Spirituality Matters 2018: February 1st - February 7th

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(February 1, 2018: Thursday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two…”

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

“Do you seriously wish to travel the road to devotion? ‘A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality, and those who fear the Lord find him.’ As you see, these divine words refer chiefly to immortality, and for this we above all else have this faithful friend who by advice and counsel guides our actions and thus protects us from the snares and deceits of the wicked one. For us such a friend will be a treasure of wisdom in affliction, sorrow and failure. He will serve as a medicine to ease and comfort our hearts. He will guard us from evil and make our good still better. You must have a guide (or companion) on this holy road to devotion.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 4, p. 46)

When Jesus sent his followers out to preach the Good News, he did not send them out alone. Jesus used the “buddy system,” sending them out together, in pairs. In the mind of God being a disciple of Jesus has nothing to do with being a lone wolf.

Today, what is the lesson for us? The road of life is sometimes lonely enough without trying to travel it alone. Just as in the case of the first disciples we, too, – disciples of Jesus – need to stick together.

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(February 2, 2018: Presentation of the Lord)
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"Since the children are people of blood and flesh, Jesus likewise has a full share in these..."

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that He wills all of us to be saved that no one can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose, God made us ‘in his own image and likeness’ by creation, and by the Incarnation God has made himself in our image and likeness, after which he suffered death in order to ransom and save all mankind.” ( Treatise on the Love of God, Book 8, Chapter 4)

We are probably somewhat familiar with the notion that through creation we are made in God’s image and likeness. In contrast, we are probably far less familiar with the notion that God - through the Incarnation - made Himself in our image and likeness. Familiar or not, both are true.

St. Francis de Sales was captivated by the notion that God loved us so much that He not only came among us, but he also became one of us! God took on our very nature! In the person of Jesus, God gained and experienced first-hand knowledge of what it means to sleep, to wake, to work, to rest, to dance, to cry, to mourn, to struggle, to succeed and to dream. In these actions Jesus not only redeems what it means to be human, but Jesus also celebrates what it means to be human - to be human as God dreams.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews likewise believed this truth. He writes that “Jesus had a full share” in blood and flesh...and “had to become like his brothers (and sisters) in every way.” In this way, Jesus could not only redeem us but also he could truly understand us.

This truth is indeed a great mystery and a supreme expression of intimacy. God so loved us that he took on our nature…He made himself into our image and likeness – the truest and best nature as God intended from the beginning of time. In a manner of speaking, through the Incarnation God shows us how to be comfortable in our own skin. How? By showing us that God is comfortable in our skin in the person of his son, Jesus Christ!

Put simply, it is in God’s nature to meet us where – and how – we are.

Today, how can we imitate God’s example through our willingness to meet others where and how they are?

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(February 3, 2018: Blaise, Bishop and Martyr)
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"His heart was moved…for they were like sheep without a shepherd..."

In today’s Gospel we hear that Jesus’ heart was moved by the sight of the crowd who “were like sheep without a shepherd.” In other words, the people were lost.

“Lost” is defined as:

  • not made use of, won, or claimed
  • no longer possessed or no longer known
  • ruined or destroyed physically or morally
  • taken away or beyond reach or attainment
  • unable to find the way
  • no longer visible
  • lacking assurance or self-confidence
  • helpless
  • not appreciated or understood
  • obscured or overlooked during a process or activity
  • hopelessly unattainable
It’s safe to say that we all have the experience of being “lost” from time-to-time. Sometimes, we might experience being “lost” in any number of ways for long periods of time. Fortunately for us, one of the reasons that Jesus became one of us was to find the lost.

Consider yourself found!

Spirituality Matters 2018: January 25th - January 31st

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(January 25, 2018: Conversion of Paul, Apostle)
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St. Francis de Sales had a special place in his heart for the person whose conversion we celebrate - Paul of Tarsus. Throughout his writings Francis not only refers to Paul by name but Francis also refers to Paul by two titles reserved solely for him: “The Apostle” and “The Great Apostle.”

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

“The glorious St. Paul speaks thus. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, constancy and chastity.’ See how this divine Apostle enumerates these twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit but sets them down as only one fruit. He does not say, ‘The fruits of the Spirit are…,’ but rather ‘the fruit of the Spirit is…’ Charity is truly the sole fruit of the Holy Spirit, but this one fruit has an infinite number of excellent properties…He means that divine love gives us inward joy and consolation together with great peace of heart, which is preserved in adversity by patience. It makes us kind and gracious in helping our neighbor with a heartfelt goodness toward him. Such goodness is not whimsical; it is constant and persevering and gives us enduring courage by which we are rendered mild, pleasant and considerate to all others. We put up with their moods and imperfections. We keep perfect faith with them, as we thus testify to a simplicity accompanied with trust both in our words and in our actions. We live modestly and humbly, leaving aside all that is luxurious and in excess regarding food and drink, clothing, sleep, play, recreation and other such desires and pleasures. Above all, we discipline the inclinations and rebellions of the flesh by vigilant chastity. All this so to the end that our entire being may be given over to divine dilection both interiorly by joy, patience, long-suffering goodness and fidelity, but also exteriorly by kindness, mildness, modesty, constancy and chastity.” (Book 11, Chapter 19)

From what we see in the life of St. Paul, he obviously did more than merely speak of the fruit of the Spirit. He lived it. His life was transformed by it. He shared it as a gift with all those whose lives he touched. Like Francis de Sales, may we not only admire the example of “the glorious St. Paul,” but also let us imitate his example in our own lives. Let us do our level best to embody and share the gift of the Spirit which indeed has so many excellent properties.

Today!

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(January 26, 2018: Timothy and Titus, Bishops)
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“Stir into flame the gift of God that you have…a spirit of power and love and self-control.”

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

“I foresee that many people will say that is it only members of religious communities and persons dedicated to devotion who should give special direction in piety, that such things require more leisure than a bishop in charge of a diocese as large as mine can have, and that such an undertaking is too distracting for a mind that should be employed in matters of importance. For my part, I tell you that it is primarily the duty of the bishop to lead souls to perfection, since their order is as supreme among men as that of the seraphim among angels. Hence their leisure cannot be better employed than in such work. The ancient bishops and fathers of the Church were at last as careful about their duties as we are, yet, as we see from their letters, they did not refuse to take charge of the particular conduct of souls who turned to them for assistance. In this they imitated the apostles who, while working with special and particular affection to gather all men, picked out certain extraordinary ears of grain. Who does not know that Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Onesimus, Tecla and Appia were the dear children of the great St. Paul…?”

Tempted - as very busy people may be - to perceive other people as obstacles to getting things done, Francis de Sales (no doubt inspired as he was with the example of Paul’s willingness to mentor, support and encourage his would-be protégé’s, Timothy and Titus in the work of proclaiming and living the Gospel) reminds us that the work with which each of us is charged is people – God’s people. There is no work, no ministry, and no job so important as to distract us from pursuing what really matters in this life - to lead, encourage and support one another in our quest for perfection.

Francis de Sales reminds us in another section of his Introduction, “This life is only a journey to the happy life to come. We must march on as a band of brothers and sisters, companions united in meekness, peace and love.” This march is our work. This march is our life: to journey together on the paths to perfection, i.e., to bring out the best in ourselves and in one another.

One person – one day – at a time!

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(January 27, 2018: Saturday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Why are you terrified?”

It’s a great question that Jesus proposes to his disciples in today’s Gospel. For our part, we could probably list any number of things in our own lives that have scared, frightened or even terrified us in the past, that could scare, frighten or terrify us in the future or perhaps are scaring, frightening or terrifying us at this very moment. The fact of the matter is that every life comes with its share of things, situations and events that actually should terrify us!

In a letter to Angelique Arnauld, the Abbess of Port Royal, Francis de sales wrote:

“‘Oh, unhappy man that I am,’ said the great apostle, ‘who will deliver me from the body of this death?’ St. Paul felt as if an army, made up of his moods, aversions, habits and natural inclinations had conspired to bring about his spiritual death. Because they terrified him, he showed that he despised them. Because he despised them, he could not endure them without pain. His pain made him cry out this way and then answer his own cry by asserting that the grace of God through Jesus Christ will indeed defend him, but not from fear, or terror, or alarm nor from the fight; rather, from defeat and from being overcome.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, pp. 172-173)

There are things in life that scare, frighten and terrify us for good reason. Jesus is not asking us to never experience these (or other) emotions when they come upon us with good reason; rather Jesus is asking us to remember (as was the case with the disciples in today’s Gospel) that in the midst of whatever storms and surges that we may experience in life, we are never alone!

Jesus is always – and forever – with us.

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(January 28, 2018: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“I should like you to be free of all anxieties.”

Sure! Where do I sign up???

We can certainly appreciate Saint Paul's prayer this Sunday that we should “be free of all anxieties”. Don't we all wish that we could be free of all anxieties? The truth is that all of us worry and fret about things. In some cases, given the challenges that life can throw at us, we should worry if we didn't worry!

Worry is a part of life. Worry challenges us to respond to something in our lives that needs attention, to respond to something that needs to be addressed or to respond to something that needs to be examined and, where possible, to be achieved, remedied or, at least, improved. Of course, we also know from experience that many of the things for which we hope also rely upon the actions of others…including God.

The problem is that worry can turn into anxiety. While worry is usually focused upon specific issues, concerns, people or events, anxiety is a free-floating emotion that can cripple our ability to deal with the challenges of life. “Anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall the soul, sin excepted,” writes St. Francis de Sales. “Anxiety arises from an inordinate desire to be freed from the evil we experience or to acquire the good for which we hope. Yet, there is nothing which so aggravates the evil or impedes the good as anxiety.”

Francis de Sales suggests that we should monitor our anxiety levels: “Consider whether your heart is under your control, or if it has escaped from your hands to entangle itself in some inordinate attachment of love, hatred, envy, avarice, fear, weariness or joy. If it has wandered, go after it and bring it back quite gently to the presence of God.”

Of course, prevention is the best cure. “When you experience the beginning of anxiety, entrust yourself to God. Decide to do nothing of what your desire urges you until the anxiety has passed away completely, unless it is something that cannot be postponed. In such a case you must restrain and control the course of your desire with a gentle and peaceful effort. Above all, act reasonably, not emotionally.”

In the midst of our worldly worries, may God preserve us from anxiety. May we center ourselves in the heart of a loving God as we embrace our daily ups, downs and everything in between. May God help us in our efforts to prevent moments of worry from becoming a way of life.

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(January 29, 2018: Monday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with Him, but Jesus would not permit him…”

The story in today’s Gospel is but one of many occasions in which people – after having encountering Jesus – expressed their desire to follow Him, only to have their request denied. Whether in the case of the man possessed by many demons or in the cases of so many other people whose lives were forever changed by an encounter with Jesus, his directive to “go home” must have been a real let-down.

Especially in the case of John the Baptist!

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal (14 October, 1604), Francis de Sales wrote:

“I have often wondered who is the most mortified of the saints I know, and after some reflection I have come to the conclusion that is was John the Baptist. He knew that our Savior came to earth in a place quite close by, perhaps only one or two days’ journey away. How his heart, touched with love of his Savior from the time he was in his mother’s womb must have longed to enjoy his presence. Yet he spends twenty-five years in the desert without coming to see Our Lord even once; and leaving the desert he stays to catechize without visiting him but waiting until Our Lord comes to seek him out. Then when he has baptized him he does not follow him but remains behind to do his appointed task…The example of this great saint overwhelms me with its grandeur.” (Conference XIV, p. 259)

It is easy to forget that after their encounter in the River Jordan during which John baptized Jesus, John remained behind while Jesus moved on. Yet, who would deny that John was, nevertheless, a follower – a disciple – of the Lord? As it turns out, there is more than one way to follow Jesus. While some announce what the Lord has done for them in unfamiliar or faraway places, others announce what the Lord has done for them right in their own homes and neighborhoods.

Just this day, whether it is in a place half-a-world away or right in your own back yard, how can you “follow” Jesus by giving witness to others for all that the Lord has done for you?

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(January 30, 2018: Tuesday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Please come and lay your hands on her…If I but touch his clothes I will be cured.”

People continued to approach Jesus on behalf of the sick – and on behalf of themselves – to be healed by Jesus. The account in today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark provides an interesting detail: folks coming to Jesus for help believed that if Jesus merely touched them or if they merely touched Jesus, they would experience healing power.

It would seem that just a little bit of Jesus – even the smallest touch of Jesus – went a very, very long way.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote: “Among sacred lovers there are some who so completely devote themselves to exercises of divine love that its holy fire devours and consumes their life…” (Book VII, Chapter 10, p. 41) Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of this love. His love for others was so intense and intentional that even the smallest sampling of it changed forever the lives of those he touched or as in the case of the woman burdened with a hemorrhage, those who touched him.

Today, how might the same be said of our love today. How can we – even in small ways – be sources of God’s healing power for others?

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(January 31, 2018: John Bosco, Priest and Founder)
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In his pamphlet about the life of St. Francis de Sales entitled A True Nobleman, Philip J. Pascucci, SDB wrote:

“One of Don Bosco’s nine resolutions when he was ordained to the priesthood was: ‘The sweetness and charity of St. Francis de Sales will guide me in everything.’ Francis de Sales was by nature (his biographers tell us) sensitive, somewhat irritable and hot-tempered, but, by dint of patient striving, day after day from his early years, Francis succeeded in mastering his disposition to such an extent that he became known as the gentle, kind and meek saint. Don Bosco knew from his own experience and the experience of others that his followers would need an outstanding model of these virtues in the difficult work which they would have to accomplish among (troubled and troublesome) youth. The model he chose for his followers had to be Francis de Sales.” (Page 32)

Today, how might we follow the example of John Bosco in following the example of St. Francis de Sales? How might God be calling us this day to allow the “sweetness and charity” of St. Francis de Sales to guide us in what we think, how we feel, what we say and how we relate with, for and about one another, especially with those people whom we experience as troubled or troublesome?

Spirituality Matters 2018: January 18th - January 24th

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(January 18, 2018: Thursday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Hearing what Jesus was doing, a large number of people came to him…”

As word of Jesus’ reputation for helping those in need spread, we are told in today’s Gospel that lots of folks from lots of places travelled lots of distances to see him, to behold his face, to hear his voice, to experience his healing power and know his love.

In one of his Conferences to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales remarked:

“It is very good for us to know and feel our misery and imperfection, but we must not allow that to discourage us; rather, our awareness of our miseries should make us raise our hearts to God by a holy confidence, the foundation of which ought to be in Him…The throne of God’s mercy is our misery; therefore, the greater our misery the greater should be our confidence in God.” (Living Jesus, page 45)

Today’s Gospel challenges people in need not to avoid God but to pursue God. Awareness of our sinfulness should not drive us away from God but should draw us closer to God. Have confidence that God will help you. Have confidence that God will heal you. Have confidence that God will empower you.

Why? Because God loves you! How? In the person of his Son, Jesus.

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(January 19, 2018: Friday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He sent them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons…”

This scene from the third chapter of Mark’s Gospel is a major event in the relationship between Jesus and his Apostles/Disciples: he gives them the power to preach and to drive out demons! Their apprenticeship – as it were – is over.

Well, perhaps not completely over.

In Matthew’s Gospel (17: 10 – 21) and in Luke’s Gospel (9: 37 – 45) a man asks Jesus to save his son from a demon. The interesting detail here is that the man comes to Jesus only after some of Jesus’ own disciples (names unknown or, at least, unmentioned!) failed in their attempts to drive the demon out. While some of Jesus’ followers may have been appointed to drive out demons, it would appear that having the power did not always guarantee success.

We might not think about it much, but by virtue of our creation (made as we are in God’s image and likeness) we are disciples of Jesus. We, too, are appointed to preach and to drive out demons. Oh, these demons may not resemble those described in the Scriptures, but they are nonetheless very real. They are evil spirits that plague countless people on any given day. These demons have many names, including: hatred, resentment, anxiety, sadness, jealousy, despair, loneliness, frustration, anger, envy, cynicism and hopelessness. While we (like Jesus’ first disciples) may not always be successful, we are called to do our level best to drive out these demons (or, at least, reduce their effect) through our attempts to embody the spirits of confidence, hope, joy, contentment, solidarity, gratitude, reconciliation and love in our relationships with others.

Or, perhaps, by our efforts to drive out those same demons in ourselves!

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(January 20, 2018: Saturday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

In a perfect world, being true to yourself – being the person that God wants you to be – should be its own reward. But as even Jesus discovers in today’s Gospel, being true to yourself – being the person that God wants you to be – can bring with it some unwarranted and unwelcomed resistance and rejection.

Especially from family, friends and other loved ones!

Only three pages into his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales deals with this phenomenon head-on. “The men who discouraged the Israelites from going into the Promised Land told them that it was a country that ‘devoured its inhabitants.’ In other words, they said that the air was so malignant it was impossible to live there for long and its natives such monsters that they ate men like locusts. It is in this manner that the world vilifies holy devotion as much as it can. It pictures devout persons are having discontented, gloomy, sullen faces and claims that devotion brings on depression and unbearable moods.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 2)

In short, others may tell you that any attempt to live a holy life is just plain crazy!

In St. Francis de Sales’ opinion, being the kind of person that God wants you to be is not only not crazy but it is, on the contrary, the sanest decision you could ever make. He suggests: “Devotion is true spiritual sugar for it removes discontent from the poor, anxiety from the rich, grief from the oppressed, pride from the exalted, melancholy from the solitary and exhausting from those in society. It serves with equal benefit as fire in winter and dew in summer. It knows how to enjoy prosperity and how to endure want. It makes honor and disgrace alike useful to us. It accepts pleasure and pain with a heart that is nearly always the same, and it fills us with a marvelous sweetness.” (Ibid)

Are you crazy to live a life of devotion? From Jesus’ perspective, you’d be crazy not to do so!

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(January 21, 2018: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The world as we know it is passing away.”

Francis de Sales wrote:

“God preserves this great world amid constant change, wherein day turns into night, night into day, spring into summer, summer into autumn, autumn into winter and winter into spring. One day is never perfectly like another: some are cloudy, some rainy, some dry and some windy. Such variety gives great beauty to the universe.”

Every person and every generation need to come to grips with the fact that our lives are always changing. No matter how good things may have been in former times or how good they may be right now, there is always more yet to come. The security of “what is” needs to be open to the uncertainty of “what may come”.

Put another way, we need to constantly reform, refashion and renew our lives.

This change goes against our grain. It’s so easy to cling to what we know. It’s so easy to believe that we’ve learned all we need to learn. It’s so easy to think that there aren’t any more ways in which we can grow. We are tempted to say that we know, have learned and have grown enough.

On the other hand, Jesus invites us to believe in the Good News, that is, to believe in the power of God’s constant, unchanging love that calls us to learn more about God, ourselves and one another. Jesus calls us to believe that the willingness to reform our lives (with the help of the Holy Spirit) can help us to experience in the changing circumstances, events and relationships of our daily lives more of the justice, the freedom, the reconciliation and the peace that will be unchanging in heaven.

So, be willing to change. Be willing to grow. Be willing to learn. Be willing to reform. Be willing to be transformed. Believe that the power of the Reign of God can help you to become more of the person that God calls you to be. Turn away more convincingly from what is evil. Embrace more deeply what is good. In words and example, challenge and encourage one another to do the same.

While the world as we know it is passing away, Jesus promises us that the best is yet to come. Together, you and I can make the best of what is yet to come a reality in our own day by recognizing the opportunities that God provides in each and every present moment for our reformation, our transformation and our growth.

Believe in this Good News! Pass it on to others!

Today!

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(January 22, 2018: Day of Prayer - Legal Protection of Unborn Children)
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In his popularization of Bishop Camus’s accounts of the life and legacy of St. Francis de Sales (in The Spirit of Love) C.F. Kelley wrote:

“St. Francis de Sales would often say to me (Camus) how much better it would be to accommodate ourselves to others rather than to want to bend everyone to our own ways and opinions. The human mind is like pulp, which takes readily any color with which it is mixed. The great thing is to take care that it not be like the chameleon, which, one after the other takes every color except white.” (Select Salesian Subjects, p. 122, 0523)

St. Francis de Sales’ preferred approach for evangelizing was to meet people where they lived. As his Catholic Controversies clearly demonstrate, however, the “Gentleman Saint” had no hesitation in pointing out instances in which he believed people were objectively wrong. While seeking to accommodate others’ ways and opinions as a strategy for winning them over, attempts at persuasion can never be made at the expense of one’s own principles or core beliefs.

The debate regarding Roe vs. Wade and its impact in the United States shows no signs of waning. In addition, debate often denigrates into wholesale divisiveness, even ad hominem attacks. With this unfortunate state of affairs surrounding what is a life or death situation in mind, Jane de Chantal’s advice to a fellow Visitandine sister is especially relevant:

“I am convinced, and experience has taught me, that nothing so wins souls as gentleness and cordiality. Follow this method, for it is the spirit of our blessed Father. Curtness in words or actions only hardens hearts and depresses them, whereas gentleness encourages them and makes them receptive…” (LSD, page 247)

Discussions about how best to legally protect unborn children appear to produce little or no consensus. Arguments for and against “legislating morality” seem to have no end. In the meantime, there is nothing to be lost – and perhaps much to be gained – by continuing to pray that “liberty and justice for all” will, in fact, be just that - for all, including unborn children.

Today, may God help us to put that prayer into action with as much poignant purpose – and gentle persuasion – as we can.

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(January 23, 2018: Tuesday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Whoever does the will of God is brother, and sister and mother to me.”

What is God’s will? In more than a few places throughout the Gospels, Jesus is quite clear when He says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.

What does it mean to be merciful? Jesus is very specific in Luke 6: 36 – 38: “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful. Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Pardon and you will be pardoned. Give and it shall be given to you. Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will they pour into the folds of your garment. For the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”

To be sure (as we see in the reading from the Second Book of Samuel), making sacrifice – making offering – has its place in following the will of God. However, as the example of David clearly indicates, offering goods to God should also lead to our offering goods to others.

  • Doing the will of God is not limited to what we can offer solely to God.

  • Doing the will of God is also about making the sacrifices involved in not judging and not condemning.

  • Doing the will of God is also about making the sacrifices required in pardoning and giving.

  • Doing the will of God is also about making the sacrifices involved in doing our level best to recall throughout each day that “the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you”.
Thirty – sixty – one hundredfold!

Do you want to be known as “brother, sister and mother” to Jesus? Do you want to be recognized as a member of Jesus’ family?

Then, do the will of God by putting into to practice this maxim from St. Francis de Sales: “The measure of love is to love without measure.”

Today!

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(January 24, 2018: Francis de Sales: Bishop, Founder, Doctor of the Church)
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Prv 16: 16-2    : Ps 34: 2-3, 4 and 6, 9 and 12, 14-15     JAS 3:13-18     Mk 5: 23-28

“A patient person is better than a warrior, and those who master their tempers are stronger than one who would capture a city.”

So close, yet so far.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that that’s how Francis de Sales might have characterized his feelings regarding one of his greatest hopes that remained sadly unfulfilled - the return of Catholicism to the city of Geneva. Notwithstanding his success in the Chablais Region during the first four years of his priesthood, his pivotal prominence as Bishop of Geneva, his reputation as a man who could reach minds and soften hearts, his gift for shuttle diplomacy, and as one who “befriended many along the road to salvation,” the full restoration of his See remained frustratingly beyond his reach.

It’s easy to overlook, but Francis de Sales isn’t remembered for always having had the “Midas Touch”. It’s not like every initiative or endeavor that the “Gentleman Saint” touched turned to gold or ended with overwhelming success. Nevertheless, the Church recognizes him as a spiritual giant, precisely because of his willingness to master the city of his own temper, to curb the city of his own enthusiasm and to discipline the city of his own passion in pursuing God and the things of God by choosing to focus his energies on evangelizing those whom he could reach rather than becoming embittered about those he could not reach. True to Fr. Brisson’s assessment of the Salesian method for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, Francis de Sales met people where they were – not where they weren’t.

Not unlike Our Lord Himself!

On the Feast day of the “Bishop of Geneva” let us ask for the grace to imitate his example! May we experience the self-mastery that is even “better than a warrior” by focusing our energies and effort on everything that is within our power to do for the love of God and neighbor, and to let go of whatever is not.

~ OR ~

We offer for your reflection on this feast day of Francis de Sales the forward of a fifty-four page devotional booklet published in 2008 in the United Kingdom (written by a J. Barry Midgley) regarding the life and legacy of “The Gentleman Saint”.

"In some ways the Age in which St. Francis de Sales lived has similarities to our own. Then, as now, the world was experiencing dramatic change, and the mind of the Church was necessarily focused on spiritual, intellectual and institutional renewal: correcting aggressive heresy, reaffirming doctrine and practice, and preserving the ministerial priesthood that is at the heart of Catholic life. The Church continues to work for the revival of evangelization and the conversion of nations, withstanding secular assaults on faith, reversing the dilution of doctrine and protecting the accessibility of the sacrifice of the Mass. In every season, the 'Barque of Peter' navigates some stormy waters but, thankfully, there are saints like Francis de Sales whose eager and powerful intercession does not diminish with the passing of time."

"God - in His kindness - provides every season with holy men and women to encourage God's people, and the Holy Spirit breathes an impetus to refresh faith, doctrine, religious leadership and energy in the mission Christ delegated to His people. Francis de Sales is a luminous example of the local apostle who preserves and teaches the faith received by the twelve Apostles personally from Our Lord. As a bishop, his priorities were to preach the Gospel, to preside at Mass, to care for the clergy and to ensure that spiritual centers of liturgical and cultural excellence stimulated hope and the practice of devotion. Francis helped those entrusted to his care understand that prayer opens the mind and heart to God's word and to respond to his (Francis') belief that everyone plays a part in God's plan of salvation through a personal conception of His Son. Indeed, Francis de Sales truly was a fascinating figure, so balanced, courageous, sensible and devout: another 'man for all seasons.'"

"I am grateful...for a renewed appreciation of this wonderful man."

Through the example and intercession of St. Francis de Sales, may each of us - in ways fitting to the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves - strive to be "balanced, courageous, sensible and devout" in our efforts to "Live Jesus”.

To be - in word, in deed - people for all seasons…in every season!

Spirituality Matters 2018: January 11th - January 17th

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(January 11, 2018: Thursday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The leprosy left him immediately...”

Time and time again throughout the four Gospels, we witness how Jesus cured people on the spot. Their infirmity was healed, removed or eradicated immediately. In the case of today’s Gospel selection from Mark, Jesus immediately healed a person afflicted with leprosy.

But not all miracles happen in an instant. Some require several steps. Others require more time.

In Chapter 9 of the Gospel of John, Jesus cures a man born blind by first mixing spittle and mud before applying the mixture to the man’s eyes. In Chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel, the healing of another blind man requires two stages. In Chapter 2 of John’s Gospel Jesus turns water into wine seemingly as a last resort. And in the Gospels of Mark (7:25-30) and Matthew (15:21-28), Jesus agreed to heal the possessed daughter of the Syrophoenician woman only after what sometimes appears to have been a protracted negotiation. For that matter, in the Old Testament (2 Kings 5) Naaman the Syrian was cured of his leprosy only after bathing seven times in the River Jordan.

Whether in an instant, over several stages or during the course of a lifetime, all miracles share one thing in common – they begin by asking God for help.

Today, even only as a first step, from what might we need to be healed, freed or liberated by God?

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(January 12, 2018: Friday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord…”

Romanian-born Jewish-American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once remarked: “When a person doesn't have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity.”

Today’s Gospel offers us a powerful illustration of how the absence of gratitude can diminish one’s humanity.

When Jesus heals a paralytic in two phases (first, by forgiving the man’s sins and second by curing the man’s infirmity), there isn’t an ounce of gratitude to be found anywhere among the scribes, because the only thing they seem capable of mustering is resentment. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the scribes seem to be lacking more than just a little in their humanity - they come off in this story as being sorry excuses for human beings. Absorbed by their own sense of smug self-importance, the scribes appear to have lost their capacity for gratitude. These men of God no longer displayed any need for God.

Do you feel as if something is missing from your humanity? Are you experiencing any resentment in your life? Perhaps there is no better remedy or corrective than to discover ways to “sing the goodness of the Lord.”

Today, be grateful. Your humanity depends on it!

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(January 13, 2018: Hilary, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners…”

As word of Jesus’ reputation for helping those in need spread through the region, we are told in today’s Gospel that lots of folks (including Levi, a customs official) from lots of places travelled lots of distances to see him, to behold his face, to hear his voice, to experience his healing power and to know his love.

In one of his Conferences to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales remarked:

“It is very good for us to know and feel our misery and imperfection, but we must not allow that to discourage us; rather, our awareness of our miseries should make us raise our hearts to God by a holy confidence, the foundation of which ought to be in Him…The throne of God’s mercy is our misery; therefore, the greater our misery the greater should be our confidence in God.” (Living Jesus, page 45)

Today’s Gospel challenges sinners of all shapes and sizes not to avoid God but to pursue God. An awareness of our sinfulness or our neediness should not drive us away from God but should draw us closer to God. Have confidence that God will help you. Have confidence that God will heal you. Have confidence that God will empower you.

Why? Because God does love us! How? In the person of his Son, Jesus.

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(January 14, 2018: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“What are you looking for?”

Are you looking for the best in life?
Are you looking for the worst in life?
Are you looking for meaning and purpose in life?
Are you looking to just get by in life?
Are you looking for a God who is always present to you?
Are you looking for a God found only in special places or once-in-a lifetime events?
Are you looking for peace?
Are you looking for division?
Are you looking for reconciliation?
Are you looking for alienation?
Are you looking for hope?
Are you looking for despair?
Are you looking for light?
Are you looking for darkness?
Are you looking for revenge?
Are you looking for redemption?

Why are these questions – and so many others like them – so important? Why? Because we tend to more easily or quickly see those things for which we are looking. We frequently fail to see or recognize those things for which we are not looking.

The Salesian tradition challenges us to look for our common dignity and destiny as sons and daughters of God.

  • The Salesian tradition challenges us to look for our unique roles in God’s plan of salvation.

  • The Salesian tradition challenges us to look for God in every event, circumstance and relationship of everyday life.

  • The Salesian tradition challenges us to look for daily opportunities to serve one another in simple, practical and ordinary ways.

  • The Salesian tradition challenges us to look for ways to make real here on earth something of the justice, truth, reconciliation, freedom and peace that are promised to us forever in heaven.

  • The Salesian tradition challenges us to look for a God who calls us by name, who loves us, who cherishes us, who pursues us, who forgives us, who strengthens us…and who calls us to do the same for one another.
And so, at this point in your life, ask yourself - what are you, in fact, looking for?

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(January 15, 2018: Monday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, and your disciples do not fast?”

What distinguishes your run-of-the-mill comedian from a truly great comedian? Well, aside from having good material, the almost-universal answer is: “Timing”. Successful comedians are gifted with – or learned to develop – an incredible sense of timing.

The point that Jesus is trying to make in today’s Gospel is no laughing matter. In many cases, timing is everything. Fasting and feasting (among other things) are both good things. The challenge is to develop the sense to know the proper time to do one or the other. Recall the words found in the Book of Ecclesiastes 3, verse 1: “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…”

In the Salesian tradition, developing this sense of timing goes hand-in-hand with the practice of virtue. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “A great fault in many who undertake the exercise of some particular virtue is thinking they must practice it in every situation. Like certain great philosophers, they wish either always to weep or always to laugh. Still worse, they condemn and censure others who do not practice the same virtues they do. The apostle (St. Paul) says, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep,’ and ‘charity is patient, is kind,’ generous, prudent, discreet and considerate.”

Jesus’ sense of timing - his knack for reading a situation, for recognizing his surroundings and for knowing what was called for with a particular person – enabled him to do the right thing at the right time in the right way. Unlike the one-size-fits-all” approach of the disciples of John and the Pharisees, Jesus shows us that the authentic practice of virtue must be “tailor-made”.

Indeed, “there is a time for every purpose under heaven”. What time is it now? Today, that are the things that God is calling us to do?

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(January 16, 2018: Tuesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You are my father, my God, the Rock, my savior…”

In an undated letter addressed to “A Gentleman” who apparently had been struggling with a debilitating illness that had seriously challenged his confidence and faith in pretty much everything, Francis de Sales wrote:

“It is of great concern to me that everyone says that in addition to your physical illness, you are suffering from deep depression…Please tell me sir, what reason have you for remaining in this dark mood which is so harmful to you? I am afraid that your mind is still troubled by some fear of sudden death and the judgment of God. That is, alas, a unique kind of anguish! My own soul – which once endured it for six weeks – is in apposition to feel compassion for those who experience it."

“So, sir, I must have a little heart to heart chat with you and tell you that anyone who has a true desire to serve our Lord and flee from sin should not torment himself with the thoughts of death or divine judgment: for while both the one and the other are to be feared, nevertheless, the fear must not be the terrible kind of natural fear which weakness and dampens the ardor and determination of the spirit, but rather a fear that is so full of confidence in the goodness of God that in the end grows calm…This is not the time to start questioning whether or not we are strong enough to entrust ourselves to God.”

“So, now, since you want to belong entirely to God, why be afraid of your weakness – upon which, in any case, you shouldn’t be relying in the first place? You do hope in God, don’t you? And will anyone who hopes in God ever be put to shame? No, sir, never!” (LSD, page 180)

In good times, in bad times and in all the times in between, God is our rock, our savior. At those times when – for whatever reason – we become more aware than usual of our weakness, we should remind ourselves of an even greater truth.

God’s strength.

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(January 17, 2018: Wednesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Grieved at their hardness of heart…”

Recall last week’s account of Jesus and the paralyzed man? Jesus healed a paralytic in two phases (first, by forgiving the man’s sins and second, by curing the man’s infirmity). As astonishing as that two-fold miracle may have been to those who witnessed it, perhaps the only thing even more astonishing was the intractability of the scribes who questioned Jesus’ authority for doing so. Those men of God appeared to have lost any sense of their need for God.

We see the same dynamic played out in today’s Gospel. Jesus is painfully aware that the Pharisees are looking for any excuse to discredit him, even if it requires demonizing an objectively good and righteous act! In another case of putting the cart before the horse, the Pharisees – this time through their cold, calculating silence – are placing the primacy of the Sabbath far ahead of the opportunity to restore someone’s health, in effect, to bring them back to life.

We are told at the end of the day that the Pharisees were undaunted in their pursuit of pettiness and parochialism, hardening their hearts to God’s providence at every opportunity. Fortunately for us, Jesus was even more undaunted in his pursuit of righteousness. Grieved as he might have been, Jesus never allowed others’ hardness of heart to harden his heart.

Today, as followers of Jesus, can the same be said of us?

Spirituality Matters 2018: January 4th - January 10th

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(January 4, 2018: Elizabeth Ann Seton, Religious)
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“The person who acts in righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous.

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

“For two hundred years American parochial schools have provided countless children with a solid education while teaching them how to be faithful Catholics and solid citizens. While parish schools aren’t as numerous as they once were – to say nothing of the legions of nuns that used to teach in them – the situation is not nearly as daunting as it was in Elizabeth Ann Seton’s day.”

“Mother Seton’s life coincides with the birth of the United States and the rise of the Catholic Church in America. She was born one year before the battles of Lexington and Concord, during an era when Catholicism was outlawed in every colony except Maryland. In British America, there were no bishops, no nuns, no Catholic schools and no seminaries. Only about twenty priests lived in the colonies, most living incognito and using aliases to avoid hard anti-clerical laws. For her part she grew up the daughter of a prominent, well-to-do Anglican family on Staten Island. During the revolution they walked a fine line between loyalty to the king and support for the rebels. Whatever her family’s true sympathies may have been, they were firmly in the American camp by the time George Washington was elected president: in fact, the then-fifteen year-old Elizabeth danced at the first inaugural ball.”

“At the age on nineteen she married William Seton, a wealthy New York merchant. The couple had five children – three girls and two boys – and enjoyed a life of comfort and privilege. After eight years of marriage, William’s business went bankrupt: shortly thereafter, he contracted tuberculosis. In an attempt to save William’s health, the Setons sailed for Italy, where William had business friends, the Filicchi family. He subsequently succumbed to his chronic illness. Elizabeth and her children remained as guests of the Filicchi’s for some time. Their hosts owned a private chapel that provided Elizabeth with her first exposure to the Catholic faith, about which two things impressed this widowed mother: the Filicchi’s reverence during Mass, and the comfort they appeared to receive from confession. Upon her return to New York, Elizabeth sought out the pastor of a local Catholic Church and asked to convert to Catholicism.”

“With few exceptions, Elizabeth’s Anglican family and friends turned their backs on her following her conversion. She struggled to support herself and her children until Bishop John Carroll invited her to open a Catholic school in the archdiocese of Baltimore. It was during this time that she began to consider joining a religious community. However, the European model of religious life – living a mostly cloistered life with only a few hours per day devoted to teaching girls who boarded at the convent – did not appeal to her. With so much work begging to be done for the Catholic Church in America, Elizabeth wanted to be much more active. With Bishop Carroll’s encouragement, she founded a new community of sisters dedicated to the work of Catholic education: the Sisters of Charity. They opened America’s first parish school in Emmitsburg, Maryland on February 22, 1810.”

“The system established by Mother Seton conveyed the faith from generation to generation; it eased the passage of Catholic immigrants into American society; it served as the seedbed for countless vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Her teaching order offered a new model for religious women – sisters who were ‘in the world, but not of it.’ In the history of the Catholic Church in America, Mother Seton was – and continues to be – an indispensable woman.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 99-100)

Elizabeth Ann Seton followed God’s demonstrated righteousness by founding a community of religious women who dedicated their lives to parochial education: teaching children – many of them immigrants – how to be faithful Catholics and solid citizens. In other words, her community was righteous in their attempts to do right by their students.

Today, how might we follow her example?

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(January 5, 2018: John Neumann, Bishop)
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“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another…”

“This ‘American’ saint was born in Bohemia in 1811. He was looking forward to being ordained in 1835 when the bishop decided there would be no more ordinations: Bohemia was overstocked with priests. John wrote to bishops all over Europe but the story was the same everywhere: no one needed any more priests. But John didn’t give up. He had learned English by working in a factory with English-speaking workers so he wrote to the bishops in America. Finally, Bishop John Dubois of New York agreed to ordain him but John would have to leave his home forever and travel across the ocean to a new and rugged land. He was ordained the following year.”

“In New York, John was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. John’s parish in western New York stretched from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. His church had no steeple or floor but that didn’t matter insofar as John spent most days traveling from village to village anyway, climbing mountains to visit the sick, staying in garrets and taverns to teach, and celebrating the Mass at kitchen tables. Because of the work and the isolation associated with his remote outpost, John longed for community. In 1840, with the permission of Dubois, he applied to join the Redemptorist Fathers, was accepted, and entered their novitiate at St. Philomena's in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was their first candidate in the New World. He took his vows as a member of the Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, in January 1842. After six years of difficult but fruitful work, he was appointed as the Provincial Superior for the United States. Neumann became naturalized citizen on 10 February 1848. John was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. As bishop, he was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system: he increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to one hundred.”

“Neumann actively invited religious institutes to establish new houses within the diocese. In 1855, he supported the foundation of a congregation of religious sisters in the city, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. He brought the School Sisters of Notre Dame from Germany to assist in religious instruction and staffing an orphanage. He also intervened to save the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a congregation for African-American women, from dissolution. Neumann's efforts to expand the Catholic Church were not without opposition. The Know Nothings, an anti-Catholic political party representing descendants of earlier immigrants to North America, was at the height of its activities. They set fire to convents and schools. Discouraged, Neumann wrote to Rome asking to be replaced as bishop, but Pope Pius IX insisted that he continue.”

“John never lost his love and concern for the people—something that may have bothered the elite of Philadelphia. On one visit to a rural parish, the parish priest picked him up in a manure wagon. Seated on a plank stretched over the wagon’s contents, John joked, ‘Have you ever seen such an entourage for a bishop!’ The ability to learn languages that had brought John to America enabled him to learn enough Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch to hear confessions in, at least, six languages. When the a wave of Irish immigration reached American shores, John learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, ‘Isn’t it grand that we have an Irish bishop!’ John Neumann died of a stroke on January 5, 1860 at the age of 48.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=70)

Notwithstanding his proficiency with languages, John Neumann is best remembered for mastering the one and only language that really matters – the language of love.

How might we imitate his example - just this day - through our efforts at loving others?

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(January 6, 2018: Andre Bessette)
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“Whoever possesses the Son has life …”

The life and legacy of Andre Bessette offers us a concrete example of what it looks like when someone “possesses the Son”:

“When Alfred Bessette came to the Holy Cross Brothers in 1870, he carried with him a note from his pastor saying, ‘I am sending you a saint’. The Brothers found that difficult to believe. Chronic stomach pains had made it impossible for Alfred to hold a job very long and since he was a boy he had wandered from shop to shop, farm to farm, in his native Canada and in the United States, staying only until his employers found out how little work he could do. The Holy Cross Brothers were teachers and, at 25, Alfred still did not know how to read and write. It seemed as if Alfred approached the religious order out of desperation, not for a vocation.”

“He may have had no place left to go, but he believed that was because this was the place he felt he should have been all along. The Holy Cross Brothers took him into the novitiate but soon found out what everybody else had learned - as hard as Alfred (now Brother Andre) wanted to work, he simply wasn't strong enough. They asked him to leave the order, but Andre, out of desperation, appealed to a visiting bishop who promised him that he would intercede on his behalf with the brothers so that Andre could stay and take his vows.”

“After his vows, Brother Andre was sent to Notre Dame College in Montreal (a school for boys aged seven to twelve) as a porter. His responsibilities were to answer the door, to welcome guests, find the people they were visiting, wake up those in the school, and deliver mail. Through kindness, caring, and devotion, Brother Andre helped many souls experience healing – in many documented cases, including physical healings.”

“As if that were not enough, in 1904 Bro. Andre received permission to construct a small chapel dedicated to St. Joseph, to whom he had a life-long devotion. By the 1930’s he had inaugurated the construction of a basilica on the highest point of the city on Montreal, but the Depression all-but-brought the project to a halt. At ninety-years old he told his co-workers to place a statue of St. Joseph in the unfinished, unroofed basilica. Brother Andre died soon after on January 6, 1937, and didn't live to see the work on the basilica completed. But in Brother Andre's mind it never would be completed because he always saw more ways to express his devotion and to heal others. As long as he lived, the man who had trouble keeping work for himself had never stopped working for God.”

On December 19, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a decree recognizing a second miracle at Blessed André's intercession. On October 17, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI formally declared Blessed Andre Bessette a saint. ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=18 )

To the extent that Brother Andre “possessed the Son”, he was empowered with the ability to capture the hearts of so many people who encountered him.

Just today, how might we imitate his example just today in our interactions with one another?

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(January 7, 2018: Epiphany of the Lord)
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“They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then, they opened their treasures....”

On the Feast of the Epiphany, Blessed Louis Brisson made the following observations:

“In the Orient, there was a tradition that a new star would appear as a sign of redemption. If one would follow that star it would lead to the awaited Messiah. Thus, the Magi of the Orient who knew of this tradition - and who were versed in the study of the stars - one night noticed the star that was the precursor of the Messiah. Three in number the Magi – along with a great troop of servants – set out to follow it. The star led them to Jerusalem but stopped and disappeared.”

“The king who reigned in Judea at the time was Herod. Hiding his astonishment and hate, he called the doctors of the Law who declared that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod, then, took the Magi aside and said to them, ‘I did not know of the birth of the King, but when you have found Him, return to let me know so that I also might go and adore Him.’ When the Magi left Jerusalem, the star appeared anew and led them to Bethlehem. They approached the Child Jesus, adored Him and offered Him their presents.”

“My friends, each soul has its own little star, the star of its vocation, the star of the will of God which enlightens its life and shows it what God desires of it. Ask our Savior very fervently for the grace to be faithful to your star. In following it you will find Jesus with his love and graces as the Magi found Him in the manger.” (Cor ad Cor, p. 49)

Today, how can you do homage to the Child Jesus? The answer - By opening the most valuable treasure of all - the God-given star of love within your heart.

And by following it!

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(January 8, 2018: Baptism of the Lord)
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“I the Lord have called you for the victory of justice.” “Those of any nation who…act uprightly are acceptable to God.”

The account of Jesus’ baptism ends with the sound of a voice from heaven, saying “This is my beloved son. My favor rests on him.”

Why does God’s favor rest upon Jesus? Because Jesus is the Son of Justice. Jesus measures by God’s standards in giving others their due.

Isaiah tells us that God has called us, like Christ, “for the victory of justice” and, in the Acts of the Apostles, to “act uprightly”. In everyday terms, what does it mean to work for God’s justice by acting uprightly?

Consider the opposite of acting justly and uprightly: “We condemn every little thing in our neighbor and excuse ourselves of important things. We want to sell very high but to buy at bargain prices. We demand that the right thing be done in another’s house but that mercy and generosity be granted to ours. We like to have things that we say taken in good part but we are tender and touchy about what others say.” ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 36). At its heart, injustice is about living a double standard, measuring the world with two weights: one to weigh everything to one’s own advantage, and another to weigh everything to the disadvantage of others.

What makes our acts of injustice so difficult to identify is that they are seldom big. Rather, they are frequent and small, easy to overlook. St. Francis de Sales writes: “Self love can lead us and direct us into countless small yet dangerous acts of injustice and iniquity. Because they are little we are not on guard against them and because there are many of them they are sure to cause us – and others – great injury.”

Francis de Sales writes that just and upright people are, in short, reasonable people. They do not live a double standard. They are people of integrity. They follow the Golden Rule by treating others as they themselves would wish to be treated - not expecting of others that which they themselves refuse to practice. Just and upright people measure the world using only one weight - the love of God. “Be just and reasonable in your neighbor’s place and your neighbor in yours”, says St. Francis. “Live a generous, noble, courteous, royal, just and reasonable heart.”

To the extent that we act in this manner with one another each and every day, we grow as the “beloved sons and daughters of God”. God’s favor will rest on us, as we make real the promise of God’s justice to others.

Why not begin today?

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(January 9, 2018: Tuesday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

In today’s Gospel we hear that the people of Capernaum where “astonished” at the teaching of Jesus, for “he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. What distinguished the teaching of Jesus from the teaching of the scribes? How did Jesus’ “new teaching” manifest itself? Some of the elements include - but are certainly not limited to – the following differences:

    1) Jesus taught important matters of the highest importance and which are necessary for salvation. By contrast the scribes taught trifling matters of rites and ceremonies which were passing away, such as the washing of hands and of cups.

    2) What Christ taught in word, he fulfilled in deed. He talked the talk and walked the walk. The scribes, by contrast (as Jesus observed) spoke bold words, but exhibited few deeds.

    3) Jesus taught with fervor and zeal, such that the words of Scripture could always be applied to him. The scribes could lay no such claims.

    4) Jesus confirmed his teaching by miracles; the scribes could not.

    5) The scribes were merely interpreters of the Law, whereas Christ was the embodiment of the Law and Prophets.

    6) While the scribes sought their own glory and the praise of others, Jesus taught solely for the glory of God and for the salvation of others.

    7) In his words and example – and also by the hidden inspirations of his grace - Jesus illuminated the minds and inflamed the hearts of his hearers. By contrast, the scribes clouded the minds and discouraged the hearts of their hearers. (http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2012/01/christ-taught-as-one-having-authority.html)
When other people encounter us – especially as it relates to matters of faith, life and love – to whom do we bear a greater resemblance: the scribes or The Christ?

* * * * *
(January 10, 2018: Leonie Aviate, OSFS, Founder and Religious)
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“Anyone who welcomes one such child for my sake welcomes me...”

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Leonie Aviat, OSFS: religious, founder.

In the middle of the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution, there was a rapid expansion of the textile industry in the town of Troyes, France. The Industrial Revolution created opportunities for women to work outside the home and/or the farm. Droves of young country girls came to the town in search of employment and adventure. They had no money, nowhere to live and were thus exposed to many potential hazards. With a remarkable intuition for overcoming obstacles, Father Louis Brisson took these girls into his care. He acquired a building, offering board and lodging and even work on the premises to a number of young female workers. He trained a group of volunteers to oversee the boarding house, but no matter how devoted they were, the undertaking lacked stability. It was not only necessary to provide room and board for the girls and young women, but also to educate them in their faith and guard them against moral danger. Fr. Brisson eventually determined that this new undertaking would be better served by a community of religious women who could devote themselves to this growing ministry.

Enter Leonie Aviat. Together with Fr. Brisson, she founded the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales who, during the course of her lifetime, saw many a child – and young adult, for that matter – welcomed for the sake of the Lord.

Children not only come in many shapes and sizes, but as it turns out, children also come in a variety of ages. In the broadest sense, the “children” to whom Jesus alludes in today’s Gospel are: anyone who is vulnerable, anyone who needs welcome, anyone who needs comfort and anyone who needs a safe place.

Today, who might be the children in our lives whom Jesus challenges us to welcome for his sake?

~ OR ~

Throughout the history of Christian spirituality, there frequently appears to be an uneasy relationship between prayer and work, between being and doing, and/or between resting in God and doing for/with God. St. Francis de Sales offered a remedy for the temptation to dichotomize prayer and work. The “Gentleman Saint” identified – in broad strokes – three types of prayer.

First, there is vocal prayer. Examples of this type of prayer on which most – if not all – of us first cut our gums include: the Our Father, the Hail Mary, Grace-before-Meals, etc,, etc. It is a form of prayer of which we can make good use even into old age.

Second, there is mental prayer, or “prayer of the heart”. Some people experience this type of prayer as meditation; for other people, it is known as contemplation. This type of prayer relies a great deal less on words and makes greater use of thoughts, considerations, affections, images and silence. Unlike vocal prayer, it tends to be much less public and much more private. Mental prayer seems to come easily for some folks, while it appears to be more elusive or challenging for others.

Finally, there is what Francis de Sales referred to as the prayer of good life. It is the prayer that comes with doing good – with practicing virtue – in a very mindful, heart-filled, intentional and deliberate way at each and every moment – specifically - through the practice of the Direction of Intention!

Leonie Aviat, OSFS clearly saw the Direction of Intention as the bridge linking prayer and work. Years after founding the Oblate Sisters, she would later remark:

“I still remember the words the Good Mother said to us one day on the subject. ‘The faithful practice of the Direction of Intention is the first rung on the ladder that will make us attain sanctity.’ She had been so faithful to this article that she knew its reward.” ( Heart Speaks to Heart, p. 150)

Professor Wendy Wright notes that in the Salesian tradition the interior prayer of the Direction of Intention - be it with or without words - provides the foundation for both the life of the cloistered Visitandine and the very active life lived by an Oblate Sister. She again quotes Leonie Aviat:

“My children (wrote the Good Mother) you are not called to say the office for the moment. Your principal occupation is work. Give yourself to it as graciously as possible. Go to your work when the clock chimes. Set out joyfully according to our Rule, as if you were going to say the office and make meditation, because for you, work is a continual meditation.” ( Ibid)

Whether we do our work prayerfully – or put our prayer to work – prayer and work are the inseparable sides of the same coin: the love of God, neighbor and self.

Spirituality Matters 2017: December 28th - January 3rd

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(December 28, 2017: Holy Innocents)
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“A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation…”

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

“Even in the Christmas story, there is a touch of tragedy: the massacre of the infant boys in Bethlehem. St. Matthew’s Gospel records that when the Magi stopped in Jerusalem to ask the whereabouts of the King of the Jews, Herod, the king of Judea, sent them to Bethlehem with instructions to return once they had found the Christ Child so that he, too, could pay homage. Warned by an angel that Herod was up to no good, the Magi returned home via a route that bypassed the city and its conniving king.”

“Once Herod realized the Magi were on to him, he sent troops to Bethlehem with orders to kill every boy aged two and younger. But the same angel warned Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety. By the time Herod’s troops charged into the village, the Holy Family was long gone. No one knows how many babies were massacred that day.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 134-135)

It is sometimes said that there is no such thing as a “secret” sin. By its very nature sin is a social animal. Every sin – however public or private – impacts not only the person who commits it but also other people – often times, innocent people – as well. The Holy Innocents suffered because of one man’s sin. These children - collateral damage - died because of Herod’s personal envy, professional greed and narcissistic paranoia. As the poet Prudentius wrote:

All hail, ye infant martyr flowers
Cut off in life’s first dawning hours:
As rosebuds snapped in tempest strife,
When Herod sought your Savior’s life.

Today, what about us? Who are the “innocents” in our lives who are impacted by the personal or “private” sins we commit?

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(December 29, 2017: Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr)
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“And you yourself a sword will pierce…”

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

“Nothing in Thomas Becket’s early life suggested that he would become a defender of the liberty of the Church, to say nothing of becoming a martyr. He was a shrewd administrator with a special talent for making money. He proved to be the ideal royal servant: whatever King Henry II wanted done, Becket accomplished. When the old archbishop died, Henry took it upon himself to name the new archbishop rather than wait for the pope to do so: thinking he would be the perfect choice, Henry chose Becket. With one of his closest friends as archbishop of Canterbury, Henry believed that he could extend his royal authority over the Church in England.”

“Turned out, Henry was wrong.”

“Once Thomas was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury he became a changed man. He did penance to make up for years of careless living. The man who had once refused to clothe one freezing beggar now gave lavishly to the poor. We don’t know if Henry noticed the change that had come over his friend, but when the king made his first move against the Church it became clear that Becket would not be the puppet archbishop for which Henry had hoped. In their first disagreement, Henry argued that priests who committed crimes were treated too leniently by Church courts and they should submit to the civil courts of England. Becket replied that laymen did not have jurisdiction over clergymen. Stung by Becket’s opposition, Henry brought a host of false charges against his one-time friend. He had Becket indicted for squandering royal funds and even accused the archbishop of treason. Death threats from the king’s men followed, prompting Becket to flee to France for fear of losing his life.”

“For the next six years Henry and Becket jockeyed for position, each trying to win the pope’s support. In the end a truce was worked out, allowing Becket to return home to Canterbury, although the central issue of the Church’s liberty remained unresolved. When Becket subsequently excommunicated bishops who had both supported Henry and also infringed on the prerogatives of the archbishop of Canterbury, Henry threw one of his infamous tantrums, ending by crying aloud, ‘Will no one relieve me of this troublesome priest?’ Four of the king’s knights – bitter enemies of Becket – set out at once for Canterbury where they confronted Becket in his own cathedral. When Becket refused to give in to all of Henry’s demands, the knights hacked the archbishop to death at the foot of the altar.”

“The shock of Becket’s murder reverberated across Europe. Henry submitted to public penance, letting the monks of Canterbury flog him as he knelt before his former-friend’s tomb. St. Thomas Becket quarreled with his king over the liberty of the Church, but throughout the entire ordeal it was the rights of the diocesan clergy that had hung in the balance…and for which Becket gave his life.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 134-135)

Just as in the case of Jesus, Thomas stood his ground when confronted by the face of injustice. Just as in the case of Jesus, Thomas ultimately gave his life to protect – and promote – the freedom and liberty of others. Just as Jesus was pierced by a lance, so Thomas was pierced by a sword.

How far would we go in standing up to the face of injustice…just today?

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(December 30, 2017: Sixth Day within the Octave of the Nativity)
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“Do not love the world or the things of the world…”

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

“Almost all those who have hitherto written about devotion have been concerned with instructing persons wholly withdrawn from the world, or have at least taught a kind of devotion that leads to such complete retirement. My purpose is to instruct those who live in towns, within families or at court who by their state of life are obligated to live an ordinary life, at least as judged by outside appearances…A strong, resolute soul can live in the world without being infected by its moods, can find sweet springs of piety amid its salty waves and can fly through the flames of earthly lusts without burning the wings of its holy desires for a devout life. True, this is a difficult task – therefore, I wish that many souls would strive to accomplish it with greater ardor than has hitherto been shown…” IDL, Preface, pp. 33 – 34.)

Scripture tells us not to love the world. Scripture tells us sometimes to even despise the world. Over the centuries, more than a few folks appear to have practiced these admonitions quite literally! However, the “Gentleman Saint” seems to offer us a subtle – and quite substantial – nuance to this notion.

Genesis tells us that when God saw everything that He had made, God declared it to be “good”. The world is not our enemy, but our attachment to it can become one. The riches of this world are not our enemy, but our inordinate desire to cling to them can become one. The beauty of this world is not our enemy, but our temptation to worship it can become one. By almost any measure, living in the world per se isn’t the problem. No, the problem is our tendency to fall in love with the world and the things of this world, while living in the world that becomes the source for some of life’s greatest temerity, trauma and tragedy.

God wants us to live in the world. Why on earth would God place us here if that were not so? That said, we are challenged to refrain from turning the riches and richness of our God-given world into a god itself. God gives us the world as the primary place in which we learn how to live a life of devotion, that is, doing our level best to avoid falling in love with the things of this world and reserving our love solely for what is was intended.

For God! For ourselves! For one another!

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(December 31, 2017: Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph)
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The child grew and became strong…and the favor of God was upon him.

In his Dedicatory Prayer for his Treatise on the Love of God, St. Francis de Sales wrote that Jesus found “joy in so supreme a measure” living with Mary and Joseph. De Sales wondered at the many times Mary and Joseph bore in their arms “the love of heaven and earth”. He imagined Jesus speaking tenderly into Joseph’s ears, telling him that he was his great friend and beloved father.

What is at the root of the joy and tender love de Sales saw in the Holy Family? Today’s Scripture readings offer us an indication. Like Abraham, their father in faith, Mary and Joseph put their faith and trust in God. Because they believed in God’s loving care for them, they were able to keep their minds and hearts in “great peace and serenity, shown in their constancy amid the unexpected events which befell them”. ( Conference 3) They were confident that God would provide for everything. They could be “calm in the midst of life’s annoyances”.

Being holy – being faithful – as family is a challenge. Relationships constantly provide us with opportunities to practice the “little virtues” - the virtues that contribute to living a more loving life throughout each day. Francis de Sales tells us: “The little, unattractive and hardly noticeable virtues which are required of us in our household, our place of work, among friends, with strangers, any time and all the time, these are the virtues for us.” (Introduction, Part III, Chapter 2).

Of course, the most important practice is that of love, which not only reconciles, but also purifies and, dare we say, even glorifies the best of human relationships. Love is only in relationship with one another that the practice of the little, everyday virtues flowers into love, not only helping to create a better life here on earth, but also providing a foretaste of the eternal life promised to us in heaven.

Spending time in prayer with each member of the Holy Family might offer us insight and grace as we struggle to meet this challenge each day. Spending time with Mary can help us learn how to put our trust in God’s love, which can enable us to say a loving “yes”, as Mary did, to whatever God has planned for us today. Spending time with Joseph can help us to learn how to care for one another humbly and gently, and see our work as joining with our Creator in bettering our world. Spending time with Jesus can help us to learn how to grow, how to become strong and wise and how to trust that the favor of God is with us.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, show us - as imperfect as we are - how to become and remain holy families.

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(December 31, 2017: New Year’s Eve)
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An Exhortation by St. Jane de Chantal: The Beginning of a New Year

We are about to bring another year to an end, a year like so many years which have come before it.

Time passes by. The years come and go, and some day we, likewise, will pass and come to an end as well. We must make a strong and absolute resolution that, if Our Lord should gift us with yet another full year, we will make better use of it than those years that have come – and gone – before. Let us walk with a new step in God’s divine service to our neighbor and to our greater perfection. Let us take great courage to labor in earnest.

Please take these words to heart. What is the point of being gifted with a new year if not to recommit ourselves to the task at hand? Otherwise, we should not be astonished to find ourselves in the same place at the conclusion of this year with little or nothing to show for it. I desire that this not happen to you; rather, consider how you can make good use of every day that God is pleased to give you.

Let us embrace the responsibilities and challenges of life in the best way that we can; let us employ the time that God gives us with great care. While we hope in God’s divine goodness, may we also remember to aspire to actually do what is good.

So, then, let us live this New Year in the name of our Lord. Let us redouble our efforts at serving God and one another faithfully, especially in small and simple ways. God only expects what we can do, but God clearly expects us to do what we can do. Therefore, let us be diligent in giving our best to God, leaving the rest in the hands of God’s infinite generosity.

(Based upon St. Jane de Chantal’s Exhortation for the last Saturday of 1629, On the Shortness of Life. Found in Conferences of St. Jane de Chantal. Newman Bookshop: Westminster, Maryland. 1947. Pages 106 – 107)

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(January 1, 2018: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God)
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“Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.”

“Look at Mary in all the circumstances of her life. In her room at Nazareth she shows her modesty in that she is afraid, her candor in wanting to be instructed and in asking a question, her submission, her humility in calling herself a handmaid. Look at her in Bethlehem: she lives simply and in poverty, she listens to the shepherds as though they were learned doctors. Look at her in the company of the kings: she does not try to make any long speeches. Look at her at the time of her purification: she goes to the temple in order to conform to church customs. In going to Egypt and in returning she is simply obeying Joseph. She does not consider she is wasting time when she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth as an act of loving courtesy. She looks for Our Lord not only in joy but also in tears. She has compassion on the poverty and confusion of those who invited her to the wedding, meeting their needs. She is at the foot of the cross, full of humility, lowliness, virtue, never drawing any attention to herself in the exercise of these qualities.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 159)

When Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus, she got much more than she bargained for. Her “yes” to God’s invitation to be the mother of the Messiah forever changed the course of her life. But as Francis de Sales observed, she constantly reaffirmed that “yes” as she experienced God’s will for her son, God’s will for her husband and God’s will for her. In good times, bad times and all the times in between, she fully embraced the various circumstances in which she found herself.

We, too, are called to give birth to Jesus. While not a physical birthing, this call is no less challenging or demanding to us as it was for Mary.

As we see in the life of Mary, giving birth to Jesus is not a one time event. No, it is a life-long process. Saying “yes” to giving birth to Jesus is about being faithful to God’s will for us and others - one day, one hour, one moment at a time throughout our lives. Giving birth to Jesus is about fully and deeply embracing the responsibilities, events and circumstances of the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. It’s about rolling with the punches while remaining convinced of God’s love and care for us.

Mary is a powerful reminder that giving birth to Jesus brings more than its share of inconveniences, headaches and heartaches. However, Mary is likewise a powerful reminder of how one person’s fidelity to God’s will can change the world for the better.

Forever!

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(January 2, 2018: Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church)
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“Remain in him...”

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

“In Basil’s day most monks and nuns were hermits living in isolated corners of the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. Arguing that people are ‘sociable beings, and not isolated or savage,’ he urged the hermits to form communities near towns and cities where ordinary Christians could profit from their prayers and, inspired by their example, deepen their own religious life. The monks and nuns could take in orphans and open schools, recruiting a new generation for the religious life. To this day in the Eastern Church, St. Basil’s guidelines for monks and nuns remain the standard.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 359)

In today’s selection from the First Letter of John the word “remain(s)” is used six times. The author challenges us to remain in Jesus in order that Jesus may remain in us. Among other things, “remain” is defined as “to continue in the same state or condition, to continue to be in the same place, stay or stay behind”. At first glance this definition seems to suggest that remaining in Jesus is somehow static. It’s about staying the same. It’s about treading water. It’s about running in place. The word ‘remain’ feels passive. The problem is that Jesus is anything but passive. On the contrary, Jesus is all about action.

However, a second glance at the definition of “remain” provides a different take: “to endure or persist”.

To remain in Jesus requires effort. To remain in Jesus requires energy. To remain in Jesus requires endurance. However, as St. Basil the Great would suggest, to “remain in him” isn’t limited to Jesus. As “sociable beings” we need something else in order to remain – that is, “to endure or persist” – with Jesus.

We need to “endure and persist” as Church. We need to “endure and persist” as community. We need to “endure and persist” with one another. After all, we are the Body of Christ.

Together!

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(January 3, 2018: Most Holy Name of Jesus)
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“Those who have this hope based on him make themselves pure, as he is pure...”

Have you ever looked closely at the outside of a carton of Breyer’s Ice Cream? Somewhere in the vicinity of the image of the mint leaf you will find the “Pledge of Purity”. This trademarked pledge (inaugurated in 1908 by Henry Breyer, himself) personally guaranteed that each container contained the highest-quality, all natural ingredients available.

This notion of purity might be very helpful in our attempts to understand today’s selection from the First Letter of John. After all, who of us can claim to be “pure”? Who of us can claim to be perfect? Who of us can claim to be without blemish? With the exception of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, such “purity” is reserved for God, and for God alone.

So now, where does that leave us?

Well, if being “pure” is about being all-natural, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being real, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being authentic, we can strive for that. If being ‘pure’ is about being transparent, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being guileless, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about avoiding artificiality in any/all its forms, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being unadulterated, we can strive for that. In short, if being “pure” is about being true to whom God wants us to be - no more, no less – we can strive for that.

Look at the life of Jesus himself. He was all-natural. He was real. He was authentic. He was guileless. He was unadulterated. He was transparent. He eschewed anything artificial. In short, he was faithful to whom God wanted him to be - no more, no less.

Today, how can we hope to imitate the purity of Jesus in our relationship with God, in our relationship with ourselves and in our relationships with one another? Help yourself to a heaping and healthy scoop of “Breyer’s” spirituality.

Avoid anything artificial! Keep it natural! Keep it real!

Spirituality Matters 2017: December 21st - December 27th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, can the same be said of us?

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

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

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

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

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

Yours!!

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

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(December 24, 2017: Fourth Sunday of Advent)
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Mary said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

In God Desires You: St. Francis de Sales on Living the Gospel, author Eunan McDonnell, SDB, tells us:

“…Jesus praises the poor in spirit. He encourages a childlike attitude towards God our Father and openness to receive in faith. What is required is a childlike simplicity that can speak the ‘yes’. This is Mary’s childlike response to the angel when she says, ‘Let what you have said be done to me’. In this manner she lives the maxim ‘ask for nothing, refuse nothing’. She is open to receive what God desires to give, his love.” (pgs. 130-131)

Simple words, but Mary’s childlike “yes” is anything but simple. This “yes” calls upon Mary, and upon each one of us with Mary as our model, to trust beyond all measure in the love and mercy of our Father. It invites each of us to know in our “heart of hearts” that God truly desires us and desires to fill us with abounding love. In our willingness to be open to this desire “being filled”, it calls us to empty ourselves and to leave behind all that takes up space in our hearts, leaving open space for God’s presence. McDonnell writes:

“What is required is true emptiness which is to be found in the anawim to which Mary belongs. A complete and utter dependence on God. An emptiness of heart that allows God to shower it with his abundance. Mary and those who imitate her emptiness, put up no barrier to the generosity of God who loves to give. Poor in spirit, she offers empty space which can be inhabited by God.” (Ibid)

In all of this utter dependence on God, we sense the living out of Advent, this time of waiting patiently with an openness to God’s word being “done to me”. Francis de Sales says of Mary; she is “the morning star which brings us gracious news of the advent of the true sun”. (Oeuvres IX:5)

Mary lives out her advent. We wait with Mary.

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(December 24, 2017: Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord)
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“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…”

“Genealogy (from Greek: ?e?e?, genea, “generation”; and ?????, logos , “knowledge”) is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral traditions, historical records, genetic analysis and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members. The results are often displayed in charts or written as narratives. The pursuit of family history tends to be shaped by several motivations, including the desire to carve out a place for one’s family in the larger historical picture, a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations, and a sense of self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling.” (Wikipedia)

Today’s opening chapter from the Gospel of Matthew is Scripture’s version of Ancestry.com. Bridging the Old and New Testaments, it outlines the “genealogy of Jesus Christ”. As such, it carves out a place for Jesus within the larger picture of salvation history. As such, it strives to preserve names from past generations for future generations. As such, it tries to tell the story of Jesus’ predecessors as accurately as possible. As such, it attempts to provide as much information it can about the kinship and pedigree of those who came before Jesus.

Many of us assume that the “genealogy of Jesus Christ” ends with Jesus Christ. We assume that the story ends with the third set of fourteen generations. Nothing could be further from the truth! The “genealogy of Jesus Christ” isn’t limited to the names of his predecessors. It continues to this very day in the names of his followers. It continues in the present generation – in the lives of people like you and me.

How can we live up to our God-given pedigree? How can we give convincing witness of our divine kinship today? How can we demonstrate that we are sons and daughters of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ?

Today!

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(December 24/25, 2017: Nativity of the Lord - Mass at Midnight)
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In a Christmas sermon, Francis de Sales remarked:

“What else have we to say except that the mystery of Our Lord’s Nativity is also the mystery of the Visitation? Just as the most holy Virgin was to visit her cousin Elizabeth, we, too, must go very often to visit the Divine Babe lying in the manger. There we shall learn from the sovereign Pastor of shepherds to direct, to govern and to put our flocks in order in such a way that they will be pleasing to His goodness. But as the shepherds doubtless did not go to Him without bringing Him some little lambs, we must not go there empty-handed, either. We must bring Him something. What can we bring to this Divine Shepherd more pleasing than the little lamb which is our love and which is the principal part of our spiritual flock? For love is the first. This special gift is the grace which helps us to attain what would otherwise be impossible for us: the joy and happiness of glory. Thus, in the darkness of the night Our Lord was born and appeared to us as an infant lying in a manger…” (Sermons for Advent and Christmas, p. 53)

What better gift can we bring to the manger than to place our love at the service of God and one another? Oh, come, let us adore…and experience a foretaste of the joy and happiness of glory!

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(December 25, 2017: Nativity of the Lord)
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With regard to the great Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Blessed Louis Brisson wrote:

“We honor the three births of Our Lord. In the case of the first we recall the eternal birth of the Son of God in the bosom of His Father; in the second, we recall His temporal birth in the stable of Bethlehem; and in the thirds, we recall His mystical both in our hearts by means of Holy Communion and His grace. The consideration of the first birth should lead us to adore the Son of God on the throne of His glory, in the endless reaches of eternity, where equal to His Father He receives the adoration of the angels and seraphim. By contrast, in Bethlehem we adore him on the throne of poverty, which is a throne of love. He hides his grandeur because he wants us to draw near him without fear.”

“Having adored Him in Heaven – having adored Him in the crib – adore Him present within you. I ask you, cross your arms across your chest where the Savior dwells after Holy Communion and say to Him, ‘I adore You in my heart. I adore You within me. You are as truly in me as You are in Heaven; You are as truly in me as You are truly in the crib where You received the adoration of the poor shepherds. You are truly within me.’” (Cor ad Cor, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

We recognize Jesus at the right hand of the Father. We recognize Jesus lying in a manger.

Do we recognize that same Jesus within ourselves? Do we recognize that same Jesus in others?

Merry Christmas!

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(December 26, 2017: Stephen, First Martyr)
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“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

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

“One of the Church’s first seven deacons, Stephen was chosen and ordained by the apostles themselves to serve needy Christians and teach the faith. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that he was striking in appearance, with ‘the face of an angel…full of grace and fortitude.’ He came from a family of Jewish Greeks, and after his ordination he debated members of four of Jerusalem’s Greek synagogues. When they could not out-argue or silence this zealous young deacon, the Greek Jews hauled Stephen before the Sanhedrin (the Jews’ supreme tribunal), accusing him of blasphemy for ridiculing the Temple and the Law of Moses.”

“Asked to defend himself, Stephen launched into a long speech. He highlighted moments in Jewish history when the people of Israel had turned away from God, implying that – by not recognizing Jesus as the Messiah – they had been stubborn, proud and faithless once again. Then he exclaimed, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ It proved to be the last straw. With a roar of indignation, the men in the court rushed at Stephen, dragged him outside the city walls and stoned him to death.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 131)

Stephen had the “grace and fortitude” he needed to commend his spirit to God in a single, once-in-a-lifetime act of courage by giving his life.

Today, how can we make good use of the same “grace and fortitude” we need to commend our spirits to God in a series of ordinary, everyday acts of courage?

With one another!

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(December 27, 2017: John, Evangelist)
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“The life was made visible...”

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

“Among the twelve apostles, Christ’s three closest friends were Peter, James the Greater and John. Within this inner circle, John was the Lord’s favorite, the one referred to as ‘the beloved disciple’ in St. John’s Gospel. By tradition, John is also believed to have been the youngest of the apostles, perhaps barely out of his teens when he followed Christ. After Jesus was arrested, John was the only one of the apostles who remained with him. He witnessed Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, followed him as he carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, stood at the foot of the cross with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and helped take Christ’s body off the cross and lay it in the tomb. Before dying, Christ rewarded his most loyal friend by placing Mary in John’s care.”

“Initially John preached in Jerusalem but then moved to Ephesus, the greatest city in the eastern Roman Empire. A tradition that dates to at least the second century says that John took Mary with him. Amid the ruins of Ephesus stands a little stone house believed to have been Mary’s home. St. John died peacefully at age ninety-four, the only one of the apostles who was not martyred. Sparing him a violent death may have been Christ’s last gift to his best friend.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 193)

John knew it. Peter and James knew it. Countless other people who encountered Jesus during his life on this earth knew it. We, too, can know it.

What a friend we have in Jesus!

Spirituality Matters 2017: December 14th - December 20th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come what may!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2017: December 7th - December 13th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which of our mothers will we imitate today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, yes, even through us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2017: November 30th - December 6th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come – O come – Emmanuel!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2017: November 23rd - November 29th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You be the judge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2017: November 16th - November 22nd

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

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

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

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

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

He continued:

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

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

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

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

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

The richness of poverty. Interesting concept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Francis de Sales wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2017: November 9th - November 15th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul was convinced that you are good. Are you?

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(November 12, 2017: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her...those who watch at dawn will not be disappointed, for they shall find her sitting at the gate.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps, especially for the unexpected.

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

After all, when did Noah build the ark?

Before the rain!

* * * * *
(November 13, 2017: Frances Xavier Cabrini, Religious & Founder)
* * * * *

“Love justice, you who judge the earth…

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(November 14, 2017: Tuesday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made them.”

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

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that he wills all of us to be saved that no one can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose he made us ‘in his own image and likeness’ by creation, and by the Incarnation he has made himself in our image and likeness.” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 4, p. 64)

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

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

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

* * * * *
(November 15, 2017: Wednesday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“The Lord of all shows no partiality...”

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

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

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

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

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

Whether we like them or not.

Spirituality Matters 2017: November 2nd - November 8th

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(November 3, 2017: Friday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie.”

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

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

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

* * * * *
(November 4, 2017: Saturday, Thirtieth Week in ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

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

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

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

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

Barclay concludes:

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

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

No less, but certainly, no more.

* * * * *
(November 5, 2017: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Lay – take – it to heart.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(November 6, 2017: Monday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable…”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(November 7, 2017: Tuesday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them.”

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

“When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind. In like manner he commands Christians – the living plants of his Church – to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to one’s position and vocation. Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the laborer, the servant, the prince, the widow, the young girl and the married woman. Not only is this true, but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, the activities and the duties of each particular person.” (IDL, Part One, Chapter 3, p. 143)

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

* * * * *
(November 8, 2017: Wednesday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

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

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

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

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

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

For most people that process requires a lifetime.

Spirituality Matters 2017: October 26th - November 1st

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(October 26, 2017: Thursday, Twenty-ninth Week in ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

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

The name of the film is Man on Fire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And - of course - with one another.

Today!

* * * * *
(October 28, 2017: Simon and Jude, Apostles)
* * * * *

“He called his disciples to himself…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He began to teach them...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today!

Spirituality Matters 2017: October 19th - October 25th

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(October 19, 2015: John de Brebeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, Companions and Martyrs)
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“I will send to them prophets and Apostles; some of them they will kill and persecute…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(October 20, 2017: St. Paul of the Cross, Founder)
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“A worker’s wage is credited not as a gift, but as something due.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(October 22, 2017: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s; render to God what is God’s.”

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

We must give both heaven and earth their respective dues.

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

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

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

Francis de Sales wrote:

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

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

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

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

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(October 23, 2017: John of Capistrano, Priest, Religious and Reformer)
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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. Greed isn’t about the amount of the wealth; it’s about the size – and intensity – of the desire for wealth.

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

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

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

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

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

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(October 24, 2017: Anthony Mary Claret, Bishop)
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“Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(October 25, 2017: Wednesday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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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 and perhaps even years after the fact. While hindsight is better than having no sight at all, there are certain limitations associated with recognizing how God has been active in one’s life only after further reflection.

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2017: October 12th - October 18th

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

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

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

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

Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to John

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel of the Lord.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we reprint the Gospel today?

~ OR ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(October 13, 2017: Friday, Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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JL 1:13-15; 2:1-2     PS 9:2-3, 6 AND 16, 8-9     LK 11:15-26

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

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

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

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

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

Today!

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(October 14, 2017: Callistus I, Pope and Martyr)
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JL 4:12-21     PS 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12     LK 11:27-28

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

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

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

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

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

Come what may!

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

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

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

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

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

“You should be like a little child who, while it knows that its mother is holding its sleeve, walks boldly and runs all around without being distressed at a little fall or stumble; after all, it is as yet rather unsteady on its legs. In the same way, as long as you realize that God is holding on to you by your will and resolution to serve him, go on boldly and do not be upset by your little set-backs and falls; there is no need to be put out by this provided that you throw yourself into God's arms from time to time and kiss God with the kiss of charity. Go on joyfully and with your heart as open and wisely trustful as possible; and if you cannot always be joyful, at least be brave and confident.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pages 45 - 46.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Including being betrayed!

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

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

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

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

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

By standing with them!

Spirituality Matters 2017: October 5th - October 11th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Justice is with the Lord our God…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today!

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

“Fear not, my people!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are anxious and worried about many things…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lord, teach us to pray...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2017: September 28th - October 4th

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

The verb “consider” is defined:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2017: September 21st - September 27th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Francis de Sales wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We must indeed keep ourselves humble because of our imperfections, but this humility must be the foundation of a great generosity, for the one without the other degenerates into imperfection. Humility without generosity is only a deception and a cowardice of the heart that makes us think that we are good for nothing and that others should never think of using us for anything great.”

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

Today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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