Spirituality Matters 2018: October 11th - October 17th

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

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

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

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

In some cases, maybe even over a lifetime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to John

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel of the Lord.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we reprint the Gospel today?

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

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

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

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

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

Come what may!

Spirituality Matters 2018: October 4th - October 10th

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(October 4, 2018: Francis of Assisi)
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Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Francis of Assisi. In his book entitled This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Catholic Online, we read:

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

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

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

Each and every day.

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

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

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

Francis de Sales wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today and every day!

Spirituality Matters 2018: September 27th - October 3rd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And not our own!

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

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

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

Consider these questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He can’t.

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: September 20th - September 26th

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

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

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

Someone described as “a sinful woman”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: September 13th - September 20th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What more need be said?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beginning today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today!

Spirituality Matters 2018: September 6th - September 12th

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(September 7, 2018: Friday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Do not make any judgment before the appointed time…”

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(September 8, 2018: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

Forever!

* * * * *
(September 9, 2018: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(September 10, 2018: Monday, Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time )
* * * * *

“It is widely reported that you are inflated with pride; should you not rather have been sorrowful?”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(September 11, 2018: Tuesday, Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to be able to settle a case between brothers?”

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

And what exactly is a lawsuit?

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

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

Before choosing litigation, how about first trying reconciliation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: August 30th - September 5th

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you waiting for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(September 2, 2018: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We have the mind of Christ…”

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

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

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

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

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

“We are God’s co-workers…”

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

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

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

Who could ask for a better arrangement than that?

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: August 23rd - August 29th

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(August 23, 2018: Thursday, Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Many are invited, but few are chosen...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The talk – and walk – of love.

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

“Decide today whom you will serve.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With remarkable results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, ask yourself – how am I doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: August 16th - August 22nd

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

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

Maximilian Kolbe once wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

Today, which wolf in your house will you feed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(August 18, 2018: Saturday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“If a man is virtuous, he shall surely live…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(August 21, 2018: Pius X, Pope)
* * * * *

“It will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(August 22, 2018: Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
* * * * *

“Are you envious because I am generous?”

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: August 9th - August 15th

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(August 9, 2018: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, - a.k.a. Edith Stein – Religious and Martyr)
* * * * *

“The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(August 10, 2018: Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr )
* * * * *

“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(August 11, 2018: Clare, Founder and Religious)
* * * * *

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Salesian spirituality holds the practice of generosity in high esteem. So much so that Francis de Sales gave an entire conference to the Sisters of the Visitation on the subject in which he described an intimate relationship of two virtues: humility and generosity. He observed:

“Humility believes that it can do nothing, considering its poverty and weakness when it comes to depending upon ourselves; by contrast, generosity makes us say with St. Paul, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.’ Humility makes us mistrust ourselves; generosity makes us trust in God. You see, then, that these two virtues of humility and generosity are so closely joined and united to one another that they never are and never can be separated...The humility which does not produce generosity is undoubtedly false, for after it has said, ‘I can do nothing; I am absolute nothingness,’ it suddenly gives way to generosity of spirit, which says, ‘There is nothing – and there can be nothing – that I am unable to do, so long as I put all my confidence in God, who can do all things.’” (Conferences, pp. 75 - 77)

Humility calls us to stand in awe of how good, caring, patient, solicitous and generous God is on our behalf. This virtue, in turn, should produce in us a similar spirit of generosity, a spirit through which we imitate God’s generosity by sharing our good fortune and blessings with others, despite our real limitations, weaknesses and liabilities.

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

* * * * *
(August 12, 2018: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Get rid of all bitterness, anger, harsh words, slander and malice of every kind. In place of these be kind, compassionate and mutually forgiving.”

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

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

And we know this, too.

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

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

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

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

Beginning today!

* * * * *
(August 13, 2018: Monday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time )
* * * * *

“Heaven and earth are filled with your glory…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you see it?

* * * * *
(August 14, 2018: Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr)
* * * * *

“Son of man, go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(August 15, 2018: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
* * * * *

“Blessed are you among women ...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: August 2nd - August 8th

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(August 2, 2018: Peter Julian Eymard, Priest, 2018)
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“The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.”

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

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

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

  • God’s Signified Will – It is the information we already have at our disposal from the Scriptures, Commandments, Counsels etc. This infomation clearly communicates what God considers to be good, virtuous and life-giving values, attitudes and actions.

  • Feedback from Others – We should make good use of the wise counsel of friends, clergy, mentors, counselors and other people whom we trust. True friends will know when to tell us what we want to hear, and when to tell us what we need to hear.

  • Flexibility – Francis de Sales observed that while all the saints are recognized for their conformity to God’s will, no two saints followed God’s Will in exactly the same way. We need to remind ourselves that discernment is about what God wants us - not others - to do in any particular situation. Sometimes, this may require us to “think outside of the box” - we need to be open to change.
Today, life being what it is, we may catch all kinds of things in the nets of our lives. Some things are always good for us; other things are always bad for us. However, there may be some things we catch that used to be good but no longer are. On the other hand, there may be other things once considered bad that may now actually be very good.

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

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(August 3, 2018: Friday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place, in his own house...”

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

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

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

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

Beginning today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Francis de Sales is pretty clear when it comes to grumbling or complaining: “Complain as little as possible about the wrongs you suffer. Undoubtedly a person who complains commits a sin by doing so, since self-love always feels that injuries are worse than they really are.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 3)

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

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

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(August 6, 2018: Transfiguration of the Lord )
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“He was transfigured before them…”

Something remarkable happened on that mountain. Consider the possibility that it was not Jesus who changed, but rather, it was Peter, James and John who were transformed.

Imagine that this account from Mark’s Gospel documents the experience of Peter, James and John as if their eyes were opened and their vision widened, enabling them to see without impediment the virtually blinding light of Jesus’ love that flowed from every fiber of his being.

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

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

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

Or do we take it for granted?

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

Today, may we grow in our ability - through the quality of our lives - to make that “glimpse of heaven” more clearly visible and available to the eyes – and in the lives – of others.

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(August 7, 2018: Cajetan, Priest)
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“Take courage, do not be afraid…”

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

“The Scriptures tell us that St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, grew afraid; and as soon as he was afraid he began to sink and drown, so he cried out: ‘O Lord, save me!’ And our Lord caught hold of his hand and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Look at this holy apostle; he walks dry foot on the water, the waves and the winds could not make him sink, but fear of the wind and the waves will make him perish unless his master saves him. Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 125, p. 198)

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

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

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

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

As bravely as you can.

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(August 8, 2018: Dominic, Founder and Priest )
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“O woman, how great is your faith!”

Today’s Scripture readings offer us a study in contrast. In the Book of Numbers we see how the faith of the Israelites was shaken when they learned that the land of “milk and honey” promised by the Lord was already occupied by other people, and not just any other people – they were strong, fierce giants living in well-fortified towns. It would seem that the Israelites simply expected to inherit the Promised Land unopposed without any effort or resistance.

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: July 26th - August 1st

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

William Barclay made the following observation about this Gospel passage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And do it today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The king of bees never goes out into the fields without being surrounded by his little subjects. In like manner, charity never enters a heart without lodging both itself and its train of all the other virtues which it exercises and disciplines as a captain does his soldiers. It does not put them to work all at once, nor at all times and in all places. The just man is ‘like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season’, for charity waters the soul and produces in it virtuous deeds, each in its proper time.”

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

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

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

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(July 30, 2018: Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church )
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Today’s Gospel helps us to keep things in perspective. Make no mistake – we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. We are charged with a tremendous duty - advancing the kingdom of God. The most effective means to accomplish this great calling is to pay attention to detail – that is, by doing little things with great love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Within the last week or so, we touched upon the image of wheat and weeds. There is something of both wheat and weeds inside each and every one of us. Careful examination of the interior gardens of our thoughts, feelings and attitudes reveals things which promote life. Likewise, in those same gardens we can identify things that can compromise life.

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

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

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

  • First, detest the weeds within us.
  • Second, don’t dwell on those weeds within us.
  • Third, focus on – and nourish – the wheat within us.
I hope these thoughts help you to understand better this parable and to put it into practice!

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(August 1, 2018: Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church )
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“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure; like searching for fine pearls.”

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

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

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

We are God-given treasures! We are pearls bought at the highest of prices! Do we treat ourselves – and one another – accordingly?

Today and every day!

Spirituality Matters 2018: July 19th - July 25th

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

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

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

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

She then adds:

“But his gentleness did not mean softness.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, what about us? Have we ever seen somebody else doing something merciful and generous at a time or in a place or in a way with which we did not agree and attempted to discredit them?

Put another way, who would we like others to see and experience in us – the merciful Jesus or the miserable Pharisee?

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(July 21, 2018: Lawrence of Brindisi, Priest )
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“Woe to those who plan iniquity, and work out evil on their couches…”

Oh, come on! Who actually plans iniquity? Who actually sits around and plans on doing evil?

How about those who gossip? How about those who bad-mouth others or who disparage others in speech? In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:

“To scoff at others is one of the worst states in which a mind can find itself. God detests this vice and in past times inflicted strange punishments on it. Nothing is so opposed to charity – and much more to devotion – than to despise and condemn one’s neighbors. Derision and mockery are always accompanied by scoffing, and it is therefore a very great sin. Theologians consider it one of the worst offenses against one’s neighbor of which a person can be guilty. Other offenses may be committed with some esteem for the person offended, but this treats a person with scorn and contempt.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 27, pp. 195-196)

We all know from our own experience that speaking negatively about others is all too easy. Be it planned or spontaneous, God is very clear: woe to those who engage in evil things, evil things like bad-mouthing others.

Today, what strategies might we employ to avoid woes like these?

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(July 22, 2018: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Rest a while...”

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Not only might it make Jack dull, but it also might cripple Jack’s attempts at being happy, healthy and even holy!

Make no mistake. Growing in holiness - making real in our own lives the love of the God in whose image and likeness we are created - is serious business. It requires hard work; it requires discipline; it requires self-examination; it requires commitment.

As Francis de Sales would say, it requires devotion.

Salesian spirituality also recognizes the value of relaxation, of taking “time out”, of “catching your breath” and making time for play. In fact, relaxation is not only permissible, but it is also necessary!

Francis de Sales claimed: “It is actually a defect to be so strict, austere and unsociable that one neither permits oneself nor others any recreation time”. His Introduction to the Devout Life (1609) contains ample evidence of the Gentleman Saint's appreciation of the important role that rest and recreation play in the pursuit of a fully human, God-centered life. He said: “From time to time we must recreate in mind and body. Take the air, go for a walk, enjoy a friendly chat, play music, or sing or hunt…are such honest diversions that the only thing needed to utilize them well is simple prudence, which gives to all things their rank, time, place and measure”.

To be balanced, we need to know our limitations. We need to know when it’s time to say “enough”, if only for a little while. St. Jane once wrote in the context of a letter to a member of her community: “I must run, for I have little leisure and my arm and hand are starting to tire and hurt, even though I’ve just begun to write. I’m not able to do as much as I used to”.

In his book Touching the Ordinary, Robert Wicks identifies practices that can help us establish and maintain a balanced life: get enough sleep, eat right, practice leisure and pace yourself. Learn to laugh; focus on values; practice self-appreciation; be involved, but not too involved; have a support group; escape on occasion; be spontaneous; avoid negativity; establish good friendships and practice intimacy.

Our Lord Jesus Christ spent virtually his entire public ministry meeting the needs of others: healing, teaching, feeding, challenging and forgiving - in short, working. But the Gospels that document Christ's work ethic also clearly document those times when he withdrew from his activities to rest, to renew, to enjoy another’s hospitality and to spend time with friends. All these ways were helpful in rededicating himself to doing the Will of God.

There are plenty of ways for us to achieve balance between work and play, livelihood and leisure, pay and play. Consider them in a personal, prayerful manner. Choose those consistent with the state and stage of life in which you find yourself at this time. Realize that as your life changes, so too may your means for achieving this happy, healthy and holy balance.

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(July 23, 2018: Bridget, Religious )
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“You have been told what the Lord requires of you: do the right and love goodness and walk humbly with your God…”

In a letter to “a person of piety”, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The more humility costs you, the more graces it will give you. Continue then to discipline your heart by humility and exalt it by charity…Study this lesson deeply, for it is the one lesson of our sovereign Master: ‘Learn of me because I am meek and humble of heart.’ How happy you will be, if you resign yourself fully to the will of Our Lord. Yes, for this holy willing is all good and its execution all good. There is no better path to walk other than under His providence and guidance.” (Living Jesus, p. 145)

Humility is not about having no life; humility is about laying down our lives – giving our lives – in the service of others. Of course, “laying down our lives” can sound overwhelming, especially when we consider the dramatic way in which Jesus laid down his life on the cross of Calvary. As St. Francis de Sales constantly reminds us, however, for most of us this giving of our lives gets played out in little, ordinary ways: like doing what is right and loving what is good.

We know what the Lord requires of us: to walk humbly with God, that is, to do what is right and to love what is good in our relationships with others.

And to know true happiness in the process!

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(July 24, 2018: Sharbel Makhluf, Priest)
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“Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, sister and mother…”

In the opinion of William Barclay, this selection from Matthew’s Gospel offers us an expanded notion of the ties that bind - a new way of looking at kinship, family and friendship. He wrote:

“True kinship is not always a matter of flesh and blood relationship. It remains true that blood is a tie that nothing can break and that many people find their delight and their peace in the circle of their families. But it is also true that sometimes a man’s nearest and dearest are the people who understand him least, and that he finds his true fellowship with those who work for a common ideal and who share a common experience. This certainly is true – even if Christians find that those who should be closest to them are those who are most out of sympathy with them, there remains for them the fellowship of Jesus Christ and the friendship of all who love the Lord.”

Barclay says that this expanded notion of family – of home – is founded on three things:

  1. A common ideal. People who are very different can be firm friends, if they have a common ideal for which they work and toward which they press.

  2. A common experience and the memories that come from it. When people have passed together through some great experience – and when they can together to look back on it – real friendship begins.

  3. Obedience. There is no better way of showing the reality of love than the spirit of obedience.
In a conference to the Visitation Sisters, Francis remarked:

“Let us hear and follow the voice of the divine Savior, who like the perfect psalmist, pours forth the last strains of an undying love from the tree of the cross, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ After that has been said, what remains but to breathe forth our last breath and die of love, living no longer for ourselves but Jesus living in us? Then, all the anxieties of our hearts will cease – anxieties proceeding from desires suggested by self-love and by tenderness for ourselves that make us secretly so eager in the pursuit of our own satisfaction…Embarked, then, in the exercises of our own vocation and carried along by the winds of this simple and loving confidence we shall make the greatest progress; we shall draw nearer and nearer to home.” (Living Jesus, p. 430)

As members of Jesus’ family, let us do our level best to be obedient, that is, to listen to the voice of God in our lives and act upon what we hear. May we celebrate the kinship, friendship and love that come with following the will of our heavenly Father and experience the ties that truly and tenaciously bind us together.

Today!

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(July 25, 2018: James, Apostle )
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“Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant…”

Francis de Sales once wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: July 12th - July 18th

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(July 12, 2018: Thursday, Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

What could be more humbling than to consider all the good that God has, is and will do done for us? Well, perhaps even more humbling is the realization that God’s goodness, mercy and generosity come without cost or condition. Insofar as we are created from nothing, we have done nothing to deserve God’s overwhelming blessings, gifts and love. They are unconditionally free gifts!

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation on the virtue of generosity, Francis de Sales remarked:

“We must indeed keep ourselves humble because of our imperfections, but this humility must be the foundation of a great generosity. 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 in anything great. On the other hand, generosity without humility is only presumption. We may indeed say, ‘It is true I have no virtue, still less the necessary gifts to be used in such and such an endeavor,’ but after that humble acknowledgement we must put our full confidence in God as to believe that He will not fail to give His gifts to us when it is necessary to have them, and when He wants us to make use of us, provided only that we forget ourselves in praising faithfully His Divine majesty and helping our neighbor to do the same so as to increase His glory as much as lies in our power.” (Living Jesus, p. 152)

On one level it is true to say that we are “nothing”, creatures that we are. But because of the God who has created us, each and every one of us is – in God’s eyes – marvelous to behold. What a humbling, empowering gift!

What better way to say “thank you” for such gift than to freely and generously share who we are and what we have with one another?

Today!

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(July 13, 2018: Henry, Emperor )
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“Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say…”

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

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

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

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

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(July 14, 2018: Kateri Tekakwitha )
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“Do not be afraid…”

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

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

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

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

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(July 15, 2018: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

“In Him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things, according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory we who first hoped in Christ.”

St. Francis de Sales once traveled to Bellevaux with a young priest where he relived his first days as a missionary in the Chablais. The residents were very timid and wary. The two could not get any lodging, no wine and no seats on which to sit. The two had to eat poor bread for which they paid enormously - a little cheese, a little water, having no table other than the ground - no tablecloth other than their own cloaks.

Francis said: “Here is the real apostolic life, the life where one can imitate in some fashion the poverty of Jesus Christ and his Apostles. I am accustomed to this because for two or three years I experienced the same cruelty from the residents in various villages.”

Even with these setbacks or because of them, Francis loved the people whose pastor he was. He gave everyone a fraternal welcome and led them in apostolic generosity, which he himself practiced. He put into practice: “It is better to be humble with the poor than to share booty with the proud”. (Proverbs. 16: 19) He knew the apostolic spirit: “He is close to the broken-hearted; he soothes the dejected spirit”. (Proverbs 33:19)

Francis listened to God's voice and added his own to the Lord's. His keen intellect and educational background prepared him for how to argue, yet he was able to turn aside hatred. Francis had a great desire to debate the Protestant ministers, but few took up the challenge. A few in his audience secretly took notes from his sermons, copied them, and passed them around Geneva. At first there was little response, but with the passage of time came a great many conversions to the faith.

One can do a great deal in his or her own style of preaching, teaching and working. It is a great gift to allow the Lord's Spirit to work in us and others, and not to be discouraged by hardships, disappointments, and our own way of wanting to get things done. Many great people, who have gone before us, have shown us the way.

Francis de Sales showed the power of the virtue of hope. A hope which eventually produced great fruit, due to the insight, vigor and determination of a saint who was unwilling to allow frustration and pain from preventing him from preaching the word of the Lord.

May we be emboldened, enlightened and – when necessary – encouraged by his example.

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(July 16, 2018: Our Lady of Mount Carmel )
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“Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink
because he is a disciple - Amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

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

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

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

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

Today, how might we store up such riches?

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(July 17, 2018: Tuesday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom,
it would have remained until this day.”

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

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

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

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

Little things mean a lot.

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(July 18, 2018: Camillus de Lellis, Founder and Priest )
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“Judgment will be with justice, and the upright of heart shall follow it...” (Responsorial Psalm)

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines judgment as “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing an idea that is believed to be true or valid without positive knowledge.” Synonyms include: belief, conclusion, conviction, determination, diagnosis, eye, mind, notion, opinion, resolution, sentiment, verdict and view.

OK. Then, it should be obvious that a world without judgment (and things akin to it) would be a pretty chaotic place. We need to be able to make determinations, draw conclusions, form opinions and develop views in order to make our way through life. The challenge (presented to us in today’s Responsorial Psalm) is to render judgments that are just and to avoid the temptation to make judgments that are rash.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “How offensive to God are rash judgments! The judgments of the children of men are rash because they are not the judges of one another, and when they pass judgment on others they usurp the office of our Lord. Such judgments are rash because the principal malice of sin depends on the intention and counsel of the heart. They are rash because every man has enough on which he ought to judge himself without taking it upon himself to judge his neighbors…fear, ambition and similar mental weaknesses often contribute to the birth of suspicion and rash judgment.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 28, p. 196-197)

What is the cure for rash, unjust judgments? “Drink as deeply as you can of the sacred wine of charity. It will set you free from the perverse moods that cause us to make such tortured judgments, for whoever wants to be cured must apply remedies not to one’s eyes or intellect but to one’s affections. If your reflections are kind, your judgments will be kind; if your affections are charitable, your judgments will be the same.” (Ibid, pp. 198-199)

What is Francis de Sales’ advice for those dedicated to judging justly? “Those who look carefully into their consciences are not very likely to pass rash judgments. Just as bees in misty or cloudy weather stay in their lives to prepare honey, so also the thoughts of good men do not go out in search of things concealed among the cloudy actions of their neighbors. It is the part of an unprofitable soul to amuse itself with examining the lives of other people.” Duly note, however, an important caveat that Francis wrote: “I except those who are placed in charge of others, whether within a family or in the state. For them a great part of their duties consists in inspecting and watching over the conduct of others. In such cases as these, let those responsible for others discharge their duty and make judgments with love.” (Ibid, pp. 200-201)

If/when you need to make judgments, avoid the temptation to do so rashly. If/when you need to make judgments, do so justly.

That is, with love!

Spirituality Matters 2018: July 5th - July 11th

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(July 5, 2018: Elizabeth of Portugal)
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“Why do you entertain such evil thoughts in your hearts?

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

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

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

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

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

What is the moral is this Gospel?

The answer - there are far worse ways of being incurably paralyzed other than being unable to walk.

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(July 6, 2018: Maria Goretti)
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“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(July 7, 2018: Saturday, Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?”

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

“If you can stand fasting, you will do well to fast on certain days in addition to those prescribed by the Church. Besides the usual effects of fasting, namely, elevating our spirits, keeping the body in submission, practicing virtue and gaining greater reward in heaven, it is valuable for restraining gluttony and keeping our sensual appetites and body subject to the law of the spirit.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 185)

From a Salesian perspective, there is a place for fasting in the spiritual life. However, fasting is not the only method for “elevating our spirits, keeping the body in submission, practicing virtue and gaining greater reward in heaven.” So is work!

Francis continued:

“Both fasting and labor mortify and subdue the flesh. If your work is necessary for you to contribute to God’s glory, I prefer that you endure the pains of work rather than that of fasting. Such is the mind of the Church…One man finds it difficult to fast, while another is called to care for the sick, visit prisoners, hear confessions, preach, comfort the afflicted, pray and perform similar tasks. These latter disciplines are of greater value than the first: besides subduing the body, they produce much more desirable fruits.” (Ibid, pp. 185 – 186)

Why didn’t Jesus’ disciples fast? It seems they were too busy contributing to God’s glory by serving the needs of others.

There are two ways of contributing to God’s glory: fasting (doing without) and laboring (doing).

Today, which way will you pursue today?

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(July 8, 2018: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”

The account in today’s Gospel is but one of many episodes in which Jesus experienced rejection. People “took offense” at him because of his dedication and devotion to doing God’s Will in his own life. So strong was this resistance and rejection in his native place that “he was not able to perform any mighty deed” there.

The temptation that Jesus faced – the temptation we all face – is to be more concerned about being accepted by others than to stick to our convictions, when confronted by rejection. We are tempted to dilute the truth, to lower our standards and to avoid anything that “rocks the boat”. We are tempted to win friends at all costs, but unfortunately we lose ourselves in the process.

St. Francis de Sales, the gentleman saint, was a man who tried his best to speak and live the truth of the Gospel in a humble, gentle and friendly way. For all his powers of persuasion, though, he, also experienced rejection. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he writes:

“As soon as people see that you wish to follow a devout life they aim a thousand darts of mockery and detraction at you. The most slanderous of them will slander your devotion as hypocrisy, bigotry and trickery. Your friends will raise a lot of objections which they consider very prudent and charitable: they will tell you that you will become depressed, lose your reputation in the world, become unbearable, grow old before your time, and that your affairs at home will suffer. They will say that you can save your soul without going to such extremes.” (Part IV, Chapter 1)

Ouch! It seems (by some standards, at least) that the Good News is not always so good - or, a least, not very easy - for the folks who try to live it!

To be sure, we sometimes need to look for the kernels of truth that may be contained in criticism and rejection. Are we arrogant? Are we strident? Are we too pushy or stubborn? Is it really God’s Will that we are promoting or is it our own? Still, if our conscience is clear, how do we deal with rejection?

Francis de Sales’ advises: “Be firm in your purposes and unswerving in your resolutions. Perseverance will prove whether you are sincerely sacrificing yourself to God and dedicating yourself to living a devout life.” He concludes: “The world may hold us to be fools.” Like Jesus, rejection is a price – however painful – that we must sometimes be willing to pay.

And so today, if rejection comes our way, how will we deal with it?

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(July 9, 2018: Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions, Martyrs )
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“Courage! Your faith has saved you…”

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

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

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

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

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

Do you believe your faith in Jesus can save you?

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(July 10, 2018: Tuesday, Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"At the sight of the crowds his heart was moved…”

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

In the case of Jesus, it is this sorrow that moves his heart and releases miraculous power!

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

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

Today, are we willing to take our rightful place as laborers for God’s harvest? At the sight of other people’s needs, will our hearts – like the heart of Jesus himself – be moved to meet their needs? In other words, will we respond with compassion?

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(July 11, 2018: Benedict, Abbot )
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“Sow for yourselves justice, reap the fruit of piety.”

Wikipedia defines piety as “a virtue that can mean religious devotion, spirituality or a combination of both. A common element in most conceptions is humility.” Merriam-Webster defines piety as (1) “the quality of being religious or reverent,” and (2) “the quality of being dutiful.” Synonyms include: “devoutness, godliness, religiousness and devotion.”

In a letter to Madame de Limojon, Francis de Sales wrote: “I have said this to you in person, madam, and now I write it: I don’t want a devotion that is bizarre, confused, neurotic, strained, and sad, but rather, a gentle, attractive, peaceful piety; in a word, a piety that is quite spontaneous and wins the love of God, first of all, and after that, the love of others.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 156)

As Francis de Sales understood it, piety is less a function of how many prayers we say, how many spiritual exercises we perform or how many hours we spend on our knees (although these things do have their place!). No, piety is more about being devout, about being “dutiful,” that is, about honoring what is due to God and honoring what is due to our neighbor.

In other words, piety is about justice; piety is about doing what is right.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, (Book XI, Chapter 3, p. 202) Francis observed: “Of all virtuous actions we ought most carefully practice those of religion and reverence for divine things. Such are the acts of faith, hope and holy fear of God. We must often speak of heavenly things, think of eternity and sigh for it, frequent churches and sacred services, read devout books and observe the ceremonies of the Christian religion…” Provided, of course, that all these nourish “sacred love.”

Today, do you want to reap “the fruit of piety”? Then, sow justice for God and sow justice for others.

Spirituality Matters 2018: June 28th - July 4th

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(June 28, 2018: Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr)
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“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “You must be ready to suffer many great afflictions for our Lord, even martyrdom itself. However, as long as divine Providence does not send you great, piercing afflictions…bear patiently the slight inconveniences, the little inconveniences and the inconsequential losses that daily come to you…All such little trials when accepted and embraced with love are highly pleasing to God’s mercy.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

When it comes to entering the Kingdom of God, talk is cheap. As we see clearly in the example of Abram, Sarai, and so many others in the selections from the Book of Genesis that we have been hearing this week, there’s a lot less lips service involved with following God’s will and a great deal more hearing – to say nothing of doing it!

How far are we willing to go this day in attempting to follow the will of God – by doing it?

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(June 28, 2018: Vigil Mass of Peter and Paul, Apostles)
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“Their message goes out through all the earth…

Tomorrow, the Church celebrates the lives and legacies of two of its greatest Apostles: Peter and Paul. Great as these men were, however, their lives illustrate the fact that you don’t have to be perfect to be a follower of Jesus.

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

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

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

Of course, as in the case of Peter, Paul also has his shortcomings. In a letter of encouragement to a sister of the Visitation, Francis wrote: “Do not be ashamed…any more than St. Paul who confessed that there were two men in him, one rebellious to God and the other obedient to God.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 224.)

Indeed, their message – as we see so clearly in their lives and as we hear in their words – continues to go out through all the earth. And this message could not be any clearer or more relevant now than it was nearly two thousand years ago: “God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness…” (Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer: Martyrs, Roman Sacramentary)

God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness to the power and promise of his love. Weak as they were, God chose Peter and Paul in their time to be heralds of the Good News.

And yes, God chooses us in our time. The Lord chooses us as we are – imperfections, cracks, warts and all – and makes us something strong, beautiful, powerful and passionate for God…and for one another.

Let God’s message – and yours – go out through all the earth, especially to those with whom you will share your life this very day and every day.

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(June 29, 2018: Peter and Paul, Apostles)
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“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul – Apostles.

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

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

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

Of course, as in the case of Peter, Paul, too, has his shortcomings. In a letter of encouragement to a sister of the Visitation, Francis wrote: “Do not be ashamed…any more than St. Paul who confessed that there were two men in him, one rebellious to God and the other obedient to God.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 224.)

“I competed well; I have finished the race.” Paul wrote these words, but they could also be said of Peter. But note well – they both finished well. By contrast, look at their earlier track records. Peter was called “Satan” by Jesus and Peter denied Him three times. While Paul, he began his public life by persecuting the early Church as Saul. Neither man’s resumes were particularly impressive!

When it comes to being an apostle, a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ, perhaps this is the most important thing to remember – as imperfect as we are, where we’ve been isn’t nearly as important as where we are going with the grace of God and the support of one another.

All’s well that ends well!

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(June 30, 2018: First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church)
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“Only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I, to, am a man subject to authority…”

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

“Shall we dare to say that we can very well govern ourselves, and that we have no need of the help and direction of those whom God has given to us for our guidance, not esteeming them, indeed, capable enough for us? Tell me; was the Angel in any way superior to Our Lord or to Our Lady? Had he a better intellect or more judgment? By no means! Was he more qualified for the work of guidance? Was he endowed with any special or peculiar grace? That could not be, seeing that Our Lord is both God and man, and that Our Lady, being His Mother, had, in consequence, more grace and perfection than all the Angels together; nevertheless the Angel commands and is obeyed. See what rank is observed in the Holy Family! No doubt it was the same as it is among sparrow-hawks, where the hen-bird rules and is superior to the male.”

“Who could doubt for a moment that Our Lady was much superior to St. Joseph, and that she had more discretion and qualities more fit for ruling than her spouse? Yet the Angel never addresses himself to her as regards anything that has to be done, either as to going or coming, or whatever it might be. Does it not seem to you that the Angel commits a great indiscretion in addressing himself to St. Joseph rather than to Our Lady, who is the head of the house, as possessing the treasure of the Eternal Father? Had she not just reason to be offended by this proceeding and by this mode of treatment? Doubtless she might have said to her spouse: ‘Why should I go into Egypt, since my Son has not revealed to me that I must go, still less has the Angel spoken to me on the subject?’ Yet Our Lady makes no such remark; she is not in the least offended because the Angel addresses himself to St. Joseph; she obeys quite simply, knowing that God has so ordained it. She does not ask: ‘Why?’ It is sufficient for her that He wills it so, and that it is His pleasure that we should submit without hesitation. ‘But I am more than the Angel,’ she might have said, ‘and more than St. Joseph.’ No such thought occurs to her.”

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

This observation is a great insight that Francis de Sales offers regarding the virtue – and practice – of obedience. The essence of obedience (from the Latin meaning to listen) is not doing simply what we’re told to do, but also obedience is recognizing that each person in our lives has a unique role to play in helping us to become the people that God wants us to be. The centurion displayed the virtue of obedience less by telling Jesus to give him an order and more by his recognizing who Jesus was in his life. And, as the Gospel clearly illustrates, this obedience was an obedience with which Jesus was not only well pleased – He was almost awestruck!

How might we imitate the great example of the centurion in our attempts to be obedient, that is, to listen to the voice of Jesus today?

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(July 1, 2018: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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"God did not make death, nor does God rejoice in the destruction of the living."

"Just as you excel in every respect, so may you excel in this gracious act also…”

Death is an unavoidable part of life. In truth, long before each of us takes our last breath, we will experience many little deaths throughout our lives: occasions of loss, disappointment, surrender and letting go.

Francis de Sales offers this advice to all people who, while celebrating God's gift of life, also accept the reality of death: “How worthwhile it is really to understand that we are only given this life so as to gain eternal life! Without this knowledge we fix our affections on what is in this world through which we are passing; when it comes to leaving it we are dismayed and full of fear. Believe me, if we are to live happily during this pilgrimage we must keep alive before our eyes the hope of arriving in our homeland where we shall stay for all eternity.” (Selected Letters by Elizabeth Stopp, p. 261)

Life is full of so many people, relationships, gifts, blessings, challenges and endeavors that enhance and nourish the human spirit! How do we truly, fully and completely enjoy them without clinging to them?

The answer - by being generous!

So, look no further than to the example of Jesus himself. Jesus, the Son of God, the one in whom, through whom and for whom all things exist, “made himself poor so that we might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8) Jesus did not cling to all that was good and blessed here on earth for his own consumption or satisfaction. No, his satisfaction was found in generously sharing all of whom he was and what he possessed with others. Jesus conquered sin and death precisely because he had committed himself to the path of generosity during the course of his life.

In the face of limitation, in the face of setback, in the face of sin and in the face of surrender we are tempted to cling exclusively to all the good that God gives us. However, Jesus shows us another way. Insofar as we are willing to respond to the experiences of loss and letting go by generously sharing ourselves with others, we are destined to conquer death and come to understand what it means to truly live.

If there is anything that we truly possess and never lose in this life, let it be our commitment to perform good works, to make real and tangible the richness of God's love in us, and to generously share God's love and good works with one another.

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(July 2, 2018: Monday, Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You sit speaking against your brother; against your mother’s son you spread rumors…Shall I be deaf to it ? I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.” (Responsorial Psalm)

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

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

Let’s say that we are making progress in refraining from saying anything against other people that would either exaggerate their vices or diminish their virtues. Let’s say that our consciences are clear because we are making strides in refraining from bad-mouthing other people or putting other people down. Are we in the clear? Not quite! At least, not in St. Francis de Sales’ opinion, for in the same chapter he stated:

“When you hear anyone spoken ill of, make the accusation doubtful if you can do so justly. If you cannot, excuse the intention of the accused party. If that cannot be done, express sympathy for that person change the subject of conversation, reminding yourself and others that those who do not fall into sin owe it all to God’s grace. Confront the slanderer in a mild way and tell of some good deed of the offended party if you are aware of any.” (Ibid, pp. 205-206)

Do you want to rid the world of rumors? It isn’t enough to refrain from spreading them ourselves, but we must also be willing to speak up when we hear them spread by others.

Today, if you hear something uncharitable, say something! Like God, don’t be deaf to it – address it!

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(July 3, 2018: Thomas, Apostle)
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"Unless I see the mark of the nails…I will not believe.”

In the same chapter (“On Slander”) to which we referred during yesterday’s homiletic reflection, Francis de Sales wrote:

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

So why is it, then, that we continue to refer to the Apostle whose life and legacy we celebrate today as “Doubting Thomas”. It has been nearly two thousand years since he declared to his peers what it would take for him to believe that Jesus was risen. Why should we vilify Thomas for being honest? Why should we beat up on Thomas for speaking from his heart?

Jesus certainly didn’t!

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

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

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

Maybe it’s time for us to retire the moniker “Doubting Thomas” and replace it from this day forward with “Believing Thomas”!

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(July 4, 2018: Independence Day)
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“Seek good and not evil, that you may live; Hate evil and love good, and let justice prevail at the gate; Let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream.”

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.

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

Do you want to have Life, and to have Life in abundance? Do you want to experience true Liberty? Do you want to experience lasting Happiness? Then serve God! Show in your own life – and in the lives of others – the power and promise that comes with giving homage to God! How can we do that?

(1) Seek good by pursuing and promoting the God-given, unalienable gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with others, and

(2) stop evil by confronting and containing anything that threatens these same God-given, unalienable gifts.

Using the language of the Salesian tradition, we are most free when we pay homage to God by treating ourselves and others with profound respect and reverence.

And isn’t this self-evident!

Spirituality Matters 2018: June 21st - June 27th

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(June 21, 2012: Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious)
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“Thy will be done…”

In a sermon on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Francis de Sales preached:

“People who, like Martha, are desirous and anxious to do something for Our Lord believe they are very devout and believe that this eagerness is a virtue. However, this is no so, as He Himself would have us understand. Only one thing is required, that is, to have God and possess Him. If I seek only Him, what does it matter to me if I have to do one thing or another? If I desire only His will, what will it matter to me if I have to do one thing or another? If I desire only His will, what will it matter to me whether I am sent to Spain or to Ireland? If I seek only His cross, why should I be troubled if I am sent to the Indies, or to old countries or to new countries, since I am certain that I shall find it everywhere?” (Living Jesus p. 436)

These words are not mere pious platitudes coming from the mouth of the Gentleman Saint. His life is filled with illustrations of how Francis de Sales practiced what he preached. In reflecting upon an offer he received to become a coadjutor to Cardinal de Retz in Paris, he wrote to Madame Angelique Arnauld:

“I am, and shall be and ever want to be at the mercy of God’s divine providence. I want to hold no rank except that of a servant and a follower…I am again invited to go to Paris under advantageous conditions. I said that I would neither go there nor stay here unless to follow the will of God. This country (Savoy) is my home according to my natural birth; according to my spiritual birth, my home is the Church. I shall willingly go or stay wherever I can best serve the latter without attaching myself to the former.” (Ibid, p. 438)

In a Conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales once quipped: “While all the saints have saved their souls (by following God’s will) they have done so in very different ways…” (Conference XIX, p. 365) All of us are called to follow the will of God, but no two of us are called to follow God’s will in exactly the same way. All of us are called to put ourselves as the disposal of God’s plans, and God’s plan may take each of us in a variety of different directions. Of course, the one constant in the midst of life’s twists and turns is the God whose will we try to accomplish!

Today, how might God ask us to follow His will?

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(June 22, 2018: John Fisher, Thomas More, Martyrs)
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“Store up treasures in heaven…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life (in a chapter entitled, “We must be Faithful to both Great and Little Tasks”), Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Sacred Spouse implies that He is pleased to accept the great deeds of devout persons, that their least and lowest deeds are also acceptable to Him, and that to serve Him as He wishes we must have great care to serve Him well in both great, lofty matters and in small, unimportant things. With love we can capture His heart by the one just as well as by the other…For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves from moment to moment it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches if only you use them well.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

Do you want to store up treasures in heaven? Do good things for God – be they little or great – as often as you can on this earth.

Each and every day!

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(June 23, 2018: Saturday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not worry about your life…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life (in a chapter entitled, “We must be Faithful to both Great and Little Tasks”), Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Sacred Spouse implies that He is pleased to accept the great deeds of devout persons, that their least and lowest deeds are also acceptable to Him, and that to serve Him as He wishes we must have great care to serve Him well in both great, lofty matters and in small, unimportant things. With love we can capture His heart by the one just as well as by the other…For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves from moment to moment it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches if only you use them well.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

Don’t worry about whether or not you are making great progress in the spiritual life. Don’t worry about not measuring up! Don’t worry about not being perfect! Just simply – with trust and confidence - do good things for God – be they little or great – as often as you can on this earth.

In the process you will slowly – but surely - store up treasures not only in heaven, but also right here, right now on this earth.

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(June 24, 2018: Nativity of John the Baptist)
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“I make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Francis de Sales wrote:

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

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

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

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

In ways unique to our states and stages of life, God calls us also to be “a light to the nations.” Are we prepared to practice the discipline required to be that light?

Beginning today!

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(June 25, 2018: Monday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you…”

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

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

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

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

  1. We are rarely impartial in our judgment.
  2. Not one of us is so perfect as to presume to judge any other person.
If these reasons aren’t enough to curb our tendency to judge other people, then heed Jesus’ warning: “The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”

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

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

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(June 26, 2018: Tuesday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life…”

Striving for perfection or growing in holiness or “living Jesus” is a formidable challenge. Embracing a life of virtue requires strength and courage. Renouncing sin requires strength and courage. Turning a deaf ear to temptation requires strength and courage. On any given day, our progress in devotion is marked by both success and failure.

However, this striving to be holy is made even more difficult when we attempt to be holy in a way that doesn’t fit our state or stage of life - a way of living that doesn’t fit who we are. While we are all indeed called to be holy, we are not called to be holy in the in exactly the same way as others. Francis reminds us:

“Devotion (holiness) must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the prince the widow the young girl and the married woman. I ask you, is it fitting for a bishop to want to live a solitary life like a monk? Or for a married man to want to own no more property than a monk, for a skilled workman to spend his whole day in a church, for a religious to be constantly subject to every sort of call in service to one’s neighbor, which is more suited to the bishop? Would not such holiness be laughable, confused and impossible to live?” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 2)

Francis de Sales put it another way in a Conference (On the Virtues of St. Joseph) to the early Visitation community: “Some of the saints excelled in one virtue, some in another, and although all have saved their souls, they have done so in very different ways, there being as many different kinds of sanctity as there are saints.” (Conference XIX, p. 365) A more contemporary reflection on this issue comes from Nobel prize-winning author and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “There are a thousand and one gates leading into the orchard of mystical truth. Every human being has his or her own gate. We make a mistake of wanting to enter the orchard by any gate other than our own.” (Night, Page 3)

To be sure, if there is indeed one model of Christian holiness, we find that model in Jesus Christ, the one in whom all of us are consecrated. But to be holy - as Jesus is holy - is not about trying to be like someone else. Rather, being holy is about having the strength, integrity and courage to be who God wants each one of us to be, precisely in the places, circumstances and relationships in which we find ourselves each day.

Today, where will you find your gate to holiness?

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(June 27, 2018: Cyril of Alexandria)
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“By their fruits you will know them…”

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

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

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

Today, how will other people describe us by the fruits that they discover growing in and from us today?

Spirituality Matters 2018: June 14th - June 20th

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(June 14, 2012: Thursday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift…”

There is no question that Jesus raises the bar in today’s Gospel. Essentially, he says: Don’t even think about offering something to God without first offering the opportunity to be reconciled with another. However, Jesus isn’t exactly blazing a trail with this admonition. After all, in the Book of the Prophet Hosea we read, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (6:6) Indeed, Jesus references this quote four chapters later in Matthew’s Gospel when He states: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’”. (9: 9-13)

The single biggest obstacle to our complying with Jesus’ command is making the mistake of waiting for the “right” time or the “perfect” moment to be reconciled with another person. The longer we wait, the more difficult it may be to muster the strength to give/grant forgiveness. Likewise, the longer we wait the more time our injuries have to fester or deepen, making it all the more difficult to “bury the hatchet.” Francis de Sales’ advice when it comes to forgiveness and reconciliation? “Fresh wounds are quickest healed”.

There is no better way to avoid remembering you have something against someone else than to not allow much time to pass between the injury and the remedy. As sinners, what better way is there to become righteous than through our commitment to give and grant forgiveness? For those called by Jesus, what better offering could we possibly make to God than to be reconciled with one another as quickly – and as deeply - as possible?

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(June 15, 2018: Friday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord…” (Responsorial Psalm)

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

“God has drawn you out of nothingness to make you what you are now and has done so solely out of his goodness. Consider the nature that God has given you. It is the highest in this visible world. It is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty”. (IDL, Part I, Chapter 9, p. 95)

We know that we don’t always live up to our God-given goodness. We know we fall short. We know we fall down. We know that we even drag others down with us.

Francis de Sales tells us not to give up. Francis de Sales tells us to keep trying. Francis de Sales tells us to keep moving. Be stouthearted (that is, be courageous and determined) and wait for the Lord. In the meantime, try your level best to be the good person that God created you – and redeemed you – to be!

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(June 16, 2018: Saturday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the Evil One.”

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity and dissimulation: such things are dangerous…As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul. No artifice is nearly as good or desirable as honest, plain dealing. While worldly prudence and carnal artifice belong to the children of this world, the children of God walk a straight path and their hearts are without guile.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

We are children of God. May our efforts - just this day - to both speak the truth and to also walk in the truth enable us to talk the talk – and to and walk the walk - of Jesus Christ!

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(June 17, 2018: Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed…”

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

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

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

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

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

As it turns out, little things really do mean a lot in the eyes of God. In fact, they mean everything!

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(June 18, 2018: Monday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He refused to let me have his vineyard…”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines presumptuous as: “Overstepping due bounds (as of propriety or courtesy); taking liberties.”

The story from today’s selection from the First Book of Kings illustrates how one person’s desire can all-too-quickly become an obsession…with disastrous results. Ahab had his heart set of acquiring Naboth’s vineyard. When Ahab’s offer to purchase Naboth’s property was rebuffed, he couldn’t let it go. Undeterred, Ahab and his wife plotted to have Naboth first discredited and subsequently stoned to death. Once dead, Ahab could easily acquire Naboth’s property. Ahab felt entitled to take liberties with others. He believed that other people’s possessions were his for the taking, notwithstanding the fact that other people weren’t offering their possessions! Having little or no sense of boundaries, this presumptuous behavior – as we shall see tomorrow – ended badly for all concerned.

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

“I think you will agree that what I about to describe is both unjust and unreasonable…we want our neighbor to give up his property and take our money for it. Is it not more reasonable that we simply allow him to keep his property while he allows us keep our money?” (Part III, Chapter 36, p. 216)

It’s very tempting to tell other people how they should live their lives. It’s all-too-easy to expect other people to make us the center of their universe. In a letter written to Madame Brulart, Francis de Sales counseled: “Don’t sow your desires in someone else’s garden. Just cultivate your own as best you can.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 112)

By all means follow your dreams and pursue your plans…just remember to extend the same courtesy to everyone else.

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(June 19, 2018: Romuald, Abbot)
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“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

It’s safe to say that we all have enemies. We all have people in our lives that we do not like. We all have people in our lives whose company we avoid. We all have people in our lives that rub us the wrong way. We all have people in our lives that push our buttons. We all have people in our lives that drive us crazy.

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

“Antipathies are certain inclinations which excite in us a certain repugnance toward those about whom we entertain these feelings…If I feel a repugnance to conversing with a person whom I know to be most excellent – and from whom I mighty learn much that would do me good – I must not succumb to the antipathy which prompts me to avoid his company. On the contrary, I must discipline myself to listen to the voice of reason telling me rather to seek his company or at least, if I am already in it, to remain there in quiet, peaceful mind…People who are of a harsh, severe disposition will dislike those who are gentle and mild. They will regard such gentleness as extreme weakness, though indeed it is a quality most universally beloved. What remedy is there for these antipathies, since no one, however perfect, can be exempt from them? The only remedy for this evil – as indeed for all other kinds of temptation – is simply to turn away from it and think no more about it…We should never try to justify our reasons for our antipathies, let alone wishing to nourish them. If you have simply a natural, instinctive dislike for anyone, I beseech you to pay no attention to it; turn away your thoughts from it and so trick your mind. When, however, you find these antipathies going too far you must fight against them and overcome them, for reason will never permit us to foster antipathies and evil inclinations for fear of offending God.” (Conference XVI, pp. 298 - 301)

Francis knows the human heart very well. He acknowledges that “this instinctive tendency to love some more than others is natural.” (Ibid) Likes and dislikes are part-and-parcel of life. That said, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Jesus commands us to love those whom we dislike. Jesus commands us to love those who get on our nerves. Like it or not!

Beginning today!

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(June 20, 2018: Wednesday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Take care not to perform righteous deeds…that others might see them.”

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

“Humility is the virtue of virtues, but a humility that is generous and peaceable. Preserve a spirit of holy joy which – modestly spreading over your words and actions – gives consolation to the good people who see you, that thus they may glorify God, which is your only aim.” (Living Jesus, p. 150)

Jesus calls us to “perform righteous deeds.” He calls us to live a life of virtue. That said, Jesus cautions us against doing so to win the applause, praise or adulation of others.

Let’s try our level best this day to do the right thing for others. Let’s try our level best to do it for the right reason: to the praise and glory of God!

Spirituality Matters 2018: June 7th - June 13th

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(June 7, 2012: Thursday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The first commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

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

“Many men keep the commandments in the way sick men take medicine: more from fear of dying in damnation than for joy of living according to our Savior’s will. Just as some persons dislike taking medicine - no matter how pleasant it may be – simply because it is called medicine, so there are some souls who hold in horror things commanded simply because they are commanded. By contrast, a loving heart loves the commandments. The more difficult they are the sweeter and more agreeable it finds them since this more perfectly pleases the beloved and gives him great honor. It pours forth and sings great hymns of joy when God teaches it to his commandments and justifications. The pilgrim who goes on his way joyously singing adds the labor of singing to that of walking, and yet by this increase of labor he actually lessens his weariness and lightens the hardship of the journey.” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 5, pp. 67-68)

When you boil it all down, Jesus gives us two – just two – commandments to follow: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. At one and the same time these two commandments are not too much to ask even if they ask us to give them our all!

What better way of taking our medicine to good effect – and being medicinal in the lives of others – than by living these commandments joyfully?

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(June 8, 2018: Most Sacred Heart of Jesus)
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“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…”

In a letter (undated) to the Sisters of the Visitation, Jane de Chantal wrote:

“You are, I hope, always striving more earnestly to rid yourself of all that is displeasing to your sovereign spouse and to acquire those virtues which please him. Oh, my dearest sisters, how deeply is this wish engraved in my heart! Show a childlike trust and gentleness toward one another…So courage, dear ones. May all of you together – and each one in particular – work at this and never grow slack. May you all live in harmony with one heart and mind in God…If you imitate Him in all your little trials and make His divine will rule in you, He will fill it with every blessing…I urge you to this once again, for the love of our Savior and by his Precious blood, and with the deep affection of my heart which is all yours in Jesus. (Wright, Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition, p. 95)

God gives us the courage to accept St. Jane’s exhortation and make it our own! God gives us the grace we need to live in harmony with one heart and mind! God gives us the patience to acquire the virtues that please God and serve others!

May God fill us with every blessing - and help us to be a blessing to each other – as He did so clearly through the Sacred Heart of his Son! May Christ indeed dwell in our hearts through faith!

And, in deeds!

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(June 9, 2018: Saturday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient…”

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

“Be patient not only with regard to the big, chief part of difficulties that may come to you but also as to things and accidents accompanying them. Many people would be ready to accept trials provided they were not inconvenienced by them. ‘I wouldn’t be bothered by poverty,’ one man says, ‘if it didn’t keep me from helping my friends, educating my children and living as respectably as I’d like.’ ‘It wouldn’t bother me,’ another says, ‘if people didn’t think it was my own fault.’ Another would be willing to suffer patently false reports about him provided that no one believed his detractor. Others are willing to endure part of an evil, so they think, but not the whole of it. They say that they don’t complain about being ill but about their lack of money to get cured or because they are so much bother to those around them. Now I say that we must have patience not merely at being ill but at having the illness that God wishes, where he wishes, among the people he wishes and with whatever difficulties he wishes.” (IDL , Part III, Chapter 3, p. 129)

Many people would be ready to accept trials provided they were not inconvenienced by them. This statements sounds like the restaurant owner who says: “Business would be great if it weren’t for the customers,” or the teacher who opines, “My job would be great if it weren’t for the kids.”

In what ways might I be a “sunshine patriot” when it comes to following Jesus? Do I follow him when it’s easy, but head for the hills when it’s tough? Imagine if Jesus only helped people when it was convenient for him! Where would that have left the people of his day?

Where would that leave us in our day?

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(June 10, 2018: Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time))
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“Who told you that you were naked?”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales does not equate happiness with self-centeredness, self-absorption or self-obsession. However, Francis does equate happiness with what he calls self-possession. The Gentleman Saint writes:

“It is man’s great happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls.”

What happiness it is to know and accept yourself for who you are in the sight of God! What delight it is to be comfortable – without being complacent – in your own skin! What joy it is to be essentially at home – to be at peace – with the person that God made you to be! Why, it’s the next best thing to Paradise.

Tragically enough, the ability to be at home with ourselves became the first – and the most fundamental – casualty of The Fall. No sooner had Adam and Eve eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge than their natural state – their nakedness, their transparency – became a reproach. They were embarrassed – they were ashamed – of who they were. Literally, they were no longer comfortable in their own skin. Suddenly sullied by self-alienation and self-loathing, Paradise was lost…and life became a burden.

As we know all-too-well, so much of the misery, sin and sadness that plagues the human family to this very day comes from either (1) the inability to be who we really are, or (2) the fruitless attempt to become someone we’re not.

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

“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 should be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose through Creation God made us ‘in his own image and likeness’, whereas through the Incarnation God has made himself in our image and likeness.”

The redemptive grace of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the happiness that comes from possessing our own souls. The restorative power of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the joy of being essentially at home with who we are in the sight of God. Wounded as we are by sin, our practice of devotion – our quest to possess our own souls – no longer comes effortlessly as it originally did in Paradise. It requires perpetual practice; it demands tremendous patience That said, God not only promises us the joy and peace born of this heavenly self-acceptance; God also shows us how to achieve it on this earth in the person of his Son.

Jesus embodies the power of self-possession. Jesus exhibits the joy of self-acceptance. Jesus exudes the peace of self-direction. Who better than Jesus shows us what it looks like to be comfortable in one’s own skin? Who better than Jesus demonstrates what it looks like to invite - and to empower - others to do the same?

Not unlike what he did with our first parents, The Evil One hits us where it hurts. Sometimes Satan tempts us to believe that we can’t possibly be happy by being who we are. Other times, Satan tempts us to believe that we’d be happier if we were someone else – perhaps anybody else – other than who we are. In very deep, dark places within our minds and hearts, each and every one of us is tempted to ask this question:

Sinner as I am, weak as I am, wounded as I am and imperfect as I am, why should I believe that God wants me to be comfortable – at home - in my own skin?

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(June 11, 2018: Barnabas, Apostle)
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“Blessed are...”

How might we experience a blessing in our lives? How might we be a blessing in the lives of others? Some strategies for achieving both might include

  • not clinging to what we have but share it willingly with others
  • being willing to experience the kind of sorrow that leads to compassionate action
  • being humble and gentle enough to see everything as gift
  • making righteousness and justice a priority in our lives
  • a willingness to be generous, especially by acts of forgiveness and reconciliation
  • having hearts that are guileless, open, honest and frank
  • trying to bring others together rather than drive them apart
  • being able to do what is right in the face of misunderstanding, resistance and even hostility
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“To sum up, most holy dilection is a virtue, a gift, a fruit and a beatitude. As a virtue, it makes us obedient to the exterior inspirations that God give us by his commandments and counsels, in fulfillment of which we practice all the virtues. Hence, love is the virtue of all virtues. As gift, dilection makes us docile and amenable to God’s interior inspirations. These are God’s secret commandments and counsels as it were, and in their fulfillment the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are employed. Hence dilection is the gift of gifts. As a fruit in our practice of the devout life, it gives us great relish and pleasure, which are experienced in the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it is the fruit of fruits. As beatitude, it enables us to accept the fronts, calumny, reviling and insults the world heaps upon us as the greatest favors and a unique honor. It also leads us to forsake, renounce, and reject all other glory except that which comes from the Beloved Crucified.” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 19, pp. 252-253)

In short, how do we become Beatitudes of God? The answer - by our attempts each and every day to be a source of blessing in the lives of others.

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(June 12, 2018: Tuesday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry…”

The story from today’s reading from the Book of Kings illustrates the reward that awaits those who trust in God’s care for them. In a conference (“On Hope”) to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“No one ever trusts in God without reaping the fruits of his confidence. Consider, I beseech you, what Our Lord and Master said to His Apostles in order to establish in them this holy and loving confidence: I sent you forth through the world without scrip, money or any provision, either for your food or for your clothing, and did you want for anything? They answered: Nothing. Go, He then said to them, and take no thought what you shall eat or what you shall drink, or wherewithal you shall be clothed …for on each occasion your heavenly Father will furnish you with all that is necessary for you…Do you think that He who takes care to provide food for the birds of the air and the beats of the filed will ever forget to provide all that is necessary for the one who trusts wholly in His Providence?” (Conference VI, pp. 89-90)

Francis de Sales once counseled: “It is far better for us to want what we have rather than to have what we want.” Do we trust that God will always give us what we need but not necessarily always give us what we’d like to have? If it be God’s will, are we willing to content ourselves with the one thing that will never go empty or run dry?

God’s fidelity to – and love for – us!

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(June 13, 2018: Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church)
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“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets...”

Throughout the Gospels Jesus was repeatedly criticized by the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes for not “doing it by the book”. That is, he was accused of abolishing the Law and the prophets by not living by the letter of the Law. In today’s Gospel Jesus responds to that charge by saying not only does He have no intention of abolishing the Law, but also he plans to go one step further – to fulfill the Law.

And how does Jesus fulfill the Law and the Prophets? He does so by being himself, that is, by performing the works of God in accordance with the will of God, and not by the whims of man – a life described by St. Paul as a life lived in “the Spirit”.

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

“The Holy Spirit dwells in us if we are living members of Jesus Christ, who said to his disciples, ‘He who abides in me, and I in him bears much fruit.’ This is because one who abides in him partakes of his divine Spirit, who is the midst of a person’s heart as a living fountain springs up and flashes its waters into everlasting life...Thus, like a little grain of mustard seed, our works are in now ay comparable in greatness to the tree of glory they produce. Still they have the vigor and virtue to produce it because they proceed from the Holy Spirit. By a wondrous infusion of his grace into our hearts he makes our works become his and yet at the same time they remain our own, since we are members of a head of which he is the Spirit…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 7, pp. 211-212)

So, it turns out that the reason that Jesus did not abolish the Law – even the smallest parts of it – is that he embodied the Law, that is, the Law of the Spirit which supersedes (“fulfills”) the letter of the Law. While we, the followers of Jesus, may need to know how to do it “by the book”, the life of Jesus clearly suggests that there is something much more important than the letter of the law and that something is the law of the Spirit, which leads to life.

Today, how can we do our part in fulfilling Jesus’ law of love through our love for one another?

Spirituality Matters 2018: May 31st - June 6th

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(May 31, 2012: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“Anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal…”

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

One of the hallmarks of the Salesian tradition (and as embodied in the Sisters of the Visitation, founded by Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal) is this notion of “anticipating the need of our neighbor”. This quality invites us to be “on the lookout” for opportunities to do good for others. Simple things like:

  • holding open a door for another
  • offering to help carry someone’s groceries
  • assisting someone who may have dropped something on the floor
  • checking in on someone who’s under the weather
  • being the first to greet someone or to call someone by name
  • asking how someone is doing today.
These are ordinary, everyday ways of honoring others by simply acknowledging their presence and by recognizing that they exist.

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

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

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

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(June 1, 2018: Justin, Martyr)
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“Be serious and sober-minded…”

Recall that on Tuesday we considered the issue of sobriety: the importance of being clear minded, of seeing ourselves and others as we really are, and of being grounded in reality. On this day, when we acknowledge the sacrifice made by Justin Martyr, it is appropriate to revisit yet again Francis de Sales’ counsel regarding desires. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, we read:

“Do not desire crosses except in proportion to the way in which you have patiently carried those already sent to you. It is an abuse to desire martyrdom while lacking the courage to put up with an injury. The enemy often supplies us with great desires for absent things that we may never encounter in order to divert our minds from present things which, small as they may be, we might obtain great profit. While in our imaginations we picture ourselves doing battle with great monsters in Africa, for want of vigilance we allow ourselves to be slain by little serpents that actually lie in our path…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 37, p. 218)

It’s tempting sometimes to engage in “what if’s”, especially when we catch ourselves imagining how we might do heroic things for the sake of the Gospel. What if I were persecuted for my faith? What if I were arrested for being a Christian? What if I were asked to lay down my life for Christ? While such imaginings may be entertaining – and perhaps even noble – what if all these “what if’s” simply prevent us from recognizing the countless opportunities God gives us every day to do simple, ordinary and little good things for others?

Get serious. Be realistic. While we should admire and emulate the martyrs, odds are we won’t be called to give our lives for Christ in the dramatic fashion that they did. Rather we will be called to live our lives for Christ in ways that – while far less dramatic – are no less heroic.

How? By sharing our lives with others each and every day.

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(June 2, 2018: Saturday, Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“By what authority are you doing these things…?”

We see in today’s Gospel a typical tactic employed by those who take umbrage with others. If they can’t refute what others do, they’ll attempt to refute their authority for doing so.

Jesus didn’t ask permission to do good things. He simply did them, regardless of the consequences. Tragic, indeed, that his enemies attempted to use his good deeds as evidence of wrongdoing!

We’ve all heard the expression: “No good deed goes unpunished”. Today’s Gospel reminds us that in a perfect world, doing good should be applauded and rewarded. However, insofar as we do not live in a perfect world, we shouldn’t be shocked that doing good may sometime bring its share of resistance and hostility.

By any means – by all means – do good things. Just be certain that you are doing that good for God’s glory, and not your own glory.

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(June 3, 2018: Body and Blood of Christ))
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“He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.’”

During the Easter season there is a gradual but purposeful shifting of attention away from the physical, corporeal presence of Jesus in the midst of His apostles and disciples toward His Real Presence in the community that bears His name - Christian. In the Gospels of Easter, Jesus' resurrected, glorified body was frequently not immediately recognized by those who knew Him. In fact, Mary Magdalene thought He was the gardener. Jesus ate cooked fish with his disciples on the lake shore as if to underscore his physical reality - human beings eat and ghosts do not. Doubting Thomas put his hands and fingers into the physical holes left by the nails and the spear, and yet Jesus came into that room without coming through the door! As if to conclude this process of refocusing, this shifting of our attention, eventually the physical body of Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight”.

Today, on this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we return to the Upper Room for the Last Supper and we rightly focus on the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus in His Sacred Body and in His Precious Blood. Our Church has a long and hallowed tradition for awesome reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. This tradition is right and fitting. But always, in addition, the Eucharistic Presence must be related to how we are transformed in ourselves as we assimilate the Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies and into our lives. We believe that we become more and more like Jesus Whom we receive in Holy Communion. We believe that Jesus indwells in our community of faith. Jesus is just as really present in our “gathering of two or three in His Name” as He is in the Word of God or in the Sacred Host and Precious Blood. Each presence is a different mode of presence but each is really and truly the Presence of the Lord Jesus.

And so, we ought to esteem in ourselves those qualities that make us unique and which allow us to contribute uniquely to enfleshing the Body of Christ in the midst of our brothers and sisters - especially those most in need. Saint Francis de Sales often reminds us to be ourselves, “Don't long to be other than who you are, but desire to be thoroughly who you are. Believe me, this is the most important and least understood point in the spiritual life. Be who you are and be that well.”

This advice is not meant to encourage complacency about our faults; rather, it is to affirm our inestimable value in God's eyes and to encourage us to develop our unique talents and gifts for the building up of God's kingdom and the betterment of the lives of those we touch. For some around us, we will be the medium, the ‘matter’ through which they see the face of Jesus. Ours will be the hands that reach out to help, but those we serve will see the hands of Jesus. We will in a real sense become the Body and Blood of Christ and we will “lend ourselves” to Christ for Him to work through us - His Body and Blood.

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(June 4, 2018: Monday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion...”

Life and devotion. Devotion and life. For St. Francis de Sales, these two manifestations of God’s divine power are one in the same. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he observed:

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet is not always love as such. Inasmuch divine love adorns the soul it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to his Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also to do good carefully, frequently and promptly it is called devotion…Good people who have not yet attained devotion fly toward God by their good works but do so infrequently, slowly and awkwardly. Devout souls ascend to him more frequently, promptly and with lofty flights…To be good we must have charity, and to be devout – in addition to charity – we must have great ardor and readiness in performing charitable actions.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

What is the fullness of life? Simply put, the fullness of life is the true love of God. How do we manifest this true love of God? Not simply by doing good (although that is a good start) but by doing good carefully, frequently and promptly.

Today, how will you make use of the gift of God’s divine power today in ways that give life and lead to devotion?

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June 5, 2018: Tuesday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time))
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“Consider the patience of our Lord as salvation…”

If one took a survey of the things that people most frequently confess in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, “losing patience” would probably be near the top of the list. In addition, it is the experience of “losing patience” that often leads to many other things frequently confessed in this Sacrament: e.g., taking God’s name in vain, using obscene language, saying something hurtful and/or doing something hurtful.

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

“‘For you have need of patience that, doing the will of God, you may receive the promise,’ says the Apostle. True enough, for our Savior himself has declared, ‘By your patience you will win your souls. ‘It is man’s great happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls…Do not limit your patience to this or that kind of injury and affliction. Extend it universally to all those God will send you or let happen to you.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Jesus encountered his share of injuries and afflictions during the course of his public ministry, and, no doubt, he also experienced the frustration that comes with those same injuries and afflictions. Yet, Jesus seems to have never lost his cool when dealing with difficult people, situations or circumstances, other than when he drove the money-changers out of the temple. He clearly demonstrated an ability to keep the upper hand over his emotions.

We are called to “Live Jesus!”. We are called to continue Jesus’ saving work in our own day. Have you ever stopped to consider that one of the most practical ways of imitating Christ is to follow His example of patience?

And win our souls in the process?

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(June 6, 2018: Wednesday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I am grateful to God…”

How often do we say “thank you” to God? How often do we take time out to remind ourselves of how generous God has been to us? How often do we think about all the blessings that God has showered – and continues to shower – upon us? Of course, if we took the time required to consider all the things that God has done for us, we wouldn’t have time for anything else!

Francis de Sales offers us no fewer than ten meditations in Part I of his Introduction to the Devout Life. The considerations, affections, resolutions and conclusions contained in each meditation leaves no stone unturned in reflecting upon how good God is to us. A quick review of the things for which we should be grateful includes:

  • Being created
  • Being capable of being perfectly united with God
  • Being destined for eternal life
  • Sharing in God’s grace and glory
  • Enjoying so many gifts of body, mind, heart and spirit
  • Opportunities to serve God
  • Opportunities to serve one another.
Francis de Sales also suggested that from time to time it may be appropriate – even helpful – to take time out and reflect upon our ingratitude. He wrote: “Note how many benefits God has granted you and how you have misused them against their giver. Note especially how many of God’s inspirations you have despised and how many good movements you have rendered useless. Even more than all the rest remember how many times you have received the sacraments: where are the fruits? What has become of those precious jewels with which your beloved Spouse adorned you? Think about such ingratitude…” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 12, pp. 58 – 59)

Recall the great insight from Meister Eckhart: If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Being aware of our ingratitude is a good thing. Being grateful to God is a better thing. Being mindful of God’s love for – and fidelity to – us is the best thing!