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

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

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

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(October 31, 2018: Wednesday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You have a Master in heaven in whom there is no partiality...”

In today’s selection from his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul outlines a sort of shorthand guide as to how people should treat one another. Children are supposed to honor their parents. Parents are supposed to raise their children without provoking or angering them. Slaves are supposed to serve their masters. Masters must not bully or abuse their slaves.

When it comes to showing respect, there is no caste system in the Kingdom of God. Regardless of how lofty or lowly our positions in this life may be, we are all expected to do “the will of God from the heart…knowing that each person will be requited from the Lord for whatever good” we do. To that end, Paul warns us that we will all be judged by how we treat other people because when it comes to honoring others, God shows no partiality and God has no favorites.

Recall this exhortation in Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and place your neighbor in yours, and then you will act justly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell – and buy – justly. Examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor as you would like your neighbor to be toward you were you in his or her place. This is the touchstone of true reason...” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

When it comes to honoring others – and when it comes to treating them with justice, then just don’t do it in the hope of “currying favor” with God, but do it simply because it is the right thing to do.

And start today!!!

Spirituality Matters 2018: October 18th - October 24th

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(October 18, 2018: Luke, Evangelist)
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“The Lord stood by me and gave me strength...”

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

Including being betrayed!

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

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

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

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

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

How? By standing with them today!

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(October 19, 2018: John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and Companions, Martyrs)
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“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more…”

Today’s Gospel reminds us that we can never be certain as to when we will need to provide an accounting to God for the lives we have lived. We’ll never know for sure when we will need to demonstrate how well we have made good use of the gifts, the talents, the blessings – and above all, the life – God has given us.

When that day, that hour or that moment comes, will we be ready?

This consideration is sobering. The reality that each of us will die one day can be more than a bit unsettling. While Francis de Sales himself said that we should fear death, he challenged us not to be afraid of death. If we focus too much upon the inevitability of our last moment on this earth, the fear – and more importantly, the anxiety - it produces could prevent us from living fully each and every present moment that will precede our last moment.

The sacrifice of these Jesuit martyrs gives radical witness to the delicate dance that comes with acknowledging the inevitability of death while not being afraid of death – of owning our immortality without allowing our mortality to prevent us – risks included - from living life to the full.

As members of the Salesian family, we are challenged to be “confident and unafraid” when it comes to facing our mortality. The same God who will judge us at the end of our lives is the same God who gives us the strength and courage to do the best we can throughout our lives.

Francis de Sales offers us sound counsel in our daily attempts to live our mortal lives as best we can with confidence and without fear. “There is no better preparation for a good death than to lead a good life.” The Jesuit Martyrs of North America are a shining example of how there is no better way of preparing for death than by fully living each and every day to the utmost.

Today, how can we imitate their confidence and fearlessness today?

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(October 20, 2018: Paul of the Cross)
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“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened....”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote on the subject of rash judgments:

“Charity is fearful of meeting evil, so she never looks for it. Whenever she encounters it, she turns away her face and does not look at it. At the first threat of evil, she closes her eyes and later believes with a holy simplicity that it was not really evil but a shadow or mere appearance of evil. If sometimes she cannot help admitting that it is real evil, she quickly turns away and tries to forget its form. Charity is the supreme remedy for every evil, and especially for the evil of rash judgment. ‘All things look yellow to the jaundiced eye’ and …the spirit of rash judgment is truly spiritual jaundice for it causes all things to appear evil to the eyes of those infected with it. Whoever wants to be cured must apply remedies not to his eyes or intellect but to his affections. If your reflections are kind, your judgments will also be kind. If your affections are charitable, your judgments will be likewise…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 165)

We know from our own experience that it is sometimes all-too-easy to look for – and find – the worst in others. Of course, how we look at others often reveals a great deal more about the truth of our own hearts than about our perceptions of others’ lives.

See any signs of spiritual jaundice in the eyes of your heart? How might the eyes of your heart need to be enlightened?

By charity - that is - by love.

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(October 21, 2018: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Through his suffering my servant shall justify many.”

Following the admonition of Christ that we should be the servants of others wouldn’t sound so daunting if it weren’t for one little word.

Suffering.

Jesus is very clear: to serve is to suffer and to suffer is to serve. This statement begs the question: did Jesus serve because he liked pain?

Consider the meaning of the word “suffering”. The American Heritage Dictionary describes suffering as “to feel pain or distress; sustain loss, injury, harm or punishment.” Jesus certainly experienced all these things in a big way. In this regard, we have in Christ one who is able to sympathize with us. (Hebrews)

But suffering is more than simply experiencing pain. The same dictionary directs the reader to consider the roots of the English word servant, and therein we find a powerful revelation: in its root meaning, to suffer is to carry, to bear, to “bear children.”

Suffering is not simply the ability to experience pain. No, suffering is the willingness to forbear, to persevere, to carry on in doing what is right and just, what is healthy and holy even in the face of opposition or resistance. Suffering is the pain that comes from efforts at bringing forth life in the lives of others.

This kind of suffering is not powerless passivity. This suffering – divine suffering – is about being proactive. This suffering – this service – is a matter of choice: the choice to love.

Jesus did not love to suffer. Jesus suffered precisely because he was willing to love. Jesus suffered – he persevered – in his commitment to being a source of love in the lives of others.

That’s what made Jesus a servant. That’s what can make us true servants. Like Jesus, while our service will be marked with suffering, it is far more important that it be marked with love.

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(October 22, 2018: John Paul II, Pope )
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“Take care to guard against all greed…”

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

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

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

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

The Gospel parable is a classic example of what Francis de Sales described. The rich man isn’t condemned because he is rich. No, the rich man is condemned because he does not even consider sharing his good fortune – his rich harvest – with others.

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

What kinds of greed – in any form, in all forms - might we need to be careful to guard against, today?

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(October 23, 2018: John of Capistrano, Priest)
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“He is our peace…”

In a letter to Mother de Chantal, Francis de Sales wrote:

“I entreat you to keep very close to Jesus Christ and your Our Lady and to your good angel in all your business, so that the multiplicity of your many affairs may not make you anxious nor their difficulties dismay you. Do things one by one as best you can, and apply your mind loyally but gently and sweetly. If God gives you good issue we shall bless him for it; if his pleasure should be otherwise, we will bless him all the same. And it will be enough for you that you did your best in complete good faith, since Our Lord and reason do not demand results in things we do, but only our faithful and whole-hearted cooperation, endeavor and diligence; for these depend on us, whereas success does not. God will bless your good intention in undertaking this journey...” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 195-196)

Jesus is the embodiment of this spirit. In success or setback, in acceptance or rejection, in good times or in bad times, Jesus always possessed inner peace in the midst of the multiplicity of his affairs; his “whole-hearted cooperation, endeavor and diligence” were united to his Father’s will. What Jesus did or did not accomplish throughout his earthly ministry was not nearly as important as the fidelity of his relationship with his Father.

So whatever you accomplish – or don’t accomplish – just this day, try above all things to do this one thing.

To remain in peace!

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(October 24, 2018: Anthony Mary Claret, Bishop)
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“You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come…”

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: October 11th - October 17th

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(October 11, 2018: John XXIII, Pope)
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“He will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence...”

There’s an old adage which basically goes like this: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Mind you, the adage doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always get what you want. Likewise, the adage doesn’t guarantee that if you do get want you want that you’ll get it when you want to get it or how you want it. On the other hand, if you don’t ask the question in the first place, that pretty much guarantees that – under normal circumstances – you’ll never get what you want under any circumstances!

That’s one way of “reading” today’s Gospel parable. By all means ask; by all means seek; by all means knock. But don’t think that whatever you receive – whenever you receive it – however you receive it – necessarily results from the first question, the initial seeking or a single knock. In God’s way of telling time, we may need to ask, seek or knock many times.

In some cases, maybe even over a lifetime.

However, it is important to take note of a distinction that Jesus makes in today’s Gospel. While God promises to provide whatever we need because of our persistence, God makes no such promise when it comes to providing whatever we want.

Do you want to ask God for something? Then how about making this prayer - O God, give me the gratitude that comes from wanting what I already have, rather than always getting what I want.

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(October 12, 2018: Blessed Louis Brisson - Priest, Founder and religious)
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~ PROPER READINGS ~

A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.

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

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

Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to John

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel of the Lord.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we reprint the Gospel today?

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(October 13, 2018: Saturday, Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

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

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

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

Observing the Word of God isn’t simply a matter of being a casual observer – it’s about putting that Word into action! Despite our best attempts at putting that Word into action, however we don’t – as we know all-too-well from our own experience – control the result or outcome our efforts. As Francis de Sales reminds us, what we do – or don’t – accomplish in observing God’s Word is not nearly as important as allowing that Word to draw us closer to God and to one another.

Come what may!

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(October 14, 2018: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.”

In the closing minutes of the movie Field of Dreams, the character of Thomas Mann is invited by the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson to come “out” with the team. Ray Concella is incensed. Why is the writer invited instead of Ray? Ray launches into a litany of all the things that he has done in following the promptings of the “voice” and ends with the statement: “Not once have I asked what’s in it for me!” The ghost inquires: “What are you saying, Ray?” Ray responds: “I’m saying - what’s in it for me?”

How honest! How revealing! How human!

We hear echoes of this same refrain in St. Peter’s statement in today’s Gospel: “We have put aside everything to follow you.” Implied? “What’s in it for us?”

The truth is that the Good News never seems to let up. God never settles for less or for just “getting by”. Even as we grow in our love for God, ourselves and others, the Good News always calls us to give more, to go deeper and to press on. The truth is that the Good News is not about being “good enough” or simply “getting by”. No wonder we sometimes ask the questions - “What more do you want?” that can turn into, “What’s in it for me?”

What’s in it for us is a twofold promise. First, we are promised that we will come to know the joy associated with being more concerned about giving than receiving. We will experience in this life the freedom that comes with allowing God to penetrate all – not just some – of whom we are. In short, we experience the wealth that is only known by generous people. Second, we are promised that there will come a day when we will enjoy this God-given freedom forever in a life that never ends.

So, what’s in it for us? How about purpose, meaning and direction in this life! How about the fullness of purpose, meaning and direction – and so many other gifts – in the life to come!

Now that’s Good News!

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(October 15, 2018: Teresa of Avila, Religious and Doctor of the Church
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“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm…”

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

“Every day – all day long – God pours his grace upon the world. Those who accept it – who cooperate with God’s will – draw closer to the Lord, as in the case of St. Teresa of Avila, the patron of souls in need of divine grace. The easygoing life of the Carmelite convent she entered was not conducive to the contemplative life. So, she began planning a new branch of the Carmelites, one that would bring nuns (and friars) back to the order’s original commitment to a life of austerity and deep prayer…St. Teresa’s legacy is her collection of spiritual writings. She was the first Catholic woman to write systematically about prayer and the interior life. In 1970, upon naming her a Doctor of the Church, Pope Paul VI praised Teresa as ‘a teacher of remarkable depth.’”

Insofar as Teresa died in 1582, her writings were well known by the “Gentleman Saint”. In a letter to Madame de Chantal (1605), Francis de Sales wrote:

“The practice of the presence of God taught by Mother Teresa in chapters 29 and 30 of The Way of Perfection is excellent, and I think it amounts to the same as I explained to you when I wrote that God was in our spirit as though he were the heart of our spirit and in our heart as the spirit which breathes life into it, and that David called God: the God of his heart. Use this boldly and often for it is most useful. May God be the soul and spirit of our heart forever….” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 160 – 161)

Through her writings and the accounts of her life, we see in Teresa the heart of a woman set free in Christ.

Today, how might we experience something of that same freedom today?

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(October 16, 2018: Margaret Mary Alacoque, Religious and Mystic)
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“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm…”

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

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

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

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

How ironic that God would choose a religious woman living in a cloistered community to become the herald (with the help of Claude de la Colombiere, of course!) of Christ’s unbounded love as seen so clearly in the image of his Sacred Heart? As Jesus told us late last week, nothing – however seemingly unlikely – is “impossible with God”. God took a personal, private revelation of his love to Margaret Mary and managed to transform it into a universal expression of love!

Notwithstanding her personal liabilities and the wholesale skepticism of her own community members and local clergy, Margaret Mary never relented in her fidelity to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

To what degree could the same be said of us?

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(October 17, 2018: Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr)
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“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

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

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

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

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

We do not know if Ignatius was afraid of his impending martyrdom. We do know that he was brave enough to face – and embrace – it. In other words, afraid as he might have been of death – and a violent death at that – he nevertheless acknowledged Jesus Christ before others.

Today, how might we imitate his example of courage by facing – and embracing – the challenges that we will meet? In ways that fit the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves today, how might we display the “fruit of the Spirit”?

Spirituality Matters 2018: October 4th - October 10th

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(October 4, 2018: Francis of Assisi)
* * * * *

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

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

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

In the case of Francis of Assisi, Jesus sent him out - literally - as a lamb to confront a wolf. In all our lives there are many things in life with which we must deal - some of them “cute and cuddly,” others life-threatening. Jesus gave him the power he needed to deal with any number of challenges, both ordinary and extraordinary.

And so we pray: God, help us to follow the example of Francis of Assisi (for whom St. Francis de Sales was named). Give us the power to combat things we experience as fearsome or ferocious with confidence, patience, gentleness and love.

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(October 5, 2018: Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, Priest and Missionary)
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“I am of little account; what can I answer you?”

When you really think about it, it is somewhat presumptuous to speak to God, to ask God questions, to seek God’s favor or to suggest to God that there might be betters ways of doing things. After all, as the reading from the Book of Job reminds us, who has a greater resume than God?

So, what is our takeaway from today’s selection from the Book of Job? Perhaps, many a day the essence of our prayer should be less about how to speak to God and more about listening to God, specifically, how deeply God loves us and desires that we love one another. If we should need to answer God, consider using these words: “Thank you”.

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(October 6, 2018: Blessed Marie Rose Durocher, Religious/Founder)
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“I give you praise, Father, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike…”

In Catholic Online, we read:

“Eulalie Durocher was born on October 6, 1811, at St. Antoine in Quebec, Canada. She was the youngest of ten children. After her education at the hands of the Sisters of Notre Dame, she helped her brother, a parish priest, and in the process established the first Canadian parish Sodality for young women. In 1843, she was invited by Bishop Bourget to found a new congregation of women dedicated to Christian education. Accordingly she founded the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary and took the religious name of Marie Rose. Under her saintly and able leadership, her community flourished in spite of all kinds of obstacles - including great poverty and ongoing criticism – as she remained unswerving in her concern for the poor and uneducated. Worn out by her many labors, Marie Rose died on October 6, 1849, at the age of thirty-eight. She was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II on May 23, 1982.”( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=402 )

While Mary Rose Durocher may not have been very wise or very learned, she was clearly smart enough to accept the graces and gifts that God offered to her. In addition, she was courageous enough to accept God’s invitation to share with others – especially the poor and marginalized – what she herself had received from God.

Mary Rose Durocher is living proof that you don’t have to be a genius to be smart: you simply need to accept what it is – and who it is – that God offers to you.

Each and every day.

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(October 7, 2018: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“It is not good for man to be alone.”

Today’s readings remind us of our need to have profound respect for one another. Today’s readings speak of the reverence we should have for every human being. Today’s readings speak of the care and concern that we should have for all creation.

More importantly, the readings speak of a deeper truth – ab out the God in whose image and likeness we are created and we are not meant to live alone.

Francis de Sales wrote:

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that God wills all of us to be saved that no one can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose, through Creation God made us in his own image and likeness; by the Incarnation, God has made himself in our image and likeness…God’s goodness moves God to communicate liberally to us the help of divine grace so that we may come to the joy of his glory…” ( Treatise on the Love of God, Book VIII, Chapter 4)

Just as God communicates with us, we are meant to live in communion with one another.

In his Conferences, Francis spells out how being ourselves leads us to be in relationships with others.

“The sweet and loving bond of holy love will be continually drawn tighter and closer as we advance farther and farther along the road of our own perfection. As we become more and more capable of union with God, we shall unite ourselves closer and closer to one another…At each communion, which we make, our union will be rendered more perfect, for, uniting ourselves with Our Lord, we shall remain always more closely united together, and therefore this is why the holy reception of this celestial Bread and of this most adorable Sacrament is called Communion: that is to say, common union.” (Conference VI, On Hope)

Fundamentally, Francis de Sales tells us that we are born to love – God and one another. We are made for relationship. Much of who we are – much more of who we could be – can only become reality through the relationships we establish and nurture with others.

To be sure, we need to be ourselves. We need to grow in self-knowledge and self-acceptance. We need to embrace our strengths and our weaknesses. We need to consider what we can do on our own. We need to accept what we cannot do on our own. But none of these action happen in a vacuum: the fullness of whom God calls us to be is found precisely in our relationships with one another.

Not only is it not good for man to be alone. We can only be fully human when we live in communion with God…and with one another.

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(October 8, 2018: Monday, Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time )
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“What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

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

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

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

Of course, the most important law for those who follow Jesus is the Gospel, that is, the Law of Love, a love so clearly embodied by Jesus as well as by his mother, Mary. It’s important for us to have a working knowledge of that Law; it’s important for us to know how to read or interpret that Law. More important, however, than knowing or interpreting it is our willingness to put the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Law of Love – into practice.

Today, in what ways can we be Good Samaritans - that is, good, just and compassionate neighbors?

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(October 9, 2018: John Leonardi, Priest and Founder)
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“You are anxious and worried about many things…”

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

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

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

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

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

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(October 10, 2018: Wednesday, Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Lord, teach us to pray

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today and every day!

Spirituality Matters 2018: September 27th - October 3rd

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(September 27, 2018: Vincent de Paul, Priest and Founder)
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Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Vincent de Paul. In his book entitled This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell wrote:

“Vincent de Paul’s…temperament was such that he could never turn away from a person in need, no matter what the need was. The list of troubles he sought to alleviate is astounding. He brought food and medicine to penniless sick people, comforted convicts condemned to row the galleys, and sheltered orphans, the elderly and soldiers incapacitated by war wounds. He opened hospitals, took in abandoned babies and taught catechism to children. He founded an order of nuns (the Daughters of Charity) to serve the poor and another for priests to teach and encourage religious devotion among the urban poor and country peasants. In time, the Vincentians’ (as they came to be called) method for educating people in the faith was adopted by many bishops for use in their own seminaries.” ( This Saint’s for You, p. 108)

There is nothing new about what St. Vincent de Paul did. After all, countless saints (both those known and many more unknown) have been doing good things for others in the name of God since the time of Jesus Christ. That said, Vincent de Paul is recognized for continuing to do well-known and well-established good things for other people in new and creative ways – specifically, through his founding of the Daughters of Charity. After all, the Daughters of Charity differed from other religious congregations of that time in that they were not cloistered, making them the first of their kind. In addition, they took a vow of charity on an annual basis, enabling them to maintain the necessary mobility and availability required for the type of ministry in which they were engaged in a revolutionary way.

In the big scheme of things, perhaps it is true that there may be nothing new under the sun. However, there are always new and creative ways of doing the things that are well established.

How might God be inviting us just this day to do something not-so-new for other people in exciting, new and novel ways?

Does this mean that we should simply drift through life without putting our hand to anything? Does this mean that we are simply created to pass through this world without trying to contribute something to it? Does this mean that any attempt at leaving some legacy in our wake is simply a waste of time? After all, the Gospel parables of the “talents” makes it quite clear that God expects to (as it were) get a return on the investment that He has made in each and every one of us.

The key to understanding what the warning in today’s reading means – as well as what it doesn’t mean – comes from knowing the definition of the word “vanity”. Vanity is defined as, “Excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements”. The key words here are “excessive” and “one’s own”.

What is the lesson for us? We should work while on this earth. We should do our level best to make the world – at least our little part of it – a better place for our having been here. What we do does matter. What we do has results, provided that we do it for God’s glory.

And not our own!

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(September 28, 2018: Wenceslaus, Martyr)
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“There is an appointed time for everything…”

These words in today’s selection from the Book of Ecclesiastes should be prominently displayed on the door of every refrigerator around the world. The wisdom – and lessons – of these words are at one and the same time both simple and salient.

They remind us of how important it is to develop a sense of timing.

Consider these questions:

  • How many times have you hurt someone else not because you did a bad thing but because you did a good thing at the worst possible time?
  • How many times did you bite your tongue when you should have said something?
  • How many times did you weep when you should have laughed?
  • How many times did you hold on to something long after you should have set it aside to embrace something new?
  • How many times did you give up on something precisely when you should have given it one more try?
  • How many times did you spread yourself too thin when you should have been trying to keep your own act together?
Put another way, how many times in our lives have we attempted to place a square peg in a round hole? And don’t we know from our experience that it just won’t fit?

Francis de Sales reminded his readers that it isn’t enough for us to do good things, that is, to practice virtues. We also need to recognize when, where and how to practice virtues in ways that fit the events, situations, circumstances and relationships in which we find ourselves in any given moment. Look at today’s Gospel. Even as Peter correctly identifies who Jesus is (a good thing), Jesus rebukes him (not such a good thing) for not intuiting that now is not yet the time to start running around and proclaiming this truth to others. Key words - not yet!

And so, we pray today: God, please give us two things: (1) the courage to do good things, and (2) the wisdom of knowing when – or when not – to do them!

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(September 29, 2018: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels)
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“In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today!

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(September 30, 2018: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ,
Amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”

When we think of serving the Lord, we probably – however unconsciously – image doing something great, something wonderful and/or something awe-inspiring for God or for others. Maybe yes, maybe no.

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

“You must be ready to suffer many great afflictions for our Lord, even martyrdom itself. Resolve to give God whatever you hold dearest if it should please Him to take it from you – father, mother, brother, husband, wife, child, your eyesight, perhaps even your very life itself. Prepare your heart for any and all such sacrifices as these. However, if divine Providence does not send you great, piercing afflictions and does not demand your eyesight of you, be willing to give god a few of your hairs. What I am suggesting is that we must bear patiently the slight injuries, the little inconveniences and the inconsequential losses that come your way on a daily basis. By means of such little things as these – borne with great love and affection – you will completely win God’s heart and make it all your own.”

“Little acts of charity, a headaches toothache or cold, the bad humor of a husband or wife, a shattered glass, this contempt or that scorn, loss of a pair of gloves, a ring or a handkerchief, the inconveniences associated with going to bed early and getting up early to pray or receive Holy Communion, the feeling of awkwardness one experiences in performing certain acts of devotion in public: – in short, all such trials 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 a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves each and every moment, it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches if you learn how to use them well.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35)

What is the moral to the image of offering something as simple as a cup of water to somebody else because we belong to Christ? When it comes to “Living Jesus”, ordinary things add up - little things mean a lot!

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(October 1, 2018: Therese of the Child Jesus, Virgin/Doctor of the Church )
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“Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”

“How offensive to God are rash judgments!” says St. Francis de Sales. “The judgments of the children of men are rash because they are not the judges of one another, and when they pass judgment on others they usurp the office of our Lord...if an action has many difference aspects, we must always think of the one which is best.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 28)

These words of de Sales would have been very good advice for the disciple John in today's Gospel when he asks Jesus to stop a man from expelling demons in His name “because he does not follow in our company”. They are in fact very similar to the advice Jesus himself gives John: “Do not try to stop him. Anyone who is not against you is with you.” John is not the only one who could profit from this advice. Many of us could too.

These words of Jesus and St. Francis de Sales remind us that all those who do the work of Jesus belong to Him, whether they are “of our company” or not. We should avoid the tendency to presume the worst of those who are not of our tribe or group. We should focus less on denominational labels and more on the actions, spirit, and attitudes of fellow followers of Christ, without in any way diminishing our faith. Most of all, these remind us that if there is any trace of prejudice or bigotry remaining in our hearts against members of other religions, we should rid ourselves of such burdens…and of such blindness.

God needs you and me - and Christians everywhere - to be His prophets. Prophets in the Biblical sense typically arise at a time when society has stopped listening to what God says. Biblical prophets speak “on behalf of God”. They do not tell others what will happen; they tell them what should happen. They don’t predict the future; they describe and diagnose the present. They tell others what God wants and what God says.

  • God needs you and me to stand up and be counted on the values of the Gospel.
  • God needs you and me to tell others that God wants peace, not war; life, not death; love, not hate; concern for the other, not preoccupation with self; freedom, not license; truth, not political correctness; justice for all, not discrimination.

In the words of St. Francis de Sales, God needs us to “often speak of God in familiar conversation with our...friends and neighbors.” ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter.26) And “if the world holds us to be fools,” because we are behaving like prophets, “let us hold the world to be mad.” (Ibid, Part IV, Ch.1)

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(October 2, 2018: Holy Guardian Angels)
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Their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father

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

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

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

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

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(October 3, 2018: Wednesday, Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“How can a man be justified before God?”

This is a profoundly powerful question raised in a handful of words taken from the Book of Job. The answer is provided with even fewer words.

He can’t.

There is nothing we can do to justify ourselves before God. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love. What can you possibly do to gain something which – by its very nature – is a pure and unadulterated gift?

This teaching is essence of the Salesian tradition’s understanding of humility, of littleness and of ordinariness. We stand in awe of how God transforms us from being nothing – in his eyes, at least – to being everything! We hear with Mary’s exclamation in the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

In the opinion of St. Francis de Sales, this overwhelming realization that we can do absolutely nothing to be justified before God should not result in helplessness or complacence. Rather, it should express itself in our practice of (1) gratitude, and (2) generosity. Put another way, what return can we make for all the good that God has done for us? By “paying it forward”!

So, what is our takeaway from today’s Scriptures? Stop wasting your time trying to justify yourself somehow before God. Instead, make good use of your time by sharing yourself somehow with those to whom God sends you today!

Spirituality Matters 2018: September 20th - September 26th

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(September 20, 2018: Andrew Kim Yae-gon, Paul Chong and Companions - Martyrs)
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“She has shown great love...”

Throughout the history of great ideas, great inventions or great movements, often times what makes an idea, invention or movement great is the fact that nobody else had ever thought of doing it.

Such is the example in today’s Gospel selection from Luke. On the face of it, wiping and anointing the feet of an important guest – an expression of great respect and reverence – was something that in Jesus’ day one might simply have been taken for granted. As it turns out, someone did indeed take it for granted.

Someone described as “a sinful woman”.

She made her way into this august gathering with no invitation (no small achievement in itself) and proceeded to do what nobody else thought to do: through ritual action, she expressed her respect and reverence for Jesus by washing and anointing his feet. She might have been a great sinner in the minds of other people, but in the mind of God her sinfulness was only superseded by her great love.

Today, sinners though we are, how might we show great love?

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(September 21, 2018: Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist)
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“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(September 22, 2018: Saturday, Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“A sower went out to sow…”

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

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

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

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(September 23, 2018: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

The first disciples certainly did ascribe to the fact that Jesus was very probably the Messiah for whom they yearned, and yet he was a Messiah with a mission far from the reality that they expected.

Today's Gospel gives a vivid picture of this dilemma in their failure to appreciate the fact that Jesus speaks about his upcoming death and resurrection and the suffering involved in that particular path. The clear unfolding of that prediction met with confusion and fear on the part of his disciples, because they found themselves unable to grasp this reality in light of their own expectations, hopes and dreams.

Their perception of their role in the reality of this kingdom led them to argue among themselves. Their expectations naturally convinced them of the importance of their own role in the fulfillment of Jewish hopes for their future and embroiled them in hostility, envy and enmity among themselves. Jesus again clearly demonstrated the importance of their role and how their role would be played out - in ways far different from their own perceptions. The little child in their midst presents clearly the ideal to which his disciples are called.

Saint Francis de Sales speaks of the natural difficulty often involved in our acquiescence to the will of God. Often we find ourselves in the position of the apostles in the Gospel account today, where following the will of God does not conform to our own expectations or desires. In the Treatise on the Love of God (Book 9, Chapter 2), Francis tells us:

“A truly living heart loves God's good pleasures not only in consolations but also in afflictions, but it loves it most of all in the cross, in pain, and labor, because love's principal power is to enable the lover to suffer for the beloved object.”

Today, we need to ask ourselves today how our own expectations, hopes or dreams prevent us from truly acquiescing to the Will of God. Do the difficult times we encounter stifle us in our attempts to follow God's will? Have we been able to abandon our attempts to have God's will conform to our own desires and wills? Do we really appreciate the gift that Jesus is to us?

A prayerful reflection upon these questions will lead to the opportunity which is needed for us to acquiesce to the Will of God. What a necessary part of our journey of faith this process really is! In the Introduction to the Devout Life (Book 2, Chapter 1), St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Prayer places our intelligence in the divine love. It is the best way to purge our intelligence of its ignorance and our will of its bad affections...I suggest, above all, mental prayer of the mind and heart, especially that which is made on the Life and Passion of Our Lord. In contemplating Him you will be filled with Him; you will learn to act like Him and to conform your actions to His.”

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(September 24, 2018: Monday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Refuse no one the good on which he has a claim…”

Today’s selection from the Book of Proverbs offers us (as it usually does) some sound, practical advice. Simply put, if there is some good that you can do for another person – provided, of course, that it is within your power or purview to do so – you should do it! (Recall Nike’s tag line: “ Just do it!”.)

But the Book of Proverbs also adds this caveat: do not postpone until tomorrow the opportunities you have to do something good today. One of the greatest obstacles we face in our attempts to do good things is the temptation to put them off - to wait for the right moment, for the perfect time or for the ideal circumstances. How many things have never gotten done simply because somebody said, “I’ll get around to it later” or “There’s always tomorrow”.

It should be painfully obvious to each one of us that there will come a time in our lives when we will no longer have the opportunity to “get around to it”. There will, indeed, come a day for which there will be no tomorrow. So, why wait until later to do something good for somebody else when you have the opportunity to do it today – now – at this moment?

Perhaps Rudyard Kipling’s (1865-1936) admonition can encourage us to not only do good things but also to do them in the here and now. He once wrote: “Live each day as though it were your last; one day, you’re sure to be right.”

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(September 25, 2018: Tuesday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

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

We are children of the Father, siblings of Jesus and embodiments of the Holy Spirit. How easily do others identify us as members of God’s family by how we look, speak and act?

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(September 26, 2018: Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs)
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“Every word of God is tested ...”

Beginning teachers are often reminded that their students will test them. Their students will pay a lot less attention to what is said to them and a great deal more attention to what is done to them. This reaction is the essence of what is meant in the words from today’s selection from the Book of Proverbs: we test and/or judge God’s words - we evaluate God’s veracity - by what God does. What God says to us pales in comparison to what – in our experience – God does for us.

Consider the example of Jesus in today’s Gospel. He didn’t give the Twelve the power merely to speak or to preach, but he also gave them the power to expel demons, to cure diseases and to heal the sick. In other words, “proclaiming the Good News” is about saying the right thing as well as doing the right thing.

How about us? How might our words be tested today? How will other people ask us to back up what we say to them with what we are willing to do for them?

Spirituality Matters 2018: September 13th - September 20th

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(September 13, 2018: John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“The measure you measure will be given back to you.”

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

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and place your neighbor in yours, then you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and imagine yourself the buyer when you sell – then you will sell and buy justly. A person loses nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously and with a royal, just and reasonable heart…This is the touchstone of true reason.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

Francis tells us we lose nothing by measuring generously when it comes to how we deal with our brothers and sisters. Jesus goes one step further – generosity toward others offers us the promise of eternal life for ourselves…and then some!

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(September 14, 2018: Exultation of the Holy Cross)
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“He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, what cross is Christ asking us to carry today?

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(September 15, 2018: Our Lady of Sorrows)
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“You yourself a sword will pierce…” (Luke)

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

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

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

What more need be said?

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(September 16, 2018: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Get thee behind me, Satan.”

The saints are heroes of our faith tradition. They are people to whom we look for guidance and inspiration. They are people we admire. They remind us God can accomplish in us the kinds of things God accomplished in them. But the stories of the saints are more than a consideration of the promise of human strength, courage, fidelity and tenacity. Their stories are also powerful reminders of the reality of human frailty, weakness and infidelity. In a sermon he preached on Palm Sunday, March 1622, Francis de Sales observed:

“All creatures, you see, are a mixture of perfection and imperfection. For this reason, they can be used as symbols of either. Every person, no matter how holy, has some imperfections. Made in God’s image, each person reflects something of God’s goodness while, at the same time, that same person carries some imperfections.” (Pulpit and Pew)

Consider the example of St. Peter in today’s Gospel. When the apostles were asked the question by Jesus, “Who do you say I am?” Peter is the first to proclaim: “You are the Messiah!” A mere few verses following this great public demonstration of faith, Peter takes issue with Jesus’ prediction of his ultimate rejection, death and resurrection, and is subjected to a great pubic humiliation when Jesus turns on him and proclaims: “Get thee behind me, Satan!”

In the case of St. Peter, this display would not be the last of both his perfections and imperfections. In the Treatise on the Love of God, Francis commented:

“Who would not marvel at the heart of St. Peter, so bold among armed soldiers that he alone takes his sword in hand and strikes out with it? Yet, just a short time later, among unarmed people, he is so cowardly that at the mere word of a servant girl he denies and detests his master.” ( TLG, Book X, Chapter 9)

Francis de Sales believed that we have as much to learn from the setbacks of the saints as we do from their successes.

“It is a good thing to see the defects in the lives of the saints. It not only shows God’s goodness in forgiving them, but it also teaches us to imitate the saints in their efforts to overcome their failings and to do penance for them. We study the virtues of the saints in order to imitate them; we study the failings of the saints in order to avoid them.” (Ibid)

This way of looking at the saints can be most helpful in our everyday attempts to “Live Jesus”. Seeing the defects of the saints can serve as a strong vaccine against any dismay or discouragement we may experience when faced with our own sins, failings and imperfections. Likewise, seeing the virtues of the saints can dissuade us from becoming smug or satisfied with our shortcomings.

What is the bottom line? The saints are our companions for the journey. They have much to teach us about how to pursue a life of devotion: overcoming our sins and failings and strengthening our practice of virtue. Francis de Sales (himself a saint) challenges us to see the saints as real people, and to realize that we can learn as much from their setbacks as we can from their successes.

Beginning today!

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(September 17, 2018: Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church )
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“May all who seek you exult and be glad in you…”

“A contemporary of St. Francis de Sales, St. Robert Bellarmine was the third of ten children. He entered the newly formed Society of Jesus in 1560 and after his ordination went on to teach at Louvain (1570-1576) where he became famous for his Latin sermons. In 1576, he was appointed to the chair of controversial theology at the Roman College, becoming Rector in 1592. He went on to become Provincial of Naples in 1594 and Cardinal in 1598.”

“This outstanding scholar and devoted servant of God defended the Apostolic See against the anti-clericals in Venice and against the political tenets of James I of England. He composed an exhaustive apologetic work against the prevailing heretics of his day. In the field of church-state relations, he took a position based on principles now regarded as fundamentally democratic: authority originates with God, but is vested in the people, who entrust it to fit rulers.”

“This saint was the spiritual father of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, helped St. Francis de Sales obtain formal approval of the Visitation Order, and in his prudence opposed severe action in the case of Galileo. He has left us a host of important writings, including works of devotion and instruction, as well as controversy. He died in 1621.” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=101 )

Robert Bellarmine’s support of Francis de Sales was not limited to the formal approval of the Visitation Order. In fact, Bellarmine had been helpful to Francis de Sales nearly sixteen years earlier while the latter – then a newly-ordained priest – was engaged as a missionary in the Chablais. In a letter (February 1609) addressed to Pierre de Villars, Archbishop of Vienne, Francis wrote:

“I have some material for introducing beginners to the exercise of evangelical preaching which I would like to follow up with a methodical study for the conversion of heretics by holy preaching. In this last book I should like to demolish – by way of practical method – all the most obvious and celebrated arguments of our adversaries, and that not only in a style that will instruct, but also move, so that the book will not only serve for the consolation of Catholics but for the conversion of heretics. I intend to use towards this project some meditations that I composed during my five years in the Chablais where the only books I had to help me in my preaching were the Bible and those of the great Bellarmine.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 164-165)

There can be no doubt that many people who encountered Robert Bellarmine were better off for having done so. Similarly, there can be no doubt that one of his greatest admirers – Francis de Sales – had a positive impact on a countless number of people himself.

Can the same be said of us? Are other people “glad” for having encountered us?

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(September 18, 2018: Tuesday, Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
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“Now the body is not a single part, but many.”

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

“The supreme unity of the divine act is opposed to confusion and disorder but not to distinction and variety. On the contrary, it employs these last to bring forth beauty by reducing all difference and diversity to proportion, proportion to order and order to the unity of the world, which comprises all things, both visible and invisible. All these together are called the universe perhaps because all their diversity is reduced to unity, as if one were to say ‘unidiverse,’ that is, unique and diverse, unique along with diversity and diverse along with unity. In sum, God’s supreme unity diversifies all things and his permanent eternity gives change to all things…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 2, p. 106)

Everything– be it our physical bodies, our families or our churches – is made up a variety of things. Everything – be it our physical bodies, our families or our churches – works best when each and every part does what it is designed and destined to do.

Each and every one of us makes up some part of the Body of Christ. The fact that no two of us are exactly the same actually makes possible the unity toward which Jesus asks us to work. In this challenge we experience a great paradox, perhaps the greatest of all paradoxes. It is only when each of us is fully and authentically our unique selves that unity with others is truly possible. Put another way, unity is not the same as uniformity, i.e., being exactly the same. Where everything or everybody is the same, then there can never be true unity.

Just this day, do you want to do your part to contribute something to the unity of any body – be it family, friends, neighbors, co-workers or church goers – of which you are a part? Then simply try your level best to be your unique self.

And allow – even encourage – others to do the same!

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(September 19, 2018: Januarius, Bishop and Martyr)
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“To what shall I compare the people of this generation?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today!

Spirituality Matters 2018: September 6th - September 12th

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(September 6, 2018: Thursday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“If anyone among you considers himself wise, let him become a fool, so as to become wise…”

This apparent paradox – wisdom as foolishness, foolishness as wisdom – is found in both the Old and New Testaments. Of course, it is “worldly” wisdom that is foolish, whereas divine “foolishness” is, in truth, authentic wisdom. Put another way, when our “wisdom” makes us the center of the universe, we are truly the most foolish of men. By contrast, when we are so “foolish” as to make God the center of the universe, it is only then that we can hope to become truly wise.

Francis de Sales was no stranger to this paradox. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:

“We recognize genuine goodness as we do genuine balm. If balm sinks down and stays at the bottom when dropped into water, it is rated the best and most valuable. So also, in order to know whether a person is truly wise, learned, generous and noble, we must observe whether his abilities tend to humility, modesty, and obedience for in that case they will be truly good. If they float on the surface and seek to show themselves they are so much less genuine insofar as they are showier. People’s virtues and fine qualities when conceived and nurtured by pride, show and vanity have the mere appearance of good without juice, marrow and solidity. Honors, dignities and rank are like saffron, which thrives best and grows most plentifully when trodden under foot. It is no honor to be handsome if a person prizes himself for it; if beauty is to have good grace, it should be unstudied. Learning dishonors us when it inflates our minds and degenerates into mere pedantry. Just as honor is an excellent thing when given to us freely, so, too, it becomes base when demanded, sought after and asked for.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 4, pp. 132-133)

So, ask yourself the question: “Does my wisdom inflate my mind, or does it tend to humility, modesty and obedience?” If your answer is the former, you may be far more foolish than you know. By contrast, if your answer is the latter, you may be far wiser than you ever thought possible.

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(September 7, 2018: Friday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not make any judgment before the appointed time…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales makes a direct reference to this admonition from St. Paul, when he wrote:

“‘No,’ says the Apostle, ‘judge not before the time until the Lord comes, when He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsel of hearts.’ The judgments of the children of men are rash because they are not the judges of one another, and when they pass judgments on others they usurp the office of the Lord. They are rash because the principal malice of sin depends on the intention and counsel of the heart, and to us they are the hidden things of darkness. They are rash because every man has enough on which he ought to judge himself without taking it upon him to judge his neighbor. To avoid future judgment it is equally necessary both to refrain from judging others and to judge ourselves.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 28, pp. 196-197)

Note that Paul is willing to go even a step further than St. Francis de Sales when it comes to making judgments. The former goes so far as to say, “I do not even pass judgment on myself”. In the big scheme of things, each of us has more than enough on his plate each day just trying to live our lives as best we can without spending extra time and energy (that we really don’t have) judging ourselves and others. Besides, who are we to judge? After all, as both St. Paul and St. Francis de Sales point out, it is God who is the one and only just judge.

Just today, try and remember this admonition: whether toward others or ourselves, judging is simply above our pay grade.

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(September 8, 2018: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“We know that all things work for good for those who love God…” (Romans)

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

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

God did it! God continues to do it! And God will continue to do it!

Forever!

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(September 9, 2018: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

Listen to what Francis de Sales has to say on this topic. ( Introduction Part III, Chapter 36)

“If we like a certain practice we despise everyone else and oppose everything that is not to our taste. If someone is poor-looking or if we have taken a dislike to that person, we find fault with everything that person does: we never stop plaguing that person, and are always looking for an opportunity to run that person down. On the contrary, if we like someone because of their good looks, there isn’t anything that person does that we aren’t willing to overlook.”

“In general, we prefer the rich to the poor…we even prefer those who are better dressed. We rigorously demand out own rights, but want others to be considerate when insisting on theirs. We maintain our rank with exactness, but we want others to be humble and accommodating when it comes to theirs. We complain very easily about our neighbor, but our neighbors must never complain about us. What we do for others always seems like such a big deal, but what others do for us seems like nothing at all.”

“In short, we have two hearts. We have a mild, gracious and courteous attitude toward ourselves and another that is hard, severe, and rigorous toward our neighbor. We have two weights: one to weigh goods to our won greatest possible advantage and another, to weigh to our neighbor’s greatest possible disadvantage.”

This is the essence of discriminating against others “in our hearts:” to live with two hearts, to live by a double standard. As James says, when we set ourselves up as judge (and jury) of our neighbor while failing to use the same standard on ourselves, we “hand down corrupt decisions.”

On the other hand, God shows no partiality. As people made in God’s image and likeness, neither should we. How can we remedy our tendency to prefer some people over others? On this matter, Francis de Sales is crystal clear and unambiguous. “Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and your neighbor in yours and you will judge justly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell and buy justly…This is the touchstone of all reason.”

Well, isn’t that reason enough to do our level best to show no partiality when it comes to the things of God, and in giving our neighbor his or her due?

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(September 10, 2018: Monday, Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time )
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“It is widely reported that you are inflated with pride; should you not rather have been sorrowful?”

Sadness is something that most of us avoid at all costs. When it comes to making progress in the spiritual life, however, sadness is not necessarily always a bad thing. In fact, it can actually be a good thing! In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:

“‘Sorrow that is according to God produces penance that surely tends to salvation, whereas the sorrow that is according to the world produces death,’ says St. Paul. Sorrow, then, can be either good or evil according to its different ways of affecting us. True enough, it produces more bad effects than good for it has only two good effects, namely, compassion and contrition, whereas it has six evil effects, namely, anxiety, sloth, wrath, jealousy, envy and impatience.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 12, p. 253)

The kind of sorrow that both St. Paul and Francis de Sales are advocating is one that flows from the acknowledgment of our sins and weaknesses in ways that don’t disable us. This acknowledgement is not a ‘woe is me” sorrow that simply deprives us of the energy we need to make changes in our lives.

Is there something about your life right now of which you’re not proud? If so, don’t reach for a sorrow that simply makes you wallow in your suffering, but reach for a sorrow that helps you to do something to change the cause of your suffering.

And experience the “penance that surely leads to salvation.”

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(September 11, 2018: Tuesday, Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to be able to settle a case between brothers?”

“Litigation (that is, the conduct of a lawsuit) is as old as civilized history. Evidence of trials exists in the hieroglyphic stone tablets of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, the scrolls of Rome and Greece, and even the ideographs of the Chinese dynasties. The ancient Romans allowed law to be practiced directly by the “citizen,” without the necessity of a representative—a crude practice that was abolished, coincidentally, shortly before the fall of the empire. Likewise, the third century Chinese scholar Shao Chin Tse-Tse wrote in his seminal history of the Tang Dynasty, Ten Percent Fruit Juice, “The way of Confucius required that all disputes be brought before the Emperor by representatives of noble lineage...” ( http://www.publishlawyer.com/history.htm )

And what exactly is a lawsuit?

“A lawsuit (or much less commonly a “suit in law”) is a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff - a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant's actions - demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff's complaint. If the plaintiff is successful, judgment will be given in the plaintiff's favor, and a variety of court orders may be issued to enforce a right, award damages, or impose a temporary or permanent injunction to prevent an act or compel an act. A declaratory judgment may be issued to prevent future legal disputes. Although not as common, a lawsuit may also refer to a criminal action, criminal proceeding, or criminal claim.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawsuit )

We’ve all suffered injustice at the hands of another person. We’ve all been the victim of someone else’s deceit or deception. We’ve all been cheated, betrayed or defrauded by someone else. We need to address these wrongs, and in extreme cases, we may even need to seek remedies through litigation. But setting aside the extremes cases, might it not be far better on any given day to try to resolve our claims in the court of common sense before resorting to the court of law?

Before choosing litigation, how about first trying reconciliation?

* * * * *
(September 12, 2018: Most Holy Name of Mary)
* * * * *

“The world in its present form is passing away ...”

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is famous for this dictum: “The only constant is change”. In a letter to Madame de Chantal, Francis de Sales penned a similar sentiment when he wrote:

“I see that all of the seasons of the year converge in your soul: at times you experience all the dryness, distraction, disgust and boredom of winter; at other times, all the dew and fragrance of the little flowers in May time; and again, the warmth of a desire to please God. All that remains is autumn, and you say that you do not see much of its fruit. Yet it often happens that in threshing the wheat and pressing the grapes we discover more than the harvest or vintage promised. You would like it to be always spring or summer; but no, dear daughter, we have to experience interior as well as exterior changes. Only in heaven will everything be springtime as to beauty, autumn as to enjoyment and summer as to love. There will be no winter there; but here below we need winter so that we may practice self-denial and the countless small but beautiful virtues that can be practiced during a barren season. Let us go on our little way; so long as we mean well and hold on to our resolve, we can only be on the right track…” (LSD, p. 148)

Whether we realize it or not, the world in its present form is always passing away, because no two days, hours or moments are precisely the same. For that matter, neither are we and/or other people with whom we are engaged in a variety of relationships on any given day. While change is not always easy for us, change is at the core of what it means to be human and change appears to be quite good for us.

Perhaps change is the only constant, after all, but with one notable exception. The love that God has for us - that never changes!

Spirituality Matters 2018: August 30th - September 5th

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(August 30, 2018: Thursday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“You are not lacking in any spiritual gift...”

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

“Consider the nature that God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world; it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty…For this purpose God has given you intellect to know him, memory to be mindful of him, will to love him, imagination to picture to yourself his benefits, eyes to see his wonderful works, tongue to praise him, and so on with other faculties..’” (IDL, Part I, Chapters 9 and 10, pp. 53; 55)

In the mind of Saint Francis de Sales at least, we are not lacking in any spiritual gift. We have everything we need to be the kind of people that God calls us, wants us and longs for us to be.

Are you experiencing any difficulties in your attempts to live a life of devotion? Are you having problems pursuing a life of holiness? Maybe it’s because you are failing to make use of the gifts that God has provided for your growth. Worse yet, perhaps you haven’t yet discovered all the gifts that God has entrusted to you for your growth.

What are you waiting for?

* * * * *
(August 31, 2018: Friday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

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

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

God calls us to holiness. God calls us to walk in his ways. Imperfect as we are, we can make great progress in this quest by accepting the grace of God, by putting God’s grace to work in action and by relying on the love, support and encouragement of others. This call to holiness also challenges us to be truthful with ourselves and about ourselves - to recognize what is good in us, as well as anything in us needing to be purified. While we will always be imperfect – while we will always be reminded of our weakness – we don’t need to be perfect to strive for perfection.

Today, how can the “foolishness of God” help us to become sources of God’s strength today?

Today, how can God help us to transform our weakness into greatness in the service of others today?

* * * * *
(September 1, 2018: Saturday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(September 2, 2018: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.”

Traditions are powerful things. Whether they deal with the making of Grandmother's special casserole for our Thanksgiving meal, with the relative who hosts for Christmas and Easter, with those we accompany on family vacation, with rituals around the death of a loved one, or with something so simple as who sits where around the dinner table. Traditions are part and parcel of all of our lives. When they are positive ones, traditions can give us a sense of identity, stability and value when our lives are filled with change.

But traditions can be negative too; especially when they become detached from the values they were meant to support and protect. Jesus knew that fact all too well as today's gospel account suggests. He challenged the Pharisees in their use of the laws regarding ritual purity. Jesus saw them using the traditions to judge others unfairly as being “in” or “out” of the circle of God's mercy and love, as if they - and not God - were the determiners of righteousness and religious worthiness!

God's Word this Sunday certainly challenges us to look at the power of tradition(s) in our lives. If they are positive, then we should continue to make them part of our lives. But if they are negative behaviors or even attitudes - old grudges we just can't forget, old hurts we just can't forgive, old patterns of destructive choosing or thinking that we just can't seem to escape - then, with the grace of God already “planted within us,” we need to do something different to change them.

St. Francis de Sales suggests, when these old negative “traditions” make us less than the child of God we are redeemed to be, that we concentrate on the “present moment.” We are not defined by our past nor can we do anything about it except forgive it. The future is yet to be. But what we do have is the here and now - the present moment - and the grace of God in that moment.

It is only in the present moment that we can replace old negative behaviors and attitudes with new, life affirming ones. When we concentrate on accessing the power of God planted within us to make new choices “present moment” to “present moment,” we are well on our way to starting new, positive “traditions” which will sustain us now and mold us for the future, as people who “do justice and live in the presence of the Lord.”

Today, with God's grace, let us start a new tradition of living in the “present moment.” That's a tradition worth keeping over time…even for a lifetime!

* * * * *
(September 3, 2018: Labor Day )
* * * * *

In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes the nature and focus of his labor in the words from the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Labor Day offers us a great opportunity to reflect upon the great work to which each of us is called – to continue the creating, healing and inspiring action of Jesus Christ in the lives of others in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Eucharistic Prayer IV in the former Sacramentary (supplanted by the Roman Missal) put it this way:

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

On this Labor Day, how might we continue Christ’s work in our little corner of the world?

* * * * *
(September 4, 2018: Tuesday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“We have the mind of Christ…”

What does it mean to “have the mind of Christ”? What does the “mind of Christ” look like?

Today’s Gospel certainly provides a practical answer, powerfully portrayed!

Look how Jesus used his God-given power - the power of both word and action. He didn’t use it for his own self-aggrandizement. On the contrary, Jesus used it for the benefit of others. If his audience was “astonished at his teaching,” one can only imagine how astonished they must have been when Jesus expelled an unclean demon from a man in the synagogue! Jesus’ “one-two punch” approach to preaching – employing both word and action – stood in stark contrast to the preaching of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes which Jesus himself criticized as being too long on words and too short on action.

What does it look like when “we have the mind of Christ”? The answer - when we both speak like Christ and act like Christ, that is, when we not only wish people well – in words – but also we do what we can – in actions – to make our wish for others’ welfare a reality.

* * * * *
(September 5, 2018: Wednesday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“We are God’s co-workers…”

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 had begun. O God, how merciful is God’s goodness to us in thus distributing his bounty!” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, p. 212)

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

Who could ask for a better arrangement than that?

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

Today, how might God employ our cooperation in both receiving – and sharing – his bounty?

Spirituality Matters 2018: August 23rd - August 29th

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(August 23, 2018: Thursday, Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Many are invited, but few are chosen...”

We are all familiar with the story of the Annunciation. An angel appears to Mary, announcing that God has chosen her to be the Mother of the Messiah. Notwithstanding a bit of foreboding and a few understandable questions that she posed to the angel, the scene ends with Mary accepting the invitation to play her role in God’s plan of salvation.

Mary’s affirmative response to God’s invitation is in stark contrast to the apathy of many portrayed in today’s Gospel parable. The “king” (obviously, God) repeatedly invites people from hill and dale to accept his invitation to attend his son’s wedding. (By extension, God is asking people to say “yes” to the power, promise and possibilities embodied in his Son, Jesus.) These people simply couldn’t care less, prompting the king to cast his net of hospitality further and further afield.

On any given day God invites each of us to play our unique role in God’s ongoing plan of salvation. Each and every day God invites us to draw nearer to the feast that is his Son, Jesus Christ.

Today, how will we respond to God’s invitation to the feast?

* * * * *
(August 24, 2018: Bartholomew, Apostle)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(August 25, 2018: Saturday, Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you…”

But do not follow their example. Jesus’ criticism, of course, is directed at the scribes and the Pharisees. There is good news and bad news about these religious peers of Jesus. The good news? They excelled at telling other people how to live a virtuous life! The bad news? They failed to practice what they preached.

In other words, they lived life by a double standard. As Francis de sales once described, they had two hearts:

“A mild, gracious and courteous attitude toward themselves and another that was hard, severe and rigorous toward their neighbors. They had two weights: one to weight goods to their own greatest possible advantage and another to weight their neighbors to their greatest disadvantage.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 216)

To make matters even worse, not only did the scribes and Pharisees weigh one weight to their neighbors’ greatest disadvantage, but they also laid heavy burdens on others – hard to carry – without lifting even so much as a finger to help carry them.

Francis de Sales’ condemnation of living life by a double standard is short but not very sweet: “To have two weights – one heavier with which to receive and the other lighter with which to dispense – ‘is an abominable thing to the Lord.’” (Ibid)

Today, do you want to be the greatest among others in the sight of God? Then live not by two standards, but by one - God’s standard. Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, try your level best this day to treat others as you would want them to treat you. Let others see in you someone who not only talks the talk but who walks the walk.

The talk – and walk – of love.

* * * * *
(August 26, 2018: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Decide today whom you will serve.”

Our worlds change - sometimes constantly. We might tend to think of the “changing world” as something only outside or beyond ourselves. But sometimes the most difficult world to accept with all its changes is the world within each of us, the one with turmoil and vicissitudes that perhaps are known only to ourselves.

Today, we speak of the importance of making good decisions and choices. Everyone wants to be free. Everyone wants autonomy. Well, certainly God wants us to have that freedom as well, as it is the most dramatic and far-reaching gift he has given us. In the first reading today, Joshua addresses this freedom head on: “Decide today whom you will serve”. That’s about as direct and as contemporary a message that we could have. What do you want? Well, decide! There is no room for the wishy-washy in Joshua’s approach. There is also no doubt where he stands: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Paul confronts the same issue in his letter on married life: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This opening statement is critical because without it the later advice to be subservient could appear demeaning or even appalling. The ‘subordination’ to which the Christian is called is always presented within and because of love – Christ’s love. The love of Christ is why we serve others, and put ourselves at least second, if not literally last. Christ loved us first and showed us the way to life. To put others first, especially in a relationship – or in a family – is the only way to have life, and to share life, to the full.

It is also the only way to make love truly life-giving.

This teaching of Christ can be “hard”, and the early followers of Christ found it so, but like Peter in the Gospel, when all is said and done, “to whom shall we go?” Again and again, the losses and trials of life affirm that only He has “the words of eternal life”.

Francis de Sales reminds us that instability in life is inevitable, and it is our failure to recognize the truth that makes us unstable and changeable in our moods. He encourages us to remain firm and steadfast in our resolutions. The challenge of our changing world

“within” is one of constancy. And that constancy is achieved by fidelity to the decisions we make in daily life to love and serve the Lord and one another – the very resolution with which we close every liturgy.

* * * * *
(August 27, 2018: Monica )
* * * * *

“We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith.”

“St. Monica was married by arrangement to a pagan official in North Africa, who was much older than she, and although generous, was also violent tempered. His mother lived with them and was equally difficult, which proved a constant challenge to St. Monica. She had three children; Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. Through her patience and prayers, she was able to convert her husband and his mother to the Christian faith in 370. He died a year later. Perpetua and Navigius entered the religious life. St. Augustine was much more difficult, as she had to pray for him for seventeen years, begging the prayers of priests who - for a while - tried to avoid her because of her persistence at this seemingly hopeless endeavor. One priest did attempt to encourage her by saying, ‘It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.’ This thought, coupled with a vision that she had received, strengthened her in her prayers and hopes for her son. Finally, St. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose in 387. St. Monica died later that same year in the Italian town of Ostia, on the way back to Africa from Rome.” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=1 )

We can all relate to Saint Monica. We all have people in our lives for whom we want the best. We all have people in our lives that we want to be happy. We all have people in our lives about whom we have concerns and heartaches. Of course, as much as we might love someone else, we cannot live their lives for them. Sometimes, the most we can do is to pray for them, encourage them and support them. As for the rest, we need to leave it in the hands of God, trusting that God will bring about the good when the appointed hour has come.

Notwithstanding that she was his mother, Monica knew that her son had to find his own way. Rather than attempt to control her son, she placed all her care and concerns into the hands – and the heart – of a loving God.

With remarkable results.

How might we imitate her example as it relates to our loved ones for whom we want nothing but the very best?

* * * * *
(August 28, 2018: Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.

“This famous son of St. Monica was born in Africa and spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. Though he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been raised a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride closed his mind to divine truth. Through the prayers of his holy mother and the marvelous preaching of St. Ambrose, Augustine gradually became convinced that Christianity was indeed the one true faith. Yet he did not become a Christian even then, because he thought he could never live a pure life.”

“One day, however, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted after reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terribly ashamed of himself. ‘What are we doing?’ he cried to his friend Alipius. ‘Unlearned people are taking heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!’ Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine cried out to God, ‘How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?’ Just then he heard a child singing, ‘Take up and read!’ Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul, and read the first passage upon which his gaze fell. It was just what Augustine needed, for in it, St. Paul said to put away all impurity and to live in imitation of Jesus. That did it! From then on, Augustine began a new life.( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=418 )

In his Letter to the Thessalonians, that same Paul who had such a powerful influence in the life of Augustine challenges us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of God. Desirable as that goal may be, the ability to walk in God’s ways – as we see so clearly in the life of Saint Augustine – doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. For most of us, being strengthened in every good word and deed takes a long time – in fact, it takes a lifetime.

Today, ask yourself – how am I doing?

* * * * *
(August 29, 2018: Passion of John the Baptist)
* * * * *

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

“All the martyrs died for divine love. When we say that many of them died for the faith, we must not imply that it was for a ‘dead faith’ but rather for a living faith, that is, faith animated by charity. Moreover, our confession of faith is not so much an act of the intellect as an act of the will and love of God. For this reason, on the day of the Passion the great St. Peter preserved his faith in his soul – but lost charity – since he refused in words to admit as Master Him whom in his heart he acknowledged to be such. But there are other martyrs who died expressly for charity alone. Such was the Savior’s great Precursor who suffered martyrdom because he gave fraternal correction…” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 10, pp. 40-41)

We see in John the Baptist a person who was faithful to his unique vocation. As the herald of Jesus both before and after the latter’s baptism in the Jordan, John respected, honored and loved the Lord, as well as the things, values and standards of the Lord. His willingness to tend to the affairs entrusted to him by God impelled him to confront Herod on his immoral lifestyle (taking his brother’s wife to be his own) in a very public forum. Obviously, minding his own affairs didn’t happen in a vacuum – it impacted other people as well. In the end, doing his job – being faithful to his appointed tasks – cost John his life.

John didn’t lose his head over some mere intellectual principle: he gave it because of something he believed from – and in – the depth of his heart. How far are we willing to go for the things, the values and the people that we hold deeply in our hearts, presuming, of course, we possess such deep, heartfelt convictions?

Today, on what issues – and for whom – are we willing to stand firm, whatever the cost?

Spirituality Matters 2018: August 16th - August 22nd

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(August 16, 2018: Thursday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“You live in the midst of a rebellious house...”

Maximilian Kolbe once wrote:

"No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hetacombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?" ( http://catholicfire.blogspot.com/2006/08/favorite-quotes-from-st-maximilian.html )

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

“Love of God and self-love are in our heart like Jacob and Esau in Rebecca’s womb: they have great antipathy and opposition to one another and continually struggle within our hearts…We must have courage, hoping in the words of our Lord, who promises even as he gives commands, and commands even as he promises victory for his love. He seems to say to the soul what he caused to be said to Rebecca: ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be divided out of your body, and one people shall overcome the other.’” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 20, pp. 254-255)

We know about this struggle ourselves. Why do we do the evil that we shouldn’t? Why do we fail to do the good that we should? What will come of this struggle between good and evil in us? Recall the words of the Cherokee legend:

An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil -- he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego. The other is good---he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too." They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?" The old Cherokee simply replied: "The one you feed".

Today, which wolf in your house will you feed?

* * * * *
(August 17, 2018: Friday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“I will re-establish my covenant with you…”

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

“In his infinite mercy God would never be unbending toward the work of his hands. He saw that we were clothed ‘in flesh, a wind’ which is dissipated as it goes, ‘and does not return.’ Therefore, according to the bowels of his mercy he did not will to cast us into total ruin, nor to take from us the sign of his lost grace. This was in order that as we saw him and felt within us this covenant and this inclination to love him, we should strive to do so, and that no one could justly ask, ‘Who will show us good things?’ By this natural inclination alone we cannot attain the joy of loving God as he should be loved. Still, if we would only use it faithfully, the sweetness of God’s divine mercy would grant us some help and by it we might go forward. If we cooperate with this first assistance God’s fatherly goodness would afford us another still greater help. He would most gently lead us from good to better, until he had brought us to the supreme love toward which our own inclination naturally urges us. It is certain that to him he who ‘is faithful over a few things’ and has done what is in his power, a benevolent God never denies his help to advance him more and more.” (TLG, Book I, Chapter 18, p. 98)

This faithfulness is the nature of God’s covenant with us. Notwithstanding our infidelity, God is forever faithful to us. No matter what we do or don’t do, God “never denies his help” to us in our attempts – however imperfect - to be the people that God calls us to be.

Today, what return can we make for such mercy and generosity on God’s part? The answer - by doing our level best to never deny our help to others in need.

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(August 18, 2018: Saturday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“If a man is virtuous, he shall surely live…”

Practicing virtue – that is, developing the habit of doing what is good – is the ultimate expression of any authentic spirituality. In the Salesian tradition, it isn’t enough to do what is good, but one also has to do what is good in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which one finds oneself.

In her book Earth Crammed with Heaven, Elizabeth Dreyer wrote:

“Francis de Sales stands out as one who was firmly convinced that people in every walk of life are called to holiness. His life’s effort, truly innovative in his day, was to help people find God in their particular life calling. The nearness of God was not the exclusive domain of any one group in the church. ‘True devotion,’ he said, ‘adorns and beautifies any vocation or employment.’ He constantly opposed the tendency, frequently found among those who want to live a spiritual; life, to seek the virtues of another state in life while neglecting those proper to one’s vocation. The home is not a convent and the virtues of the monastic life are not lived in the same way in family life…” (p. 46)

We will truly live to the extent that we practice virtue. We will truly live life to the full to the extent that we practice the virtues proper to the events, circumstances and relationships that we experience day in and day out.

Today, what virtues might God be calling you to practice?

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(August 19, 2018: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him (her).”

What a wonderful gift the Eucharist is! Jesus gives us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. And he commands us to eat and drink of his flesh and his blood in order that we might have life - eternal life.

In today’s first reading, taken from the Book of Wisdom, Jesus invites us to the meal he has prepared for us, a meal that enables us to unite ourselves to his saving death and resurrection. On the Cross Jesus’ flesh was pierced and his blood shed for others, including for you and me. As we eat and drink, we are called to forsake foolishness that we might live and advance in the way of understanding. (Proverbs)

The words of Wisdom remind us that this meal is a sacred, covenantal meal. In Jesus, God’s great love and mercy become visible, tangible. When we eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood, we are expressing our willingness to be one with Jesus in his saving mission to the world. We announce his good news to today’s world. In this meal, we become one with Jesus and one with the community, one in the Body of Christ. As we leave this sacred meal, we are challenged to live this daily reality of our oneness.

St. Francis de Sales offers us some practical advice on how to make this manner of living happen more effectively. After Communion, he says: consider Jesus seated in your heart and bring before him each of your faculties and senses in order to hear his commands and promise him fidelity. This exercise can become our thanksgiving and our commitment to living out what we have celebrated and received. Jesus will offer us a way of using our intellect, our will, our memory, our hearing, our touching and our speaking today in a way that gives witness to God’s loving presence in the world.

St. Paul today encourages us: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise persons. Our eating and drinking at the table of the Lord makes all of us one. May the wise ways in which we attempt to walk today make visible the oneness we experience in Eucharist. Remember: you are what you eat…you are what you drink.

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(August 20, 2018: Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church )
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“If you wish to be perfect, sell what you have and give to the poor…”

And the man went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Listen carefully to Jesus’ words. He doesn’t say, “Give it all to the poor.” He does say, “Give to the poor.” These words presume that what – or how much – is given to the poor is left to the individual to decide. In the case of the unnamed young man in today’s Gospel, perhaps his sadness was caused by the fact that he didn’t want to give anything away – not one bit – to the poor. If, in fact, he had many possessions. He is reluctant to share even the smallest amount of his good fortune with those less fortunate than he is, making it even more saddening.

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

“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches that God has given us. Frequently give up some of your property by giving it with a generous heart to the poor. To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become. It is true that God will repay us not only in the next world but even in this world…Oh, how holy and how rich is the poverty brought on by giving alms!” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 15. p. 165)

Listen carefully to Francis’ words: “Frequently give up some of your property…”

Count your blessings. Name your possessions. Be they material, like money, or non-material, like influence, time or talent. What transforms our riches into wealth is our willingness to share them with the poor, with the impoverished, with the less-fortunate and with those who have fallen on hard times.

Do you want to gain eternal life? Today then, how many – or much – of your possessions are you willing to share with anyone poor or needy?

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(August 21, 2018: Pius X, Pope)
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“It will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Riches themselves are not the greatest obstacle to our entering into the Kingdom of God. From a Salesian perspective, it is our desire for riches that poses the problem - the grandeur with which we protect them and the passion with which we pursue them.

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

“Your heart must be open to heaven alone and impervious to riches and all other transitory things. Whatever part of them you may possess, you must keep your heart free from too strong an affection for them. Always keep your heart above riches: even when your heart is surrounded by riches, see to it that your heart remains distinct from them and master over them. Do not allow your heavenly spirit to become captive to earthly things. Let your heart remain always superior to riches and over them – not in them… I willingly grant that you may take care to increase your wealth and resources, provided this is done not only justly but also properly and charitably.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 163)

How can we determine if our possessions might be holding us back from the Kingdom of Heaven? Francis wrote:

“If you find your heart very desolated and devastated at the loss of anything you possess then believe me when I tell you that you love it too much. The strongest proof of how deeply we are attached to possessions is the degree of suffering we experience when we lose it.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 164)

Are we experiencing any difficulties as we strive to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven during our journeys here on earth? Perhaps, it is because our possessions have somehow managed to possess us!

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(August 22, 2018: Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“Are you envious because I am generous?”

The parable in today’s Gospel certainly suggests that those who labored the longest surely were envious! They felt cheated, because as we are told, they “grumbled” –when they realized that the landowner had paid them the same amount as those who had barely worked a few hours!

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

“We must be most careful not to spend much time wondering why God bestows a grace upon one person rather than another, or why God makes his favors abound on behalf of one rather than another. No, never give in to such musings. Since each of us has a sufficient – rather, an abundant measure of all things required or salvation – who in all the world can rightly complain if it pleases God to bestow his graces more largely on some than on others?” (Living Jesus, 0618, p. 246)

Of course, given how generous God is to us we would never be envious or complain about somebody else having more than we do - or would we?

Spirituality Matters 2018: August 9th - August 15th

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(August 9, 2018: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, - a.k.a. Edith Stein – Religious and Martyr)
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“The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

“St. Teresa converted from Judaism to Catholicism in the course of her work as a philosopher, and later entered the Carmelite Order. She died in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in August, 1942.”

“Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891 – a date that coincided with her family's celebration of Yom Kippur, the Jewish “day of atonement.” Edith's father died when she was just two years old, and she gave up the practice of her Jewish faith as an adolescent.”

“As a young woman with profound intellectual gifts, Edith gravitated toward the study of philosophy and became a pupil of the renowned professor Edmund Husserl in 1913. Through her studies, the non-religious Edith met several Christians whose intellectual and spiritual lives she admired.”

“After earning her degree with the highest honors from Gottingen University in 1915, she served as a nurse in an Austrian field hospital during World War I. She returned to academic work in 1916, earning her doctorate after writing a highly-regarded thesis on the phenomenon of empathy. She remained interested in the idea of religious commitment, but had not yet made such a commitment herself.”

“In 1921, while visiting friends, Edith spent an entire night reading the autobiography of the 16th century Carmelite nun St. Teresa of Avila. ‘When I had finished the book’ she later recalled, ‘I said to myself: This is the truth.’ She was baptized into the Catholic Church on the first day of January, 1922.”

“Edith intended to join the Carmelites immediately after her conversion, but would ultimately have to wait another 11 years before taking this step. Instead, she taught at a Dominican school, and gave numerous public lectures on women's issues. She spent 1931 writing a study of St. Thomas Aquinas, and took a university teaching position in 1932.”

“In 1933, with the National Socialists coming to power in Germany - combined with Edith's Jewish ethnicity – her teaching career came to an end. After a painful parting with her mother, who did not understand her Christian conversion, she entered a Carmelite convent in 1934, taking the name “Teresa Benedicta of the Cross” as a symbol of her acceptance of suffering.”

“’I felt,’ she wrote, ‘that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take upon themselves on everybody's behalf.’ She saw it as her vocation “to intercede with God for everyone,’ but she prayed especially for the Jews of Germany whose tragic fate was becoming clear. ‘I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death,’ she wrote in 1939, ‘so that the Lord will be accepted by his people and that his kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world.’”

“After completing her final work, a study of St. John of the Cross entitled ‘The Science of the Cross,’ Teresa Benedicta was arrested along with her sister Rosa (who had also become a Catholic), and the members of her religious community, on August 7, 1942. The arrests came in retaliation against a protest letter by the Dutch Bishops, decrying the Nazi treatment of Jews. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. Blessed John Paul II canonized her in 1998, and proclaimed her a co-patroness of Europe the next year.” ( https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint/st-teresa-benedicta-of-the-cross-edith-stein-557 )

A year before her death, Maximilian Kolbe (who likewise perished in Auschwitz), wrote the following:

"No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hetacombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?" ( http://catholicfire.blogspot.com/2006/08/favorite-quotes-from-st-maximilian.html )

The Nazis may have taken her life, but they failed to annihilate her legacy – the Truth, in fact, had already set her free.

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(August 10, 2018: Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr )
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“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

“A well-known legend has persisted from earliest times. As deacon in Rome, Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the church and the distribution of alms to the poor. When Lawrence knew he would be arrested like the pope, he sought out the poor, widows and orphans of Rome and gave them all the money he had on hand, selling even the sacred vessels to increase the sum. When the prefect of Rome heard of this, he imagined that the Christians must have considerable treasure. He sent for Lawrence and said, “You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind. I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services. Now, your doctrine says you must render to Caesar what is his. Bring these treasures—the emperor needs them to maintain his forces. God does not cause money to be counted: He brought none of it into the world with him—only words. Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.’”

“Lawrence replied that the church was indeed rich. ‘I will show you a valuable part. But give me time to set everything in order and make an inventory.’ After three days he gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows. When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, ‘These are the treasure of the church’.”

“The prefect was so angry he told Lawrence that he would indeed have his wish to die—but it would be by inches. He had a great gridiron prepared, with coals beneath it, and had Lawrence’s body placed on it. After the martyr had suffered the pain for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, ‘It is well done. Turn me over!’.” ( http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1103 )

When it comes to sowing bountifully, it doesn’t get much greater than martyrdom. And while most of us may never be called upon to make this ultimate expression of generosity, we can nevertheless sow bountifully each and every day by doing good things in simple, small and ordinary ways…for and with one another.

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(August 11, 2018: Clare, Founder and Religious)
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“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

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. This virtue, in turn, should produce in us a similar spirit of generosity, a spirit through which we imitate God’s generosity by sharing our good fortune and blessings with others, despite our real limitations, weaknesses and liabilities.

“Faith the size of a mustard seed…” It would seem that even the greatest of things – things like kingdom of God itself – starts with even the smallest of steps, provided that we have the faith and confidence in God to see our efforts through, regardless of how small or great the results!

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(August 12, 2018: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Get rid of all bitterness, anger, harsh words, slander and malice of every kind. In place of these be kind, compassionate and mutually forgiving.”

“In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. The Word was God. Through the Word God made all things; not one thing in creation was made without the Word.”

Just as the Word who is Jesus Christ is the source of all power, so too, our words are powerful. At their best, our words feed, heal and create. At their worst, our words choke, injure and destroy. St. Paul certainly knew this truth. St. Francis de Sales also knew this truth.

And we know this, too.

St. Francis de Sales observed that negative speech breeds “disdain for one’s neighbor, pride, self-satisfaction and a hundred other very pernicious effects, among them the greatest pest of conversation, slander”. He continued: “Slander is a kind of murder…whoever removed slander from the world would remove a great part of its sins and injustice as well”.

Using words that are “kind, compassionate and mutually forgiving” isn’t just a matter of being nice. No, it’s a matter of justice. It is about giving people their due; it’s about giving people respect and it’s about recognizing people’s God-given dignity. Ultimately, it’s about using the power of our God-given ability that is embodied in language in ways that build up – not tear down – the people of God.

Salesian spirituality is known for its practicality. What could be more practical than using words that help to build up, encourage and support one another? What is more readily available for us to give one another than the words we speak? Even when we need to challenge or correct others, we should still speak in such a way that ultimately promotes healing. Our tongues, says St. Francis “ought to be like a scalpel in the hand of a surgeon who is cutting between nerves and tendons.” St. Jane de Chantal observes: “When you need to correct someone, make it in private and with kindness.”

In the beginning was the Word. May our words continue the story of God’s creative, redemptive and life-giving love. May God’s Word be for all of us the last word. May God’s Word – the Word that gives life – be all the words that we ever need.

Beginning today!

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(August 13, 2018: Monday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Heaven and earth are filled with your glory…”

However conscious of those words that we may or may not be, when we hear these words, “Heaven and earth are filled with your glory,” we might say to ourselves, “But, of course!” when it applies to heaven. But by contrast, when it applies to earth, many of us might simply whisper to ourselves, “If you say so”.

Whether we recognize it or not, God’s glory is not only found in heaven, but also - to those who have eyes of faith - God’s glory abounds on earth.

In her book Earth Crammed with Heaven, Elizabeth Dreyer writes:

“For all the moving and high-flying ideas connected with the spiritual life, there is something down-to-earth and practical about it. God often meets us in a kind gesture in hard times, in a child’s joy, a word of wisdom from a Catherine of Siena or a Julian of Norwich, in a peaceful death – these are the simple but profound moments that reveal the truth and authenticity of one’s life with God. It is here – on this earth – that things come together as we experience the total fabric of our lives and discover that it is indeed “of a piece.”(p. 32)

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

“When the entire universe was made, God’s meditation was changed, as it were, into contemplation. God looked at all the goodness in his works with one single glance and saw, as Moses says, ‘all the things he had made, and they were very good.’ The different parts, when considered separately by way of meditation were good, but when looked upon with a single glance - all of them being taken together by means of contemplation - they were found to be very good.” (TLG, Book VI, Chapter 5, p. 282)

Whether in heaven or on earth, God’s glory – as with all beauty – is in the eye of the beholder. It’s already here, but perhaps, hidden in plain sight.

Can you see it?

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(August 14, 2018: Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr)
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“Son of man, go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.”

Today we remember the ultimate witness to the love of God made by the Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, Maximilian Kolbe.

“During the Second World War, he provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów. On 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On 28 May, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670. At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander to select ten men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men cried out, ‘My wife, my children,’ Kolbe volunteered to take his place.”

“In the starvation cell, he celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners. He led the other condemned men in song and prayer. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards administered to Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_Kolbe )

“Whoever can accept this ought to accept it”, Jesus says in today’s Gospel regarding the bond of marriage. In the case of Maximilian Kolbe, these same words – as it turned out – can also apply to the witness of martyrdom.

What ways of loving one another may God ask us to accept - just this day?

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(August 15, 2018: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“Blessed are you among women ...”

Our Salesian reflection for this Feast Day – the Assumption – comes entirely from Francis de Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God, Book 7, Chapter 14.

“I do not deny that the soul of the most Blessed Virgin had two portions, and therefore two appetites, one according to the spirit and superior reason, and the other according to sense and inferior reason, with the result that she could experience the struggle and contradiction of one appetite against the other. This burden was felt even by her Son. I say that in this heavenly Mother all affections were so well arranged and ordered that love of God held empire and dominion most peaceably without being troubled by diversity of wills and appetites or by contradiction of senses. Neither repugnance of natural appetite nor sensual movements ever went as far as sin, not even as far as venial sin. On the contrary, all was used holily and faithfully in the service of the holy love for the exercise of the other virtues which, for the most part, cannot be practiced except amid difficulty, opposition and contradiction…”

“As everyone knows, the magnet naturally draws iron towards itself by some power both secret and very wonderful. However, there are five things that hinder this operation: (1) if there is too great a distance between magnet and iron; (2) if there is a diamond placed between the two; (3) if the iron is greased; (4) if the iron is rubbed with onion; (5) if the iron is too heavy.”

“Our heart is made for God, and God constantly entices it and never ceases to cast before it the allurements of divine love. Yet five things impede the operation of this holy attraction: (1) sin, which removes us from God; (2) affection for riches; (3) sensual pleasures; (4) pride and vanity; (5) self-love, together with the multitude of disordered passions it brings forth, which are like a heavy load wearing it down.”

“None of these hindrances had a place in the heart of the glorious Virgin. She was: (1) forever preserved from all sin; (2) forever most poor in spirit; (3) forever most pure; (4) forever most humble; (5) forever the peaceful mistress of all her passions and completely exempt from the rebellion that self-love wages against love of God. For this reason, just as the iron, if free from all obstacles and even from its own weight, would be powerfully yet gently drawn with steady attraction by the magnet – although in such wise that the attraction would always be more active and stronger according as they came closer together and their motion approached its end – so, too, the most Blessed Mother, since there is nothing in her to impede the operation of her Son’s divine love, was united with him in an incomparable union by gentle ecstasies without trouble or travail.”

“They were ecstasies in which the sensible part did not cease to perform its actions but without in any way disturbing the spiritual union, just as, in turn, perfect application of the spirit did not cause any great distraction to the senses. Hence, the Virgin’s death was the most gentle that can be imagined, for her Son sweetly drew her after the odor of his perfumes and she most lovingly flowed out after their sacred sweetness even to the bosom of her Son’s goodness. Although this holy soul had supreme love for her own most holy, most pure, and most lovable body, yet she forsook it without any pain or resistance…At the foot of the cross love had given to this divine spouse the supreme sorrows of death. Truly, then, it was reasonable that in the end death would give her the supreme delights of love.”

Spirituality Matters 2018: August 2nd - August 8th

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(August 2, 2018: Peter Julian Eymard, Priest, 2018)
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“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 – It is the information we already have at our disposal from the Scriptures, Commandments, Counsels etc. This infomation clearly communicates 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 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 actually be very good.

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

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(August 3, 2018: Friday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“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 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 the Word. 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 we as 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.

Beginning today!

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(August 4, 2018: John Vianney, Priest)
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“The priests and the prophets said to the princes and to all the people, ‘This man deserves death…’”

Speaking of prophets being without honor in their native place, consider today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. In a classic case of no good deed going unpunished, Jeremiah stirs up a hornet’s nest by being faithful to God’s will for him, which was to prophesy against his own house and his own city. While protesting his innocence, Jeremiah spends what may be his last breaths trying to convince the people to accept God’s word on its own merits rather than to bargain for his life. Having spoken his peace, Jeremiah decides to let the chips fall where they may.

Fortunately for him, the chips fell both God’s way and Jeremiah’s way!

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “We must not be too ardent, precise and demanding in regard to preserving our good name. Men who are overly tender and sensitive on this point are like people who take medicine for slight indispositions. Although they think they are preserving their health, they actually destroy it. In like manner those who try too carefully to maintain their reputation lose it entirely. Generally speaking, to ignore or despise an injury or calumny is a far more effective remedy than resentment, fighting and revenge. Crocodiles harm only those who are afraid of them and detraction hurts only those who are vexed by it. Excessive fear of losing our good name reveals great distrust in its foundation, which is living a good life. Towns that have wooden bridges over great rivers are afraid that they will be swept away by every little rise of water, but those with stone bridges fear only extraordinary floods. In like manner those with souls solidly grounded on virtue usually despise the floods let loose by harmful tongues…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 27, pp. 195-196)

Jeremiah faced not only the prospect of losing his reputation or credibility for speaking God’s word, but he also faced the possibility of losing his life for speaking God’s word. His response showed remarkable strength of character and purpose - a character that obviously convinced enough people to not only protect his life but also to preserve his reputation. His courage persuaded the people to accept his message as well.

Have you ever faced “push-back” from others for saying or doing the right thing? While your life may not have been at risk, how might your reputation among others suffered as a result of your decision to stand up for what it right? How did you deal – or are your dealing - with that experience?

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(August 5, 2018: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron...”

Sometimes the only thing worse than the bad things that happen to us is to invest tons of energy and effort into complaining about them.

Think about it. Who of us ever really improves our situation or lot in life by complaining about it? Still, we do…and to our own detriment.

Was it tough for the Israelites in the desert? You bet! As bad as things were in Egypt, did they have “three hots and a cot”? Yes! By contrast, did they enjoy any suchcomforts in the wilderness? Apparently, aside from their freedom, not much!

Still, God had redeemed them from slavery after all. God had given them leaders, whose charge it was to lead the Israelites to a promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. However, one might wonder where the Israelites got the idea that somehow this trek or quest should be nothing but smooth sailing. Nonetheless, they complained…which even now seems somehow petty or small-minded.

Let’s bring this situation closer to home. Who among us in our own day is not tempted to complain when things don’t go our way, when our jobs, our marriages or our relationships turned out to be more difficult or challenging than we had expected or hoped? And, to be brutally honest, who of us can claim that grumbling or complaining about the hand we’ve been dealt makes playing that hand any easier? In fact, doesn’t it only makes it more – and painfully – difficult?

Francis de Sales is pretty clear when it comes to grumbling or complaining: “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.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 3)

Does this mean that we should never raise an issue, a concern or a gripe? No, but we need to be very judicious about those people with whom we raise them. Francis observed: “Do not complain to irascible or fault-finding persons. If there is some just occasion for complaining to someone either to correct an offense or restore your peace of mind, do so to those who are even-tempered and really love God. Otherwise, instead of calming your mind the others will stir up worse difficulties and instead of pulling out the thorn that is hurting you they will drive it deeper into your foot.” (Ibid)

To be sure, God hears the cries of those who complain. But, truth be told, aren’t there better ways to use our words…and spend our lives?

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(August 6, 2018: Transfiguration of the Lord )
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“He was transfigured before 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 if their eyes were opened and 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 saw it; a woman caught in adultery saw it; a boy possessed by demons saw it; a man born blind saw it and a good thief saw it.

If so many others could recognize that virtually blinding love of Jesus in a word, a glance or a touch, why might Peter, James and John have required such extra effort in helping them to see Jesus’ glory? 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.

Now, 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.” How might our eyes, our minds and our hearts need to be transfigured and transformed in ways that enable us to catch this “glimpse of heaven” within us and around us? How might we need to see more clearly the glory of a God who always loves, redeems, heals, forgives, challenges, pursues., strengthens and inspires us?

Today, 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.

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(August 7, 2018: Cajetan, Priest)
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“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 tightly and go joyfully on your way.

As bravely as you can.

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(August 8, 2018: Dominic, Founder and Priest )
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“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 – 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, 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.

Today, consider this question: how strong is your faith?

Spirituality Matters 2018: July 26th - August 1st

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

William Barclay made the following observation about this Gospel passage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And do it today!

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

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

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

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

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

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(July 29, 2018: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)<
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“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:

As living plants of the Church, the call that each of us has received is to bear fruit – fruit that will last. Of course, insofar as devotion adapts itself to the strengths, situations and circumstances of each person, we bear fruit in ways particular to the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. In short, we are all called to live a life of virtue.

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

“The king of bees never goes out into the fields without being surrounded by his little subjects. In like manner, 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, nor at all times and in all places. The just man is ‘like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season’, for charity waters the soul and produces in it virtuous deeds, each in its proper time.”

“A great fault in many who undertake the exercise of some particular virtue is thinking they must practice it in every situation. Like certain philosophers, they wish either always to weep or always to laugh. What is still worse, they condemn and censure others who do not practice the same virtues they do. The Apostle says, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep’, and ‘charity is patient, is kind’, generous, prudent discreet and considerate.”

To sum it up, to live a life worthy of our calling requires that we live lives of virtue. But, from a Salesian perspective, there’s more to it than that – we also need to know when and how to practice a particular virtue (or virtues) in any given relationship, situation or circumstance.

In other words, it isn’t enough to have all the tools – we need to know when and how to use them. Put another way, when it comes to the practice of virtue, we always need to know when it is time to practice it.

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(July 30, 2018: Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church )
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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 will add up to become quite a lot!

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(July 31, 2018: Ignatius of Loyola, Founder and Priest)
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“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field…”

Within the last week or so, 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 can compromise 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.
I hope these thoughts help you to understand better this parable and to put it into practice!

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(August 1, 2018: Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church )
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“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 one – 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 and we are the pearls that God leaves 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?

Today and every day!

Spirituality Matters 2018: July 19th - July 25th

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

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

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

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

She then adds:

“But his gentleness did not mean softness.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Francis de Sales would say, it requires devotion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And to know true happiness in the process!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today!

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

Francis de Sales once wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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