Spirituality Matters 2018: May 3rd - May 9th

* * * * *
(May 3, 2018: Philip and James, Apostles )
* * * * *

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

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

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

Philip and James – as in the case of all the Apostles – preached the Good News of Jesus Christ in order that others might be saved. They spent their lives holding fast to the word of God even as they shared that word with others, to the point of shedding their blood.

While not all of us are called to preach from a pulpit, all of us are called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ through our actions. How might we hold fast to the word preached to us by the quality of our lives lived with others, that is, to help others to have life – and have it abundantly?

* * * * *
(May 4, 2018: Friday, Fifth Week of Easter )
* * * * *

“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities…”

In today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles, we see an exercise of what might be called “pastoral discretion”. As growing numbers of Gentiles became disciples of Jesus Christ, apparently some of the more-established Jewish converts were attempting to impose what would have been considered traditional Jewish customs on their Gentile brothers and sisters. Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas were sent to Antioch – boots on the ground – to sort these things out. In the end, they determined that “less was more”. They dispensed with the temptation to load people with burdensome obligations while at the same time establishing a minimum threshold: “Abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals and from unlawful marriage”.

In his own way, Francis de Sales practiced a less-is-more approach to pastoral discretion. In a day when many spiritual guides were (however unintentionally) burdening people who were seeking to live a devout life, with practice after practice after practice, Francis established this minimum threshold: follow the commands and counsels of God carefully, frequently and promptly – his shorthand definition of devotion.

What’s the moral to the story? Following Jesus consists less in carrying heavy burdens and more about only doing what is right – doing good things for God and others carefully, frequently and promptly!

* * * * *
(May 5, 2018: Saturday, Fifth Week of Easter )
* * * * *

"No slave is greater than the master…”

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

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

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

* * * * *

Spirituality Matters 2018: April 26th - May 2nd

* * * * *
(April 26, 2018: Thursday, Fourth Week of Easter )
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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


* * * * *
(April 27, 2018: Friday, Fourth Week of Easter )
* * * * *

“Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

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

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

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

* * * * *
(April 28, 2018: Saturday, Fourth Week of Easter )
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And perhaps today, even find joy in that approach!

* * * * *
(April 29, 2018: Fifth Sunday of Easter)
* * * * *

“Those who keep his commandments remain in him and he in them.”

The scripture passage for today is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples. In it, Jesus is communicating the most important things he wants them to remember. In a powerful and beautiful extended metaphor, Jesus speaks of himself as the vine and his disciples as the branches. He tells them that they must tie themselves closely to him. In order to be healthy, fruit-bearing branches, they must be willing to be trimmed clean of those growths that keep them from bearing fruit. Above all, they must be part of the vine. If they become separated from the vine, they will produce no fruit. They will become withered and rejected branches, good for nothing but to be burnt.

Jesus makes it clear that his disciples already have been given what they need. If they believe the words of life that Jesus has shared with them, if they make his words part of their lives, they will live in him and he will live in them. Hearing those word is only the first step. Living the word by absorbing it and making it an integral part of one’s life, must happen if one is truly to thrive as a disciple of Jesus. This state is as true for us today as it was for the disciples.

We too have been given God’s word. We too are called to live in Jesus, or to “Live Jesus”, as Francis de Sales said, as we go about our daily tasks. And what is the fruit we are supposed to produce? Our fruit is a life marked by the love of Christ and by a life lived in a way that shows our brothers and sisters that we really believe what Jesus told us. It is a life marked by patience, kindness, gentleness and humility. The second reading perhaps puts it best: “We are to believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ, and are to love one another as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him and he in them.”

The way we know that we are living in Jesus and that he is living in us is that we are keeping his commandments. We are called to love “in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it”. We can and should read the scriptures and other spiritual books. We can and should meditate on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We can and should say our prayers and make use of the sacraments of the Church. In the end, however, it is how we treat our brothers and sisters that will tell the story. If our words are not supported by our deeds, then they are empty and barren words, good for nothing.

If we talk about the forgiveness of Jesus but hang on to grudges, we are not “Living Jesus”. If we harbor resentment in our hearts, we are not “Living Jesus”. If we refuse to acknowledge addictive behavior and get help for it, we are not “Living Jesus”. If we delight in gossiping about our neighbor’s misfortunes or weaknesses, we have some pruning and trimming to do before we can bear fruit in the name of Jesus.

Today, let us dig out the pruning shears and start trimming!

* * * * *
(April 30, 2018: Monday, Fifth Week of Ester )
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(May 1, 2018: St. Joseph the Worker)
* * * * *

“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid…”

Recall this account in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel:

“Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” (18-20)

Joseph may have had his doubts about how the providence of God was working in the life of Mary and in his own life. He may have been deeply troubled by discovering Mary’s surprise pregnancy. He may have harbored doubts – he may have harbored fears – but Joseph had faith enough to work through his troubles, doubts and fears.

St. Joseph is a powerful example of a person who gradually came to know his place in God’s plan of salvation and who had the courage to take it. He took Mary as his wife despite the mysterious circumstances surrounding her being with child. He treated Jesus as his own. When God told him to pull up stakes and flee to Egypt (of all places!) to protect his family from Herod, Joseph responded promptly without question. When God told him it was safe to bring his family back home from Egypt and settle down, Joseph responded promptly without question. In the midst of all the ups and downs, Joseph’s faith – quiet and unassuming as it may have been – was rock solid.

Like Joseph, each of us has a unique place in God’s ongoing plan of salvation. Despite our troubles, doubts or fears, will we have the courage to take our place?


* * * * *
(May 2, 2018: Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *

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

From the perspective of St. Francis de Sales, the fruit that first comes to mind, when hearing these words from Jesus is the most important fruit of all: charity, or the love of God. Of course, this fruit-of-fruits is manifested in a whole host of ways. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales turns once again to one of the saints that he admired the most – St. Joseph – to illustrate the point:

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

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

Today is a new day. What kind of fruit can we bear just this day in the name of Jesus?

Spirituality Matters 2018: April 19th - April 25th

* * * * *
(April 19, 2018: Thursday, Third Week of Easter )
* * * * *

“Do you understand what you are reading?”

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

The Gift of Knowledge

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

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

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

The Gift of Understanding

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

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

Do you understand what you are hearing? If you do, then why not do it!

* * * * *
(April 20, 2018: Friday, Third Week of Easter )
* * * * *

“He recovered his strength…”

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

“I entreat you by the love of him whom we both love, of Jesus Christ, to live consoled and peaceful in your infirmities. I glory in my infirmities, says our great St. Paul, so that the power of my Savior may dwell in me. Yes, indeed! Our misery is a as throne to make manifest the sovereign goodness of Our Lord.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 203)

Two men loom large in today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles: Saul (a.k.a. Paul) and Ananias. Each has his share of imperfections. Saul was blind. Initially, he was blinded spiritually by his rage against and persecution of the followers of Jesus. Saul was subsequently blinded physically after his encounter with the voice of Jesus along the road to Damascus. For his part, Ananias was reluctant – perhaps, even resentful – at the prospect of welcoming and healing a great persecutor of any man or woman who belonged to the Way.

And yet – as imperfect as they were - each played a role in God’s plan of salvation.

In a sermon on the “Failings of the Saints,” Francis de Sales preached:

“With the exception of our Blessed lady, all other creatures contain some imperfections. The man who denies that he has any imperfections is just as much a liar as the man who says that he has no perfections at all. Every man, however holy, has some imperfections; every man, however wicked, has some good points. Made in God’s image, each man reflects something of God’s goodness; made from nothing, each man always carries with him some imperfection.” (Pulpit and Pew, P. 258)

All of us are imperfect people. However, as we see in the cases of Saul (Paul) and Ananias, God asks imperfect people to be instruments of his light, life and love.

Today, how might God desire to make his “sovereign goodness” shine through our imperfection - by asking us to be instruments of God’s healing, redeeming and life-changing strength?

* * * * *
(April 21, 2018: Saturday, Third Week of Easter )
* * * * *

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

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

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

  • “Give thanks to the Lord. ‘Bless your God, O my soul, and let all my being praise his holy name,’ for his goodness has drawn me out of nothing and his mercy has created me.”

  • “Offer. O my God, with all my heart I offer you the being you have given me. I dedicate and consecrate it to you.”.”

  • “Pray. O God, strengthen me in these affections and resolutions.”
How can I make a return to the Lord? The answer - by being the person that God has created me to be, and by encouraging others to do the same!

* * * * *
(April 22, 2018: Fourth Sunday of Easter)
* * * * *

“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me in the same way that the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

Have you ever heard the expression “to know is to love”? When we’re talking in a general way, it is certainly true that we can hardly be expected to fall in love with someone we don’t know. But the statement “to know is to love” is not completely true when it is a question of human relationships. In these relationships, it is more accurate to say “to love is to know”, i.e., that once we have decided to love others, to commit ourselves to other people, we open ourselves to them and they, in turn, reciprocate by committing and opening themselves to us.

Jesus expresses this truth when he says: "Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him."(Jn. 14:21) Francis de Sales echoes this truth by telling us, "Knowledge of the good can give us the beginning of love but not its measure." (Treatise, Book 6, chap. 4)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes a surprising and startlingly revelation about his relationship with us. “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me in the same way that the Father knows me and I know the Father.” He is saying that he knows us as intimately and as personally as his heavenly Father knows him. And we, in turn, know him the way he knows the Father. The kind of knowledge that Christ our Good Shepherd has for each one of us is only acquired by a very close and intimate contact with us. It is a result of his love for us, of his willingness to commit himself totally and completely to us just as a shepherd totally and completely commits himself, even his life for his sheep.

If we reflect on the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep, we see that his whole life is centered on the lives of his sheep. The shepherd is with them all day long, and many times throughout the night he watches over them. It’s no surprise then that he gets to know all of the peculiarities, all of the individual traits of each of his sheep and gives them each a name. To others his sheep may all look the same, but to their shepherd, each is different and distinct. So he has no trouble whatsoever picking his own out from among hundreds in the sheep pen.

The parable of the Good Shepherd is not so far removed from us as we might first be inclined to believe. The parable touches the very well-springs of our being - our need to be known and loved for the person we are, no matter what. We might sometimes think, feel or act in ways that are as smelly and dirty as most sheep. We might get into all kinds of trouble by straying from our shepherd, like the sheep who gets caught in bramble bushes, fall into rocky crags or have a hundred and one missteps. Nevertheless, our Good Shepherd is there to bind up our wounds. He knows and loves us to the extent that he puts his life on the line for us.

Like the Good Shepherd, do we put ourselves on the line for one another?

Today and every day!

* * * * *
(April 23, 2018: Monday, Fourth Week of Ester )
* * * * *

“Whoever does not enter through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber…”

Jesus wants us to “have life, and to have it to the full” (John 10:10) and he tells us there is a right way and a wrong way to have that “full life”. The gateway to that life is through him and through him alone - no workaround or short cut will suffice.

In the first few pages of his book Night, Ellie Wiesel reflects upon the image of heaven offered to him by his mentor Moishe the Beadle:

“‘There are a thousand and one gates allowing entry into the orchard of mystical truth. Every human being has his own gate. He must not err and wish to enter the orchard through a gate other than his own. That would present a danger not only for the one entering but also for those who are already inside.’ Thus began my initiation. Together we would read, over and over again, not to learn it by heart but to discover within the very essence of divinity. And in the course of those evenings, I became convinced that Moishe the Beadle would help me enter eternity, into that time when question and answer would become ONE.”

From a Salesian perspective, this image of heaven makes absolute sense. Many people make the mistake of thinking that in order to “have life, and to have life to the full” they must become someone they’re not. Many people make the mistake of believing they must become someone else, while many people make the mistake of trying try to enter “through a gate other than” their own. What would Francis de Sales’ advise? “Be who you are, and be that perfectly well.”

In the big scheme of things, Jesus is the one and only gateway to life. Still, Jesus is big enough to accommodate the fact that no two people enter through him in exactly the same way; no two people experience that fullness of life by walking in the exact same footsteps.

Do you want to experience fullness of life on earth? Do you want to experience fullness of life in heaven? Then don’t live someone else’s life.

Today, like Jesus, try to live your own life as best you can.

* * * * *
(April 24, 2018: Tuesday, Fourth Week of Easter)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Tenderness of heart and firmness of heart- each have their place in the pursuit of holiness. Tenderness of heart can help us to enjoy the good times, while firmness of heart can help us get through the difficult times.

What kind of heart might you need to have today?

* * * * *
(April 25, 2018: Mark, Evangelist)
* * * * *

“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: April 12th - April 18th

* * * * *
(April 12, 2018: Thursday, Second Week of Easter )
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(April 13, 2018: Friday, Second Week of Easter )
* * * * *

“What good are these for so many?”

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

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

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

* * * * *
(April 14, 2018: Saturday, Second Week of Easter )
* * * * *

“Do not be afraid...”

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

It isn’t all-together clear why the disciples were afraid in today’s selection from John’s Gospel. Was it the darkness? Was it the strong wind? Was it the appearance of Jesus? Regardless of the answer, they were fearful, but before their fear could get the upper hand, they suddenly discovered that they were also safe.

In a letter he wrote to an unnamed gentleman, Francis de Sales made the following observation:

“Mistrust of our strength is not a lack of resolve, but a true recognition of our weakness. It is better to distrust our capacity to resist temptation than to be sure that we are strong enough to do so, so long as we don’t count on from our own strength we don count on from the grace of God. This is how it happens that many persons who very confidently promised to do marvels for God failed when under fire, whereas many who greatly mistrusted their own strength and were afraid they would fail accomplished wonders when the time came, because the great awareness of their own weakness forced them to seek God’s help to watch, pray and be humble, so as not to fall into temptation…God, who does nothing in vain, does not give us either strength or courage when we don’t need them, but only when we do. He never fails us. Consequently, we must always hope that He will help us if we entreat Him to do so…Many are afraid before the skirmish, but the actual danger fills them with courage. We must not be afraid of fear. So much for that!” (LSD, p. 181)

What is there to fear? Great question! Perhaps, that question is the first step to avoid living in fear - to name what it is that you are tempted to fear. Perhaps, the second step to avoid living in fear is to believe that God will give you the strength or courage you need to deal with your fears when you need it.

And not when you don’t!

* * * * *
(April 15, 2018: Third Sunday of Easter)
* * * * *

"Peace be with you."

In 1954, the great French painter, Henri Matisse, died at the age of eighty-six. In the last years of his life, arthritis crippled and deformed his hands, making it painful for him to hold a paintbrush. Yet he continued to paint, placing a cloth between his fingers to keep the brush from slipping. One day someone asked him:

  • Why did he submit his body to so much suffering?
  • Why did he continue to paint in the face of such great physical pain?
Matisse's response went something like this: the pain eventually passes, while the beauty remains.

Why tell that story on the third Sunday of Easter? If we look at the Gospel passage from Luke, Jesus encounters his disciples for the first time and says, “Peace be with you”. This particular passage from Luke follows the experience of two disciples on the way to Emmaus. As in the case of Jesus’ first disciples, we, too, can find ourselves still wondering about (perhaps even disbelieving on occasion) in the presence of God in our messy and sometimes even joyless lives.

Some of us gather Sunday after Sunday in church. We wonder if all the claims of faith and stories of Jesus are true. How can Jesus give peace to our lives when we feel that our lives are anything but peaceful? How do we experience peace even as we are full of worries about the house, the car, the kids, the job, and the demands and deadlines of our state and stage of life?

When do we possibly find or make the time to be at peace? How can Jesus possibly provide this kind of peace for which each of us – and all of us - long so deeply?

Remember the story of Henri Matisse? In a similar way, many of the worries, pains and frustrations that we experience will also fade away. At some point in the process many of the worries, pains and frustrations that we experience can be used to shape us into something useful and beautiful for God and for one another. And the beauty of what we become in the process will ultimately prevail long after the world, as we know it, has passed away.

Saint Francis de Sales reminds us:

“Do not worry about the tensions and struggles in your life, because the same loving Father who takes care of you today, will take care of you tomorrow; either He will shield you from suffering or He will give us the unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.”

In the midst of life’s difficulties may Christ’s peace be with us - a peace that helps us to embrace all of life’s challenges but likewise enables us to see and reflect – life’s greater beauty!

Today and every day!

* * * * *
(April 16, 2018: Monday, Third Week of Ester )
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

Devotion enables us to follow the law of the Lord. Devotion enables us “to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired”. (Ibid) Such devotion enables us not only to experience the blessings of life for ourselves, but also to be a blessing in the lives of others.

Today, how might we follow the law of the Lord?

* * * * *
(April 17, 2018: Tuesday, Third Week of Easter)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(April 18, 2018: Wednesday, Third Week of Easter)
* * * * *

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger or thirst…”

In a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde (dated August 24, 1613), Francis de Sales wrote:

“As your heart continues receiving its Savior more often (in Communion) it would also continue being more perfectly converted to him. During the twenty-five years that I have been serving souls, experience has given me an insight into the all-powerful virtue of the Divine Sacrament for confirming hearts in the way of goodness, preserving them from evil, consoling them, and in a word, making them god-like in this world, provided that they are moved by a right faith, by purity and devotion.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, Chapter 29, pp. 215)

Jesus is the bread of life. Whoever comes to him – whoever receives him – will never hunger. Whoever believes in him – whoever receives him – will never thirst: with, perhaps, one exception - the hunger and thirst to follow Jesus’ example in doing what is good!

Spirituality Matters 2018: April 5th - April 11th

* * * * *
(April 5, 2018: Thursday, Octave of Easter )
* * * * *

“He showed them his hands and his feet.”

Following Jesus' crucifixion, the apostles were afraid. Their fear was quite understandable - perhaps even prudent - when you consider the real possibility that they would suffer the same death as Jesus, if they were identified as his followers.

Jesus breaks into their lives in the midst of their fears. He attempts to calm their fears. He challenges them to be at peace by showing them his hands and his feet. Given the horrible wounds visible in both places, one might say that this is quite a strange way to dispel others’ anxiety and grief!

Despite the power and glory of the resurrection, Jesus still bore the legacy of pain, disappointment, rejection, humiliation, suffering and death on his body. Herein lay the promise and the hope that Jesus offered: pain, suffering and loss - despite the scars that they leave - need not be the last word for those who believe in the love of God.

St. Francis de Sales wrote: “We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible forbearance the injuries, denial and discomforts we meet.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Pt III, Chap 3)

All of us have experienced pain and suffering. All of us bear the wounds of failure, betrayal, deception, disappointment and loss. Our hearts, our minds, our memories - our souls - have the scars to prove it. Out of fear of being hurt further, like the apostles, we sometimes lock ourselves away in some small emotional or spiritual corner of the world, living in fear of what other pain or disappointments may come our way. We withdraw from life. In effect, we die with no hope of resurrection.

Jesus shows us that while we, too, have been wounded by life, the scars of pain, rejection, misunderstanding and mishap do not need to have the last word. We may, indeed, be permanently affected by things both unfortunate and unfair, but these need not rob us of the power and promise of recovery, of renewal - of resurrection - unless we allow ourselves to be defeated by the nails of negativity, by the lance of loss.

The scars of our humanity are a part of our past and a part of our present. They need not, however, determine the course of our future. Let's keep things in perspective. St. Francis de Sales remind us: "Look often on Christ, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, and overwhelmed by every kind of weariness, sorrow and labor."

Jesus not only survived but he also thrived! His faith, his passion, his resilience and his love, indeed, had the last word in his life.

Today, won't you let his words have the same effect in your life?

* * * * *
(April 6, 2018: Friday, Octave of Easter )
* * * * *

“Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples...”

Familiar with the term “one-hit wonder”?

“A one-hit wonder is a person or act known mainly for only a single success. The term is most often used to describe music performers with only one hit single. Because one-hit wonders are often popular for only a brief time, their hits often have nostalgic value and are featured on era-centric compilations and soundtracks to period films. One-hit wonders are normal in any era of pop music, but are most common during reigns of entire genres that do not last for more than a few years.” (Wikipedia)

When it comes to post-Resurrection appearances, Jesus was no one-hit wonder. Between the time of his Resurrection and his Ascension, Scripture records at least ten distinct appearances. Jesus spoke, ate and drank (even cooked) with and embraced a wide swathe of people during these appearances – some small and intimate, others large and profoundly public.

Today’s Gospel account from John recounts a small, more intimate appearance that Jesus makes to seven people. We are told that this was the “third time” Jesus was revealed to his disciples. Peter and the others go fishing but their efforts leave them empty-handed. Suddenly Jesus (initially unrecognized) appears and calls to them from the shore, directing them to cast their nets in a different place. Overwhelmed with the number of fish that they subsequently catch, Peter apparently is struck by the sense of déjà vue – he becomes eerily conscious of the almost-identical circumstances associated with his very first encounter with Jesus three years before. From that moment on, there is no question in his mind that “it is the Lord”.

Our Catholic-Christian tradition contains countless accounts of how the Risen Jesus continues to reveal himself unexpectedly in the lives of ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. Put another way, when it comes to post-Resurrection appearances, the hits keep coming.

Today, how might the Risen Jesus reveal himself to you? Will you recognize Him?

* * * * *
(April 7, 2018: Saturday, Octave of Easter )
* * * * *

“Observing the boldness of Peter and John…ordinary men.”

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

Peter and John were bold: so bold as to identify themselves as the “companions of Jesus”, so bold as to proclaiming in Jesus “the resurrection of the dead”, and so bold as to heal a crippled man in the name of Jesus. Even after being detained, interrogated and ordered by the Sanhedrin to stop speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus – or else – Peter and John told them flat out that they would continue to speak about what they “had seen and heard” with vim and vigor, apparently without much – if any – care or concern about their own health, wealth or welfare.

There can be no doubt that the Pharisees, Scribes and Elders might have considered Peter and John to be – in their own way – bold, brazen articles! No surprise here, if you consider that these same Pharisees, Scribes and Elders had formed the same opinion of Jesus.

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

In those moments, do we – ordinary men and women that we are – have the courage to identify ourselves as the “companions of Jesus”?

* * * * *
(April 8, 2018: Second Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday)
* * * * *

“He showed them his hands and his side.”

In the wake of Jesus' crucifixion and death, the apostles were locked away together in fear. They were afraid that they might suffer the same fate as their teacher. Despite their anxious seclusion, Jesus breaks into their lives. Not only does he break into the physical space in which they were taking refuge, but Jesus also breaks into the core of their minds and hearts. Jesus attempts to calm their fears. He challenges them to be at peace. He does these things in a rather confrontational and mysterious manner: by showing them the wounds in his hands and side.

Perhaps not so mysterious, however, if we understand them in the context of words spoken by the character of Dr. Hannibal Lector in the closing scene of the film Red Dragon: “Our scars have the power to remind us that the past was real”.

It is remarkable that the experience of resurrection did not remove the scars of Jesus' woundedness - the lasting marks of pain, disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection, betrayal, humiliation, abandonment, suffering and death. These wounds notwithstanding, 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 just suffering.

St. Francis de Sales wrote:

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

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

Jesus clearly demonstrates in his own life that our wounds do not necessarily need to overwhelm or disable us. While these wounds may be permanent, they need not rob us of the power and promise of recovery, of renewal - of resurrection - unless we despair and allow ourselves to be defeated by the nails of negativity.

The wounds of our past certainly leave their mark in our present. They don't necessarily determine the course of our future.

Today, turn to the love of Jesus who knows what it means to be wounded and who shows us how to move through and beyond our wounds…and the scars they leave.

* * * * *
(April 9, 2018: Annunciation of the Lord )
* * * * *

“Do not be afraid, Mary…”

In a letter he wrote to an unnamed gentleman, Francis de Sales made the following observation:

“We do not always have to feel strong and courageous; it is enough to hope that we will have strength and courage when and where we need them…So now, since you belong entirely to God, why be afraid of your weakness – on which, in any case, you shouldn’t be relying? You do hope in God, don’t you? And will anyone who hopes in Him ever be put to shame? No, never. I beg you, calm all the objections that might be taking shape in your mind and to which you need give no other answer than that you want to be faithful at all times and that you hope God will see to it that you are, without trying to figure out if He will or not.” (LSD, p. 181-182)

Mary was troubled by the angel’s message. Her mind was awash with questions about what this greeting meant for her. There’s no doubt that she was startled; perhaps, initially even afraid. But she worked through her fear; she did not allow herself to be overwhelmed by any objections that might have been forming in her mind. Putting her hope, faith and trust in God, Mary was able to simply say “yes” to God’s invitation to her to become the mother of the Messiah. For His part, God gave Mary the ability to be faithful at all times.

Today, like Mary, do you hope in God?

* * * * *
(April 10, 2018: Tuesday, Second Week of Easter)
* * * * *

"The community of believers was of one heart and mind...”

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

“‘By the Word,’ St. John said, that is, by that eternal Word who is the Son of God, ‘all things were made.’ Therefore, since this Word is most simple and most single, it produces all the variety among things. Since it is unchanging, it produces all changes that are good. Finally, since it abides eternally, it gives to all things their succession, changes, order rank and season.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 2, p. 106)

Saint Francis de Sales reminds us of one very important aspect of any community and/or family - diversity! While the early Christian “community of believers” may have been of one heart and mind, it’s difficult to imagine that this state could be achieved without its share of challenges, conflicts and controversy. The fact that community always has its share of diversity begs the question: “What distinguishes a community that is “of one heart and mind” from one that is not? Perhaps it’s the ability – and the willingness – to agree on the things or values in life that really matter in order to build consensus around the issues that are really worth honoring as non-negotiables.

Today, how might God call you to be “of one heart and mind” with others?

* * * * *
(April 11, 2018: Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: March 29th - April 4th

* * * * *
(March 29, 2018: Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper )
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

If our answer is “yes”, then here a follow-up question: how do we show it?

* * * * *
(March 30, 2018: Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion )
* * * * *

“He learned obedience from what he suffered…”

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 31, 2018: Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil )
* * * * *

"God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good…”

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(April 1, 2018: Easter Sunday, Resurrection of the Lord)
* * * * *

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

This paradox, indeed, is the central mystery of our faith. Jesus, allowing himself to be consumed with passion and swallowed by death, has conquered death once and for all with the passion, that is, the power of righteousness leading to eternal life.

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

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

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

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

Be certain of one thing - the daily dying to self that is part of living a passionate life is not about dying, stripping and letting go for its own sake. The goal is that we be purified to live more faithful and effective lives of divine passion. God does not desire that we die to self out of self-deprecation. No, God desires that we die to self in order that, ironically, we may become more of the person God calls us to be.

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

This glory and honor is not just reserved for heaven. To the extent that we die a little each day and experience the fidelity of God’s love in the midst of all adversity, trials, struggles and “letting go” - something of these gifts can be ours even here on earth.

* * * * *
(April 2, 2018: Monday, Octave of Easter )
* * * * *

“Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed…”

There is no doubt that there were some folks who - after listening to Peter preach about Jesus the Nazorean on the day of Pentecost - might have asked themselves the question: “What, is he crazy?”

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

“As soon as worldly people see that you wish to follow a devout life they aim a thousand darts of mockery and even detraction at you. The most malicious of them will slander your conversion as hypocrisy, bigotry, and trickery. They will say that the world has turned against you and being rebuffed by it you have turned to God. Your friends will raise a host of objections which they consider very prudent and charitable. They will tell you that you will become depressed, lose your reputation in the world, be unbearable, and grow old before your time, and that your affairs at home will suffer.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 1, p. 235)

When we attempt to proclaim – be it in words or deeds – the power and presence of the Risen Jesus in our lives, we shouldn’t be shocked if some folks think we are crazy. For that matter, there may be some days when we also begin to wonder if we aren’t crazy too! Recall the words of St. Francis de Sales who ends this first chapter from Part IV of his Introduction to the Devout Life with this exhortation:

“All this is mere foolish, empty babbling. These people aren’t interested in your health or welfare. ‘If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hates you,’ says the Savior. We are crucified to the world and the world must be crucified to us. The world holds us to be fools; let us hold the world to be mad.”

If people think you’re crazy, then let it be for all the right reasons – most importantly, due to the effects of the love of the Risen Lord in your life!

* * * * *
(April 3, 2018: Tuesday, Octave of Easter)
* * * * *

"Why are you weeping?”

In a letter written to Marie Bourgeois Brulart (of Dijon, wife of Nicolas Brulart who became president of the parliament of Burgundy in 1602), Francis de Sales wrote:

“Mary Magdalene is looking for Our Lord and it is Him she holds; she is asking for Him, and it is Him she asks. She could not see Him as she would have wished to see Him; that is why she is not content to see Him in this form and searches so as to find Him in some other guise. She wanted to see Him in robes of glory and not in the lowly clothes of a gardener; but all the same, in the end she knew it was Jesus when he called her by name.”

“You see, it is Our Lord in His gardener’s clothes that you meet every day in one place and another when quite ordinary occasions come your way. You would like Him to offer you different and more distinguished ones, but the ones that appear the best are not necessarily in fact the best. Do you believe that He is calling you by name? Before you see Him in His glory He wants to plant many flowers in your garden; they may be small and humble, but they are the kind that please Him. That is why He comes to you clothed in this way. May our hearts be for ever united to His and our will to His good pleasure! Be of good cheer and let nothing dismay you.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 136)

Sometimes, the reason that we experience sadness and grief in our lives is not because we can’t find the Risen Jesus, but rather, because the Risen Jesus doesn’t always present himself to us in ways that we prefer or expect. As Mary Magdalene herself discovered, we can never predict the situations or circumstances in which Jesus will call us by name.

Regardless of how Jesus may appear to us today, will we recognize His voice should he call us – however unexpectedly – by name? In the meantime, “be of good cheer and let nothing dismay you”.


* * * * *
(April 4, 2018: Wednesday, Octave of Easter)
* * * * *

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

“Breaking bread” - we see it in the practice of sharing food; we see it in the practice of sharing drink; we see it in the practice of sharing a meal. These events are quite simple, but it is in the context of such a common, ordinary, and everyday human experience that the Risen Christ chooses to reveal himself.

Of course, the experience of “breaking bread” isn’t limited to sharing physical food and drink. It speaks of relationship, intimacy, welcoming another, being home with another and sharing who we are with others and allowing them to share who they are with us.

In today’s Gospel we need to realize that the two unnamed disciples were communicating with Jesus – were in communion with Him – hours before they actually sat at table with Him. And that “breaking bread” – that communication and communion – brings with it illumination and awareness. As Francis de Sales himself observed: “After the disciples at Emmaus communicated, ‘their eyes were opened’”. (On the Preacher and Preaching, p. 26)

In the space of any given week how many times do we ‘break bread” with others? How often do we stop to think how the Risen Christ may be trying to reveal something of the person He is – and who we are – in the context of these common, ordinary and everyday human experiences in extraordinary ways?

How might our eyes need to be opened today by the experience of communication and communion?

Spirituality Matters 2018: March 22nd - March 29th

* * * * *
(March 22, 2018: Thursday, Fifth Week of Lent )
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, can the same be said of us?

* * * * *
(March 23, 2018: Friday, Fifth Week of Lent )
* * * * *

“I hear the whisperings of many…”

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


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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 24, 2018: Saturday, Fifth Week of Lent )
* * * * *

"They will be my people, and I will be their God."

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 25, 2018: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion)
* * * * *

“The passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ…”

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

  • A passion for human justice

  • A passion for divine justice

  • A passion for doing what is right and good

A passion for challenging others to promote the same

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 26, 2018: Monday, Holy Week )
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 27, 2018: Tuesday, Holy Week)
* * * * *

"The Lord called me from birth; from my mother’s womb he gave me my name...”

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

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

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

And to live accordingly!


* * * * *
(March 28, 2018: Wednesday, Holy Week)
* * * * *

“The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue that I might know how to speak to the weary…”

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

“‘If a man does not offend in word, he is a perfect man,’ says St. James. Be careful never to let an indecent word leave your lips, for even if you do not speak with an evil intention those who hear it may take it a different way. An evil word falling into a weak heart grows and spreads like a drop of oil on a piece of linen cloth. Sometimes it seizes the heart in such a way as to fill it with a thousand unclean thoughts and temptations. Just as bodily poison enters through the moth, so what poisons the heart gets in through the ear and the tongue that utters it is a murderer. Perhaps the poison the mouth casts forth does not always produce its effect because it finds its hearers’ hearts guarded by some protective remedy. Still it was not for want of malice that it did not bring about their death. No man can tell me that he speaks without thinking.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 26, pp. 194-195)

People who are weary – people who are tired – people who are worn down – are especially vulnerable to the words that others speak to them.

Today, how will we speak to the weary we encounter?

Spirituality Matters 2018: March 15th - March 21st

* * * * *
(March 15, 2018: Thursday, Fourth Week of Lent )
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 16, 2018: Friday, Fourth Week of Lent )
* * * * *

“Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us…”

“Obnoxious” is defined as “very annoying or objectionable; offensive or odious.” Synonyms include words like abhorrent, abominable, detestable, disagreeable, disgusting, dislikable or dislikeable, foul, hateful, horrid, insufferable, loathsome, nasty, nauseating, objectionable, obscene, odious, offensive, repellent, reprehensible, repugnant, repulsive, revolting, sickening and unpleasant.

Do you get the idea?

So, why is the just person persecuted for being just? Often times, it is simply because one person’s attempts to do the right thing may shine a spotlight on – however unintentionally – another person’s failure to do the right thing. Of course, we find the perfect example of this dynamic – you know, “no good deed goes unpunished” – in none other than the life and ministry of Jesus himself. Jesus was far less concerned about pointing out others’ wrongdoings; he was more concerned about doing what was right. But on the other hand, Jesus was more than willing to call people out on their bad behavior, but he was much more interested in showing people the path to living a good life. In other words, Jesus didn’t invest much time or energy in laying guilt trips on other people. Other people did that all by themselves. But, rather than experience the guilt as an invitation to make a change in their lives, Jesus’ enemies experienced the guilt as a reason for discrediting, opposing and – ultimately – getting rid of him.

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

“We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Perish the thought, but it is possible that someone you encounter today may find you to be obnoxious. Of course, that could be because you are doing something wrong. But on the other hand, it could be because you are doing something right. That’s unfortunate, because in a perfect world doing the right thing would never be obnoxious to anyone.

Of course – last we checked, at least – this isn’t a perfect world!

* * * * *
(March 17, 2018: Patrick, Bishop and Missionary )
* * * * *

"Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?"

We addressed this issue yesterday, but some things bear repeating. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

The unvarnished anger, resentment and jealously of the Pharisees is on public display in today’s Gospel. Not satisfied with merely bad-mouthing Jesus, they also ridicule anyone who would have the audacity to believe – that is, to accept – Jesus’ message. Their blind, smug belief in themselves – and their disdain for the common man – render the Pharisees totally impervious to considering how God’s plan of salvation might differ from their preconceived notions of God’s plan, to say nothing of Jesus’ role in it. Even Nicodemus – one of their own – gets thrown under the bus for daring to suggest that they should reconsider their perspective or, at the very least, they should give Jesus a fair hearing.

Yesterday, we considered how others might find us obnoxious for doing what is right. Today, we might ask ourselves this question: do we ever find people who do the right thing obnoxious to us? The truth is there might be something of the Pharisees in all of us.

* * * * *
(March 18, 2018: Fifth Sunday of Lent)
* * * * *

“We should like to see Jesus.”

“All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me, says the Lord.”

All of us would like to see Jesus…for any number of reasons.

Where do we look for Jesus? Do we look for Jesus up in the sky? Do we look for Jesus in far away places? Do we look for Jesus in special people? Do we look for Jesus in extraordinary experiences? Do we look for Jesus in once-in-a-lifetime events?

Francis de Sales suggests that we start closer to home: “God is everywhere and in every thing. There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not very really present. God is not only in the place in which you find yourself, but God, in a very special way, dwells in the depths of your heart.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, II, 2)

If we want to see Jesus, we must first recognize him in ourselves. After all, we are created in God’s – Christ’s – the Spirit’s – image and likeness. Christ dwells in our minds, hearts, affections, attitudes and actions. Christ dwells in the midst of our daily responsibilities, successes and setbacks. Christ dwells in our spouses, children, parents, families, friends, neighbors, co-workers and classmates. Wherever we “are”, there Jesus “is”.

Lent is a season for sharpening our eyesight, for clearing our vision and for focusing our perception of a God who is with us – always and in all ways!

Lent is also a season in which we are reminded of a very special place in which we can see and experience Jesus - in the act of asking for, receiving and granting forgiveness. As much as Jesus dwells in us because we simply – and powerfully “are”, Jesus is in a very real, tangible and repeatable way present to us in the experience of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption.

And so, ask for the grace to see Jesus more clearly in yourself. Ask for the vision to see Jesus in the events, circumstances and relationships of each and every day. Ask for the wisdom to recognize Jesus in the gift of life and the beauty of creation, with all of its ups, downs and in between. Ask for the faith to know Jesus’ presence in the gift of forgiveness.

Do you want to see Jesus? Then, open your eyes! Open your ears! Open your hearts! Open your minds! Open your attitudes! Open your lives! Allow others to see in you The One for whom you look in others!


* * * * *
(March 19, 2018: Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary )
* * * * *

“Joseph her husband was a righteous man…”

In a conference (The Virtues of St. Joseph) he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation, St. Francis de Sales remarked:

“Now, our glorious St. Joseph was endowed with four great virtues (constancy, perseverance, strength and valor) and practiced them marvelously well. As regards his constancy, did he not display it wonderfully when seeing Our Lady with child, and, not knowing how that could be, his mind was tossed with distress, perplexity and trouble? Yet, in spite of all, he never complained, he was never harsh or ungracious towards his holy Spouse, but remained just as gentle and respectful in his demeanor as he had ever been…..” (Living Jesus, p.184)

Joseph experienced more than a little turmoil in his role as husband and father of the Holy Family. However, being the just and righteous man that he was, Joseph never took out his frustrations on his spouse or on his adopted son. Rather, he accepted life’s ups and downs as the context in which he took such wonderful care of Mary and Jesus in ways that have set the standard for fatherly care ever since.

As so today, we pray: God grant us the grace to imitate the example of St. Joseph. Help us to take whatever comes in life without taking it out on others – especially, on those we love the most.

* * * * *
(March 20, 2018: Tuesday, Fifth Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“We have sinned in complaining against the Lord…”

How quickly we forget.

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

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

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

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

On many levels, we can all relate to the Israelites. We’ve all experienced tough times. We’ve all gotten bad breaks. We’ve all had our share of difficulties and disappointments. We’ve all had moments when we felt that the road to happiness shouldn’t take so much time, effort and energy. We’ve all had the sense that if we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all.

But we also know from our own experience that chronic complaining is toxic. It poisons our perceptions and perspectives. Ultimately, complaining does nothing to address or reduce whatever difficulties we may be facing, be they real or imagined. In fact, chronic complaining usually has the opposite effect of making things much worse for us, as well as, for all those around us.

Today, are you – or someone you know – grappling with chronic complaining? Try applying one of the most powerful remedies of all.

The attitude called gratitude.

* * * * *
(March 21, 2018: Wednesday, Fifth Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“The truth will set you free…”

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

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

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

Today, how might this truth set you free?

Spirituality Matters 2018: March 8th - March 14th

* * * * *
(March 8, 2018: Thursday, Third Week of Lent )
* * * * *

“If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts…”

If you ask a group of people the question, “What is the worst thing that can happen to the human heart”, many folks will almost instinctively respond by answering, “When it breaks”.

However painful a broken heart may be, there is actually something far worse than can happen to a human heart - “When it hardens”.

The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah cites some characteristics or qualities frequently associated with hardening of the heart. These include:

  • Not paying attention or heed
  • Being disobedient
  • Turning one’s back on God and others
  • Being stiff-necked
  • Not listening
  • Not answering
  • Being unfaithful
And in the case of today’s Gospel, we witness a particularly toxic variation on hardening of the heart: refusing to acknowledge the power of God at work in the lives of others and refusing to acknowledge that God can choose to work in the lives of others that often confound – and contradict – worldly wisdom.

Nobody wants a broken heart! However, a broken heart can serve as a kind of spiritual pulse. Wounded as we might be, at least it can remind us that we are still alive! By contrast, a hardened heart ultimately leads to one thing and one thing only - death.

If you hear God’s voice today, with what kind of heart will you listen?

* * * * *
(March 9, 2018: Friday, Third Week of Lent )
* * * * *

“Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good…”

The words taken from the Book of the Prophet Hosea are an invitation for Israel to turn away from its collective hardness of heart and to turn their hearts back to where they belong - God. Hardness of heart – perhaps also described as a stubbornness of will or a coldness of spirit – has brought ruin upon Israel. Through the prophet, God invites Israel to experience once again the fullness and fruitfulness that comes from refusing to place other gods before Him.

Hosea challenges Israel to believe that God is fully prepared to forgive all their iniquity. God will forgive them their sins. Israel is assured that God is once again willing to accept offerings from the people. God will accept their sacrificial goods.

On an entirely different level, however, these same words from Hosea cut both ways. After all, doesn’t God expect us to forgive the iniquities of others? Doesn’t God expect us to accept the good in others?

How can we forgive and accept others today, just as God forgives us and accepts the good in us…for all eternity?

* * * * *
(March 10, 2018: Saturday, Third Week of Lent )
* * * * *

"O God, be merciful to me, a sinner..."

We are told in today’s Gospel that the man who identified himself as a sinner – and who asked for the mercy of God – is the one who “went home justified,” unlike the Pharisee, who in his smug self-absorption, thanked God for making him better than most other people. While the latter puffed himself up, the former wasn’t necessarily putting himself down, but rather, he was simply speaking the truth.

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

“Nothing can so effectively humble us before the mercy of God as the multitude of his benefits. Nor can anything so much humble us before the justice of God as the enormity of our innumerable off3enses. Let us consider what God has done for us and what we have done against Him; and as we reflect upon our sins – one by one – so let us consider his greater graces in the same order. What good do we have which we have not received from God? And if we have received it, why should we glory in it? On the contrary, the lively consideration of graces received makes us humble, insofar as knowledge of these graces should excite gratitude within us.” ( Select Salesian Subjects, 0048, p. 12)

The Pharisee and the tax collector are a study in contrast due to their different types of accounting. The Pharisee’s accounting of God’s graces in his life left him arrogant and aloof, whereas the tax collector’s accounting of God’s graces in his life left him humble and grateful.

With whom might you have more in common – the Pharisee or the tax collector? Perhaps, something of both?

* * * * *
(March 11, 2018: Fourth Sunday of Lent)
* * * * *

“God is rich in mercy…manifested to us in Christ Jesus.”

“We are truly God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance.”

Lent is a time to celebrate the mercy, the generosity and the kindness of God.

We certainly hear echoes of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in St. Francis de Sales’ observations in his Treatise on the Love of God (II, 5) where he writes: “Who now can have any doubt as to our abundant means of salvation since we have so great a Savior, in view of whom we have been made and by whose merits we have been ransomed?”

Francis continues: “Far indeed was Adam’s sin from overwhelming God’s generosity; on the contrary, Adam’s sin aroused God’s generosity all the more and called it forth!”

Lent calls us to proclaim this truth: as much as God loved us by creating us, God loved us even more by redeeming us! As St. Francis de Sales claimed, “The state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence.”

Lent calls us to proclaim this truth that in the face of God’s generosity, we are all-too-frequently stingy, small-minded and small hearted. This is most powerfully displayed when we sin. Ironically, it is only when we truly accept God’s generosity that we are truly able to repent of our sinful affections, attitudes and actions. Francis de Sales asks the question: “Do you not know that the kindness of God should lead you to repentance?”

Lent calls us to “lead the life of good deeds”. Repentance is not merely refraining from sin; but repentance is also about embracing virtue, of doing what is commanded and counseled by God “diligently, frequently and readily with alacrity and cheerfulness”. ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 1)

In what remains of this season, dedicate yourself to thankfulness. Be grateful for God’s mercy, generosity and kindness to you and accept the salvation won for you in Christ! Turn away from those sins that prevent you from experiencing and accepting that generosity in your life. Give testimony to God’s kindness and your repentance by being merciful, generous and kind in your relationships with others. In so doing, you will more convincingly become “God’s handiwork, created in Jesus Christ, to lead the life of good deeds” that God prepared for you – yes, you - from the creation of the world!

* * * * *
(March 12, 2018: Monday, Fourth Week of Lent )
* * * * *

“The man believed what Jesus said to him...”

In today’s Gospel, a royal official – whose name we never learn – asked Jesus to save his son, who was apparently near death. Obviously, the fulfillment of this request was going to involve some travelling on Jesus’ part (upwards to a full day, as it turned out!), insofar as the official asked Jesus to “come down” – presumably, to his home – and heal his son. Much to the surprise of the official, Jesus simply tells him – without making the trip to actually visit the boy – that his son has already been saved.

And the official “believed what Jesus said to him”. In other words, he took Jesus at his word…and headed home.

You don’t think it’s a big deal? Then put yourself in the official’s position. Can you imagine what was going through his mind, minutes - then hours - after beginning his long walk back home? He had lots of time to second-guess his decision to simply believe Jesus’ statement. “What was I thinking about?” “Am I crazy?” “Should I have insisted that he come with me?” “Was I stupid to believe him?” “What if my son has died by the time I get home?” “Did I let my son – and my family – down?” “Have I failed?”

Talk about faith! A faith, as it turns out, for which he and his entire family were richly rewarded. St. Francis de Sales once wrote:

“Believe me, God who has led you up until now will continue to hold you in His blessed hand, but you must throw yourself into the arms of His providence with complete trust and forgetfulness of self. Now is the right time. Almost everyone can manage to trust God in the sweetness and peace of prosperity, but only his children can put their trust in Him when storms and tempests rage: I mean to put their trust in Him with complete self-abandonment.” (Select Salesian Subjects, 0130, p. 28)

When it comes to “complete trust and forgetfulness of self” the standard doesn’t get much higher than the one set by the royal official in today’s Gospel.

How does our trust in God today – especially in the midst of our own “storms and tempests” – measure up?

* * * * *
(March 13, 2018: Tuesday, Fourth Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“Wherever the river flows, every sort of living…creature shall live…”

Water, water everywhere! That’s how we might summarize the images from today’s reading from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel! The suggestion, of course, is that the reach of God’s power knows no borders or bounds.

In a letter to Mademoiselle de Soulfour, Francis de Sales likewise used the image of water. He wrote:

“Remind yourself that the graces and benefits of prayer are not like water welling up from the earth, but more like water coming down from heaven; therefore, all our efforts cannot produce them, though it is true that we must ready ourselves to receive them with great care, yet humbly and peacefully. We must keep our hearts open and wait for the heavenly dew to fall.” (LSD, p. 100)

Regardless of whether it flows up from the earth or falls down from the heavens, what is more important is to remind ourselves that the water of God’s love is welling up inside each and every one of us and is meant to be shared with all those around us.

Today let it flow!

* * * * *
(March 14, 2018: Wednesday, Fourth Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“The Lord is gracious and merciful…”

Gracious. Merciful. These two attributes are deemed synonymous with God in today’s responsorial psalm. And as it turns out, these same attributes – and others like them – are very much a part of the Salesian tradition.

In the book Francis de Sales, Jane de ChantalLetters of Spiritual Direction, we read:

“Chief among the Salesian virtues – and the one that belongs distinctively to this tradition, rather than to the wider contemplative heritage – is douceur. A difficult term to translate, douceur has been rendered in English as ‘sweetness,’ ‘gentleness,’ ‘graciousness,’ ‘meekness, and ‘suavity.’ None of these translations do it full justice. Douceur is a quality of person that corresponds to the light burden offered by the Matthean Jesus to those otherwise heavily-laden. It connotes an almost maternal quality of serving others that is swathed in tender concern. Salesian douceur also suggests a sense of being grace-filled and graceful in the broadest use of the term. This gracefulness extends from external demeanor – polite manners and convivial disposition – to the very quality of a person’s heart, that is, the way in which a person is interiorly ordered and disposed…stressing the harmony, beauty and grace of the whole person and which de Sales saw as reflecting the beauty and harmony of God.” (pp. 63-64)

God is indeed gracious and insofar as we are made in God’s image and likeness, how can we imitate that graciousness today in the hope of reflecting something in our own lives of “the beauty and harmony of God”?

Spirituality Matters 2018: March 1st - March 7th

* * * * *
(March 1, 2018: Thursday, Second Week of Lent
* * * * *

“Remember that you received what was good during your lifetime…”

The parable in today’s Gospel does not require a great deal of explanation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is a warning - a stern warning. Acts have consequences; choices have ramifications; decisions have results. What goes around comes around.

However, take note of one detail in the story: the rich man who “dressed in purple and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day” is not condemned because of his good fortune – he is condemned because of his failure to share his good fortune with anyone less fortunate.

Lent is a good time to reflect upon all the good – all the blessings – that God continues to shower upon us. Lent is also a good time to consider how good we are – or aren’t – at sharing our goods with others.

Like Peter, do we have the courage to take our place in God’s plan of salvation?

* * * * *
(March 2, 2018: Friday, Second Week of Lent
* * * * *

“When his brothers saw that their father loved him best…they hated him…”

This reading is a famous story from the Book of Genesis. It is a story of a family feud. It is a story of internecine jealousy. It is a story of unspeakable betrayal.

However, in the end, it is a story of God’s unpredictable providence!

Joseph is his father’s favorite. His older brothers hate him for it. Blinded by their resentment and envy, they plot to murder Joseph. At the last moment, however, Reuben has second thoughts. He proposes that they essentially leave their brother to die in the desert (hoping that he might subsequently rescue his brother). At first blush, it seemed that Reuben’s plan might work after all until a caravan of foreigners appeared. The plan is changed again: the brothers – even Rueben, by all accounts – decide to sell Joseph into slavery. This plan provides the brothers with an out: they don’t actually take Joseph’s life, but they can get Joseph out of their lives permanently.

Twenty years later Israel finds itself in the grip of a devastating famine. At the end of their respective ropes, Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt with the hope of finding food and shelter. Imagine their surprise – and shame - when they find themselves face-to-face with the brother whom they had sold into slavery, presumably unto death.

There is a great mystery here to be considered. Absent his brothers’ treachery, Joseph’s kin – and presumably, Joseph himself – might have all been consumed by the famine that swept through Israel twenty years after selling their brother into slavery. How could anyone have anticipated that an act of betrayal could turn into a tale of salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation?

What’s the moral to the story? Sometimes in life good things happen for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes in life even the most loathsome of intentions can produce an inspired turn-of-events. Simply put, God can make miracles out of the worst of circumstances.

Today, reflect on this question: are there any examples of such experiences in your own life?

* * * * *
(March 3, 2018: Saturday, Second Week of Lent)
* * * * *

"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them..."

This behavior is the resentment leveled against Jesus in today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke. In response, Jesus proceeds to tell the Pharisees and scribes a parable: the parable of the prodigal son.

The word “prodigal” is defined as “rashly or wastefully extravagant”. Well, that certainly describes the younger son to a tee. After all, he demands an inheritance (to which, as the younger son, he was not entitled) and promptly blows his entire fortune – and all of his supposed friends – on irresponsible living.

The word “prodigal” is also defined as “lavish in giving”. Well, that certainly describes the father. After all, not only does he not rub his younger son’s face in his failure – or treat him like a slave - but he welcomes him back, forgives him, and restores his place and position in the family.

The word “prodigal” is also defined as “lavish in yielding”. Well, that certainly describes the older son, or more to the point, the older son’s struggle. The story ends with the father begging the older brother to let go of his resentment – to set aside his anger – toward his younger brother’s return as well as toward his father’s lavish celebration of the younger brother’s return.

Is there anything in that story to which you can really relate at this point in your life? Is there anyone in the parable with whom you can most closely empathize?

What is your answer? Why?

* * * * *
(March 4, 2018: Third Sunday of Lent)
* * * * *

“I, the Lord your God, brought you out of slavery.”

The Ten Commandments served two purposes in the lives of the Israelites: they reminded them of the experience of slavery in the past at the hands of the Egyptians and they offered precepts for avoiding in the future the slavery of sin in all its forms.

Jesus brought us a New Commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you”. While not “abolishing the Law and the prophets”, Jesus’ command to love one another makes it very clear that simply keeping the Ten Commandments alone does not meet the standard that Jesus established. In fact, Jesus frequently criticized the Scribes and Pharisees for burdening others with a slavish interpretation of the Law of Moses.

Francis de Sales certainly understood that while we must observe the commandments and counsels of God without exception, observing the commandments and counsels of God without exception is not enough for those who wish to follow the example of Jesus.

We are called to lead lives of devotion.

Francis explained: “Devotion is that spiritual agility and vivacity that enables us to do what is right and good with alacrity and affection.” Christian perfection challenges us to follow the commandments and counsels of God in ways that promote “a cheerfulness and alacrity in the performance of charitable actions.”

In short, it is the cheerful, enthusiastic and life-giving manner in which we do what is good that enables us to “fulfill the law and the prophets” and to make real in the lives of others the New Commandment - to “love one another”.

Many people “give up” things during Lent. What a perfect time for us to free ourselves from the slavery of minimalism! What a perfect time for us to give up those affections and attitudes that prevent us from doing what is right and good in ways that are positive, cheerful and enthusiastic! What a perfect time for us to recommit ourselves to embracing the freedom of the sons and daughters of God by living – each and every day - Christ’s New Law of Love.

Be holy. Be healthy. And while you are doing that, for God’s sake (as well as for your own sake and for the sake of others) be happy, too!

* * * * *
(March 5, 2018: Monday, Third Week of Lent )
* * * * *

“If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it?”

Naaman – a great general and a foreigner – travels to far-off Samaria in the hope of being cured of his leprosy. This powerful man – a force with whom to be reckoned - is prepared to do whatever it takes, regardless of how superhuman or heroic, in order to curry favor with the God of Israel. When he finally reaches the home of Elisha, Naaman is told to simply wash seven times in the River Jordan. Period!

Naaman is furious! Such a remedy seems useless at best, insulting at worst. But someone in his retinue challenges his presumption that God can only work through extraordinary events and actions or that God is only interested in extraordinary events and actions. In effect, a servant says to Naaman, “You know, if the prophet had asked you to do something absolutely impossible you would have done it in a heartbeat. However, when he asked you to do something incredibly ordinary instead, you can’t believe it. Get over it and go wash yourself! Other than your pride, what do you have to lose?”

And the rest – as they say – is history.

There’s something of Naaman the Syrian inside each and every one of us. After all, don’t most of us – if not all of us – believe that if you really want something big – if you love somebody big-time – that you need to do something big in order to achieve something big – and that you have do something big in order to express your big-time love? Francis de Sales reminds us:

“Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, but little ones are frequent.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, p. 215)

Are you looking to do something good for God today? Rather than waste your time waiting around for an opportunity to do something bigger than life, how about turning your attention to everyday life?

With big – that is, great – love!

* * * * *
(March 6, 2018: Tuesday, Third Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“Let our sacrifice be in your presence today…”

This line from the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel would suggest that it is possible to sacrifice something without being in God’s presence. But - as we heard so clearly and convincingly from St. Francis de Sales yesterday - it is not possible to sacrifice something apart from God’s presence because there is no place in this world in which God is not truly and fully present.

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

“Although faith assures us of God’s presence we forget about him and behave as if God were far distant from us because we do not see him with our eyes. We really believe that God is present in all things, but because we do not reflect on this fact we act as if we did not believe it.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)

Whatever we might choose to offer and sacrifice to God today, just remember that our offerings and sacrifices are not intended to draw God’s attention to us. Rather, our offerings and sacrifices are designed to draw our attention to God!

Over and over again!

* * * * *
(March 7, 2018: Wednesday, Third Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“Observe them carefully…”

What is it that we should be observing carefully? As we hear in the words on the lips of Moses from the Book of Deuteronomy today, it is God’s statutes and decrees that we are to observe carefully.

When we fail to observe God’s laws carefully – regardless of how large or how little God’s laws may be, as Jesus points out in today’s Gospel from Matthew – often times it is not because we are intentionally choosing to break them as much as – once again – we have managed to forget them, and in forgetting them we manage to lose sight of them altogether.

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

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

Today, do you want to make progress in observing carefully God’s statutes and decrees? You can start - as the Book of Deuteronomy reminds us – by not allowing them to slip from your memory! As the saying goes: “Out of sight, out of mind”.

Big time!

Spirituality Matters 2018: February 22nd - February 28th

* * * * *
(February 22, 2018: Chair of Peter, Apostle)
* * * * *

“Who do you say that I am?”

On the web site of the Catholic News Agency, we find the following entry for the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter:

“The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter celebrates the papacy and St. Peter as the first bishop of Rome. St. Peter's original name was Simon. He was married with children and was living and working in Capernaum as a fisherman when Jesus called him to be one of the Twelve Apostles. Jesus bestowed to Peter a special place among the Apostles. He was one of the three who were with Christ on special occasions, such as the Transfiguration of Christ and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was the only Apostle to whom Christ appeared on the first day after the Resurrection. Peter, in turn, often spoke on behalf of the Apostles.”

“When Jesus asked the Apostles: ‘Who do men say that the Son of Man is?’ Simon replied: ‘Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ And Jesus said: ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood have not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you: That you are Peter [Cephas, a rock], and upon this rock [Cephas] I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven’. (Mt 16:13-20) In saying this Jesus made St. Peter the head of the entire community of believers and placed the spiritual guidance of the faithful in St. Peter’s hands.”

This post on the web site continues: “However, St. Peter was not without faults…”

Now there’s an understatement. No sooner does Jesus give Peter a big “shout out” for correctly identifying him as the Christ than Jesus publically – and severely – reprimands Peter for disputing Jesus’ description of Himself as a suffering Messiah. Later on in their relationship, Peter rather lamely suggests erecting three tents while Jesus is transfigured on Mt. Tabor. Still later, Peter impetuously severs the ear of a slave belonging to the chief priests who who came to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane. After protesting his love for Jesus at the Last Supper, Peter denied Jesus not once, not twice but three times. And, of course, while Jesus spent the last hours of his life hanging on the cross, Peter was nowhere to be found.

Jesus may have called Peter “rock”, but the Savior knew Peter also had cracks. While “Chair of Peter” speaks of stability, even Peter might be described as being “off his rocker” from time to time.

However, as imperfect as Peter was, God entrusted the keys of the kingdom to him. And as imperfect as we are, Jesus continues to entrust those same keys – however obvious or innocuous – to each and every one of us.

Today, as we celebrate the “Chair of Peter,” don’t forget that Jesus has likewise prepared a chair – a place, a role – for each and every one of us in continuing the work of God’s Kingdom.

Like Peter, do we have the courage to take our place in God’s plan of salvation?

* * * * *
(February 23, 2018: Friday, First Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“You have heard it said…but I say to you.”

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine.
Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world what is fair?
We walk blind and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be.
Bring me a higher love, bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love, where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?

- sung by Steve Winwood

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to a “higher” love. Jesus urges us to avoid practicing or pursuing spiritual minimalism, i.e., looking to do only the bare minimum of what is required or living life by the “good enough” method. Jesus clearly raises the bar when he tells his listeners that it isn’t just enough to avoid killing your neighbor, but you must also avoid growing angry with – or holding a grudge against – your neighbor. Indeed, you must be reconciled with your neighbor.

It isn’t enough to “do no harm”. We must be devoted to doing the good. Jesus’ “higher love” is really at the heart of Francis’ notion of “devotion”. He wrote:

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to God’s 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 make us do good but also do the good carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion…In addition, it arouses us to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired.” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 1)

For his part, St. Francis de Sales also challenges us to avoid spiritual minimalism. It isn’t good enough to avoid lying; we must be truthful. It isn’t good enough to avoid gluttony; we must be disciplined. It isn’t good enough to avoid being parsimonious; we must be generous. It isn’t good enough to avoid injuring others; we must heal others.

And so today, we pray: God, help us to live by a higher standard – help us to practice a higher love.

* * * * *
(February 24, 2018: Saturday, First Week of Lent)
* * * * *

"Be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul..."

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

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to the 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 do this carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Indeed, “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord”!

Carefully, frequently and promptly!

* * * * *
(February 25, 2018: Second Sunday of Lent)
* * * * *

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

Something remarkable happened on that mountain.

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

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

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

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

Or do we take it for granted?

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


* * * * *
(February 26, 2018: Monday, Second Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful…”

What does it mean to be merciful as the Father is merciful? As the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel suggests, it is about being generous and loyal. Daniel wrote:

“Lord, great and awesome, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those people who love you and observe your commandments!”

Daniel then proceeds to remind his audience that the Lord also keeps his merciful covenant with those people who rebel against God’s commandments and laws through sin, evil and wickedness. Of course – as we know from our own experience - there is something of both within each one of us, because each one obeys and disobeys God’s commandments. And still, for all that, God remains loyal to us in good times, in bad times and in all the times in between. God stands by us in all things. God loves us no matter what. God is, after all, “compassion and forgiveness”.

Of course, God’s mercy, generosity and fidelity come with some very high expectations. God’s forgiveness should lead us to practice compassion, not complacence. As God doesn’t judge us, so we should not judge others! As God doesn’t condemn us, so we should not condemn others! As God forgives us, so we should forgive others! As God gives to us, so we should give to others! The measure with which we measure to others should measure up to how generously God measures to us…in all kinds of times, places and situations!

Would you like to be “great and awesome” in the eyes of God? Then try to do your level best to be merciful to others today as God is clearly merciful to you!

* * * * *
(February 27, 2018: Tuesday, Second Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“Let us set things right…”

Today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah offers us some particularly appropriate and timely advice as we continue to journey through Lent. We are challenged to:

  • Wash ourselves clean
  • To put aside our misdeeds
  • To cease doing evil
  • To learn to do good
  • To be willing to obey
In short, we are called to do the right thing.

Of course, we know from our own lived experience that as hard as we try to do the right thing, we don’t always get it right. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offers us a practical for-instance:

“I constantly advise you that prayers directed against and pressing anger must always be said calmly and peaceably, and not violently. Thus rule must be observed in all steps taken against evil. However, as soon as you see that you are guilty of a wrathful deed, correct the fault right away by an act of meekness toward the person with whom you were anger. It is a sovereign remedy against lying to contradict the untruth upon the spot as soon as we realize that we have told one. So also we must repair our anger instantly by a contrary act of meekness. Fresh wounds are quickest healed, as the saying goes…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 8, pp. 148-149)

So, what is the moral? When it comes to doing good, we can always try our level best to make things right at a later time (but not too late!) in the event that we don’t always get things right the first time.

Lent might be a perfect time to do just that!

* * * * *
(February 28, 2018: Wednesday, Second Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“What do you wish…?”

“What’s in it for me?” On some level that’s essentially what the mother of James and John is asking Jesus in today’s Gospel story. Whether her sons put her up to it or she came up with it all by herself, she is basically asking, “Why should my sons follow you? What’s the pay-off?” On the face of it, her request is perhaps reasonable, given Jesus’ prediction of his own falling out with the chief priests and the scribes that will lead to his being condemned, mocked, scourged and crucified. She wants some guarantee that her boys will have something to show for their trouble that she intuits will invariably come.

Really – what mother wouldn’t be concerned?

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

We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

There is no way around it – the experience of enduring injuries, denials and discomforts is part-and-parcel of the life that comes with drinking from the chalice from which Jesus drinks. Following Jesus – who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – isn’t all smiles and sunshine. And somewhere deep down inside ourselves the mother of James and John whispers to us variations of her question to Jesus: “Why are you following Him? What’s in it for you? What do you hope to get out of this?”

“Must good be repaid with evil?” Some days it sure feels that way! Be that as it may, why do we continue to follow Jesus? Why do we drink from the chalice from which He drank?

Today, ask yourself the question: “What’s in it for me?”

Spirituality Matters 2018: February 15th - February 21st

* * * * *
(February 15, 2018: Thursday after Ash Wednesday)
* * * * *

“If you are led astray and serve other gods…you will certainly perish…”

Other gods – idols – are defined as “an object of extreme devotion”. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales cautions us from going to extremes when it comes to fasting or any other form of devotion. Beginning with a quote from St. Jerome, he wrote:

“’Long, immoderate fasts displease me very much…I have learned by experience that when an ass’ foal grows tired, it tends to wander away,’ meaning that those who are weakened by excessive fasting easily turn to soft living. Stags run poorly in two situations – when they are too fat and when they are too lean. We are very exposed to temptation both when our bodies are too pampered and when they are too run down, for the one makes the body demanding in its softened state and the other desperate in affliction. Just as we cannot support the body when it is too fat, so, too, it cannot support us when it is too thin. Lack of moderation in fasting and other forms of austerity makes many people’s best years useless for the service of charity. After all, the more some people mistreat the body in the beginning, the more they tend to pamper it in the end. Wouldn’t people do better to have a program that is balanced and in keeping with the duties and tasks their state in life obliges them to do?” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 185)

A word of advice: When it comes to fasting of the body, the mind, the soul or spirit, avoid the temptation of going to extremes.

Today and every day.

* * * * *
(February 16, 2018: Friday after Ash Wednesday)
* * * * *

“This is the fasting that I wish…”

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

“Both fasting and labor mortify and subdue the flesh. If your work is necessary for you to contribute to God’s glory, I much prefer that you endure the pains of work rather than of fasting. Such is the mind of the Church, for it exempts those who are working in the service of God and our neighbor even from prescribed fasts. One mind finds it difficult to fast, another to take care of the sick, visit prisoners, hear confessions, preach, comfort the afflicted, pray and perform similar tasks. These last sufferings are of far greater value than the first. In addition to disciplining the body, they produce much more desirable fruits…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 186)

And what are these “more desirable fruits”? Isaiah names a few: “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

Today, what is the kind of fasting that God may wish from us? The answer - in general, the sacrifice, discipline and self-mastery that come more from focusing on what we can try to do, rather than on what we can try to do without.

* * * * *
(February 17, 2018: Saturday after Ash Wednesday)
* * * * *

"If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech…light shall rise for you in the darkness..."

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. B eon guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say everything that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. You must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purposes, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth.’ As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or slippery soul. No artifice comes close to being so good and desirable as plain dealing …” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Whether in fasting from telling lies – or being committed to telling the truth – what steps can we take today to make the light rise a bit higher and brighter in the darkness for ourselves and others by the type of speech we choose to speak?

* * * * *
(February 18, 2018: First Sunday of Lent)
* * * * *

“Jesus was led into the desert…to be tempted by the devil…”

In a reflection entitled “Devils Big and Small”, Blessed Louis Brisson, OSFS observed:

“My children, we read in the Gospel (for the First Sunday of Lent) about the temptation of Our Lord in the desert. He willed to undergo temptations of various kinds - the temptation to sensuality and ease, the temptation to pride and the desire to be the master, and finally the temptation to amass riches.”

“Everyone experiences temptations of one kind or another. Whatever your temptation is, my children, you must stand firm and dismiss it courageously.”

“Sometimes it happens that temptation does not spring entirely from us. I know at times we have the temptation to do something that is forbidden, but this is not all our doing. The tempter, the devil, has a great part in it. Consider what we must do then. Following the example of Our Lord, we must say to the devil, ‘Be gone, Satan!’”

“When this big devil leaves, a little devil stays behind. This little devil seems less annoying and he is more easily accepted than the big devil. He is not so readily dismissed. We willingly listen to him, because he does not suggest very big things. He merely flatters the little, secret inclinations of our self-love.”

“Be very generous, my children. Send away this little personal devil as quickly as the big one. He is more dangerous because he is more suggestive and persistent. He does not appear so bad, but take care. Do what Our Lord did. Say, ‘Be gone, Satan!’ Do not listen to big devils or little ones.”

So today, be it big or small, what is it that bedevils you of which you would like to be freed?

* * * * *
(February 19, 2018: Monday, First Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“You shall not…”

Today’s first reading from the Book of Leviticus makes it quite clear: if you want to be holy as the Lord is holy, there are many things that God expects us to avoid. The things on the “do not do” list include:

  • Stealing
  • Lying
  • Slandering
  • Defrauding
  • Cursing
  • Hating
  • Taking revenge
  • Holding grudges
  • Spreading slander
  • Being unjust
  • Being idle
  • Causing others to stumble
While enjoying success in avoiding these vices may be noteworthy, there is more to life than merely refraining from doing bad; there is also the matter of actually doing good! On the topic of how to resist temptations to do wrong, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Despise these assaults and do not deign even to think about what they propose. Let them buzz around your ears as much as they like and flit around you on every side like flies. When they try to sting you and you see that they somehow light on your heart, be content with quietly removing them. Don’t do this by struggling or disputing with the temptations but by performing some actions of a contrary virtue, especially acts of love of God…This is the best way to overcome the enemy in small as well as in great temptations…” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 49, p. 249)

So, in the Salesian tradition, rather than focus on how to avoid the “do not do” list, we’d be better off pursuing the “to do” list:

  • Be generous
  • Be honest
  • Be honest
  • Bless
  • Love
  • Forgive
  • Let go
  • Circulate truth
  • Act justly
  • Get busy
  • Hold others up
In other words, what better way to “shall not” than to “shall do”?

* * * * *
(February 20, 2018: Tuesday, First Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“In praying, do not babble like the pagans…”

In the book Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal - Letters of Spiritual Direction, we read:

“The way in which St. Jane de Chantal was drawn by God was a contemplative type of prayer which she referred to as the prayer of ‘simple attentiveness’ or ‘simple entrustment to God’. This prayer consisted in a hidden and quiet waiting, an expectant attention to the presence of God. It was a virtually imageless and wordless type of prayer to which she had been drawn early in her own development.”

“It was this prayer which later became the inner charism of the Order of the Visitation and about which she wrote: ‘When the time comes to present ourselves before His divine Goodness to speak to Him face to face, which is what we call prayer, simply the presence of our spirit before His and His before ours forms prayer whether or not we have fine thoughts or feelings…He is touched with the prayer of a soul so simple, humble and surrendered to His will.’” (LSD, pp. 84 – 85)

Prayer isn’t always about saying a lot to God or doing a lot for God. Sometimes, prayer is simply about being…with God.

* * * * *
(February 21, 2018: Wednesday, First Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“There is something greater here…”

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

“‘Woe to you, Corozain! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had have long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes.’ Such is the word of Our Savior. Hear the, I beg you, Theotimus, how the inhabitants of Corozain and Bethsaida, instructed in the true religion, and having received favors so great that they would effectually have converted the pagans themselves, remained nevertheless obstinate, and never wished to avail themselves of those favors, and by an unparalleled rebellion rejected that holy light. In truth, ‘at the day of judgment the men of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba will rise up against the Jews, and will convict them as worthy of damnation: because, as to the Ninevites, though idolaters and barbarians, at the voice of Jonas they were converted and did penance; and as to the Queen of Sheba, she, though engaged in the affairs of a kingdom, yet having heard the renown of Solomon's wisdom, forsook all, to go and hear him. Yet the Jews, hearing with their own ears the heavenly wisdom of the true Solomon, the Savior of the world; seeing with their own eyes his miracles; touching with their own hands his virtues and benefits; they did not cease to harden their hearts and to resist the grace which was so freely and powerfully offered to them. See then again, Theotimus, how they who had less attractions are brought to penance, and those who had more remain obdurate: those who have less occasion to come, come to the school of wisdom, and those who have more, stay in their folly…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 10, pp. 126 – 127)

Why is it that the people you would least expect are the ones who “get it” when it comes to the love of God? They may not be very sophisticated and they might be slow to see the big picture, yet their hearts are touched and changed by their realization of the enormity of God’s love for them. They open their hearts to their own delight!

By contrast, why it is that the people who should know better are frequently enough the very ones who don’t “get it”? They might be very wise and they may have a lot going for them, yet still they never manage to allow the love of God to get through to them. They harden their hearts at their own peril.

In the midst of our day-to-day lives there is, indeed, “something greater here”.

Do we get that?

Spirituality Matters 2018: February 8th - February 14th

* * * * *
(February 8, 2018: Thursday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

"Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children's scraps."

We see a test of wills in today’s Gospel. A local woman is determined to wrest a miracle for her daughter from Jesus, but Jesus seems equally determined to deny her request. While Jesus appears committed to saying “no” to this woman’s plea, the woman appears equally determined to refuse to take “no” for an answer. Clearly, this scene has all the makings of a “Syrophoenician stand-off”.

In both cases, Jesus and the woman are persistent. They are both determined to persevere.

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

“Our Savior attaches to the great gift of perseverance the supreme gift of eternal glory, as He has said, ‘The one who shall persevere to the end shall be saved.’ This gift is simply the sum total and sequence by which we continue in God’s love up to the end, just as the education, raising and training of a child are simply the acts of care, help and assistance…Perseverance is the most desirable gift we can hope for in this life. It is in our power to persevere. Of course, I do not mean that our perseverance takes its origin from our power. On the contrary, I know that it springs from God’s mercy, whose most precious gift it is.” (Book 3, Chapter 4, p. 174)

Jesus credits the Syrophoenician woman’s persistence – her perseverance – for granting her request to heal her daughter.

Today, how determined are we in our attempts to bring our needs – and the needs of those we love – to the Lord?

* * * * *
(February 9, 2018: Friday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“People brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.”

Jesus was only too happy to grant their request to heal a deaf man with a speech impediment. As we see in the Gospel account today, however, Jesus did much more than simply lay his hand on him. He took him apart from the crowd. Jesus placed his finger in the man’s ears. Spitting, Jesus placed his finger on the man’s tongue.

Jesus healed people in a variety of ways. Sometimes he simply said a word. Sometimes he gave a direct command. Sometimes he followed someone to their home. Sometimes he healed from far away. Sometimes he healed in public. And sometimes – as seen in today’s account from Mark’s Gospel – Jesus’ healing is private: intimately up-close and personal.

Ask yourself this question: how might you need Jesus to heal you today? Then, ask yourself another question: how might Jesus need you to heal someone else today?

* * * * *
(February 10, 2018: Saturday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“My heart is moved with pity…”

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

“Compassion, sympathy, commiseration or pity is simply an affection that makes us share the sufferings and sorrows of ones we love and draws the misery that they endure into our own hearts…” (Book V, Chapter 4, p. 243)

As we see clearly in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ compassion is more than affection; it is more than a feeling. While he clearly makes the neediness of others his own, Jesus does more than that - he does something about the neediness. Jesus satisfies the hunger. Jesus heals the pain. Jesus breaks the chains. Jesus confronts the injustice.

Every time Jesus’ compassionate heart is moved, something good happens to others.

Today, will the same be said for our hearts? Is our compassion more than just a feeling? Does our compassion lead to action?

* * * * *
(February 11, 2018: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“They shall declare themselves unclean. They shall dwell apart, making their abode outside the camp.”

“Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “Be cured.”

St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life: “There is scarcely anyone without some imperfections.” (Part 3, Chapter 22)

We have a good handle on the imperfections, vices, idiosyncrasies and even the sins of those with whom we work, we play, we neighbor and we live each day.

Most days we overlook them. Some days we put up with them. Other days, we might even make excuses for them. Occasionally, we dwell on – maybe even magnify – them.

However, sometimes it is necessary to draw attention to things in other people that blemish their potential for happiness, health, and holiness. Maybe, we need to take the risk to name the sins, the faults and the wounds in others that prevent them from being more of the person God calls them to be. And maybe, we need to reflect on those social, spiritual, psychological or relational sores of others that rob them of their full citizenship as sons and daughters of the living, loving and saving God.

The Scriptures contrast two very different methods for doing this process. One approach draws attention to others’ sins in order to isolate them, ostracize them or distance them from the community. The other approach – Jesus’ approach – is to draw them even more closely into the life of the community, to create a space in which the ‘unclean’ can experience healing, strength, and a new lease on life.

Ask yourself the question: When you do draw attention to the imperfections, the warts, the blemishes of others, why do you do it? To distance yourself from them? To embarrass them? To humiliate them? Or are you reaching out and/or reaching into the heart of others? Is your goal to create a space of truth in which they can experience healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and strength?

While it may sometimes be necessary to pay attention to the imperfections, the sins or the blemishes of others, it is always necessary for us to be honest about our own sin and weakness. We need to be clear and unambiguous about our own need for healing and forgiveness. We need to be clear about our own need for friends who will not only tell us what we want to hear about ourselves, but who will also consistently have the courage to tell us what we need to know about ourselves.

Today, let us give thanks to God for those friends who do us this wonderful service!

* * * * *
(February 12, 2018: Monday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly…”

This week we begin another season of Lent.

Someone once suggested that Lent is kind of like a Christian version of New Year: an opportunity to make – and follow through with – resolutions for how we might become the best (or at least, better) version of ourselves.

Pursuing of life of devotion (holiness, health, wellness, etc.) is nuanced by each individual person. After all, Francis de Sales reminds us that devotion adapts itself to the strengths, situations and limitations constitutive of each unique individual. That said, what is common to all people who are serious about growing in holiness is a willingness to do two things: to pursue virtue and eschew vice.

This can be a daunting challenge, especially as we grow older. Some virtues seems more difficult than others to master. Some vices seem nearly impossible to shake. The good news (as we hear in today’s first reading) is that whatever it is that we lack – be it the ability to accomplish good and/or the ability to avoid evil – don’t overlook one of the most important strategies for becoming the best (or at least better) version of yourself - ask God for help! James tells us:

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.”

As we prepare to begin yet another Lenten journey – an opportunity to increase the good and to eschew anything which diminishes the good – may we have the presence of mind and heart to ask God for anything in which we might be lacking.

* * * * *
(February 13, 2018: Tuesday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“All good giving and every perfect gift is from above…”

Tomorrow we begin yet another season of Lent, a period of time during which many of us will – among other things – engage in fasting. Of course, fasting is not an end in itself, but rather it is a means to an end. As such, fasting is one of a number of means at our disposal for pursuing in our own unique ways the common vocation to which God calls each and every one of us – to be holy people, to live holy lives. (Francis de Sales calls holiness “devotion”; contemporary spiritual writer Matthew Kelly describes holiness as being “the best possible version of ourselves.”)

Regardless of how you image, define or understand what it means to be holy, Francis de Sales is very clear that if you are going to employ fasting as a means of growing in holiness, you can’t settle for half measures. When it comes to fasting, he says that you have to be “all in”. He observed:

“Your fasting should be entire and universal. That is, you should submit all of the members of your body and the powers of your soul to fasting. Keeping your eyes lowered, keeping better silence, or at least keeping it more punctually that usual, mortifying your hearing and your tongue so that you will no longer hear or speak of anything vain or useless, keeping your will in check and maintaining your spirit of the crucifix with some holy or humbling thoughts: if you do all this, your fast will be universal, interior and exterior, for you will be disciplining both your body and your spirit.” (Living Jesus, p. 110)

A word of caution may be appropriate here. It is very tempting to see Lent as a season during which we do things (e.g., fasting, giving up and doing without) for God in very deliberate and intentional ways. Perhaps this very attitude should be the primary focus of our fasting – to refrain from thinking that holiness is all about what we do. After all, when you get right down to it (as today’s first reading reminds us), holiness is less about what we are doing for God and far more about what we allow God to do in us:

“All good giving and every perfect gift is from above…”

* * * * *
(February 14, 2018: Ash Wednesday)
* * * * *

Lent is a time when each of us is challenged to recognize our need for conversion. We are invited to closely examine our relationship with God, ourselves and one another. Simply put, Lent asks us to name those sins, vices, weaknesses -- anything -- that may prevent us from growing in thought, word and deed in our God-given dignity.

A popular way of ritualizing this inner journey is to "give up" something for Lent. Some refrain from tobacco; others eschew alcohol; still others pass up all desserts. Some of us may give up something good during Lent; some of us may give up something bad during Lent, and still others may give up a combination of both.

Using traditional language, Lent is a time for fasting. Fasting, however, is only half of the story. Lent, in its fullest expression, is also a season for feasting!

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

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

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

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

He continued:

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

Whether through fasting or feasting, turning away from sin or turning toward virtue, these forty days of Lent are about our “insides”: our heart, mind, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, hopes and fears. It is the journey of the soul and spirit. “As for myself,” says Francis de Sales, “it seems to me that we ought to begin with the interior.”

And so we pray: God give us the grace to make a new beginning with the first of these forty days....and with every day that will follow hereafter.

Spirituality Matters 2018: February 1st - February 7th

* * * * *
(February 1, 2018: Thursday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two…”

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(February 2, 2018: Presentation of the Lord)
* * * * *

"Since the children are people of blood and flesh, Jesus likewise has a full share in these..."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(February 3, 2018: Blaise, Bishop and Martyr)
* * * * *

"His heart was moved…for they were like sheep without a shepherd..."

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

“Lost” is defined as:

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

Consider yourself found!

* * * * *
(February 4, 2018: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Is not our life on earth drudgery?”

Let's face it. Try as we might to always look at the bright side of life, each and every one of us have times in our lives when we would answer Job's question with a resounding "yes."

The burdens of life are real. Setbacks in life are painful. Headaches - and heartaches - are a part of being human. We need to be honest. We need to name and address those areas of our lives in which we feel weighed down and burdened. However, wallowing in or dwelling upon the negative can be far more dangerous and debilitating to our spiritual, emotional, psychological, social and mental health than the troubles themselves.

Francis de Sales observed that dwelling on the burdens of life “upsets the soul, arouses inordinate fears, creates disgust for prayer, stupefies and oppresses the brain, deprives the mind of prudence, resolution, judgment and courage, and destroys its strength. In a word, such sorrow is like a severe winter that spoils all the beauty of the country and weakens all the animals. It takes away all sweetness from the soul and renders it disabled.”

What is the best remedy for melancholy, for the temptation to focus only on what is wrong, what is broken and what is painful? The combination of prayer, good works, and good friends:

Prayer – “Prayer is a sovereign remedy for it lifts up the soul to God who is our joy and consolation."

Good works – “By means of sorrow the evil one tries to make us weary of doing what is good, but if he sees that we won't give up on doing good, then he will stop troubling us.”

Good friends – “Humbly and sincerely reveal to another all the feelings, affections and suggestions that proceed from your sadness. Try to talk to spiritual friends frequently and spend time with them as much as you possibly can during this period” of dryness.

St. Francis de Sales claimed “the evil one is pleased with sadness and melancholy because he himself is sad and melancholy and will be so for all eternity. Hence, Satan desires that everyone should be like himself.” Hence, the expression “misery loves company”.

In the face of life's burdens and difficulties let's do our level best to deprive the evil one of our company and walk in the company of prayerful, positive and proactive people.

* * * * *
(February 5, 2018: Monday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“They begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.”

People continued to bring the sick – and themselves – to be healed by Jesus. The account in today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark provides an interesting detail: those coming to Jesus for help believed that if they merely touched his clothing they would experience healing power.

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

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

Today, can the same be said of our love?

* * * * *
(February 6, 2018: Tuesday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “Remember that God is not only in the place where you are: God is present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit.” (Part II, Chapter 2, p. 85)

Each of us is a dwelling place of the Lord. By extension, this reality makes each of us a lovely sight to behold in the eyes of God.

Do we see and treat ourselves – and others – in the same way?

* * * * *
(February 7, 2018: Wednesday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile…”

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

“Physicians learn a great deal about a person’s health or sickness by looking at the tongue. In the same way, our words are a true indication of the state of our souls. ‘By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned,’ says the Savior. ‘The mouth of the just man shall meditate on wisdom and his tongue shall speak of judgment.’”

“An evil word falling into a weak heart grows and spreads like a drop of oil on a piece of linen cloth. Sometimes it seizes the heart in such a way as to fill it with a thousand unclean thoughts and temptations. Just as bodily poison enters through the mouth, so what poisons the heart enters through the ear and the tongue that utters it is guilty of murder…” (IDL, p. 193; 195)

Do you want to check the state of your spiritual health? Then start the diagnosis by examining the words that come out of your mouth.

Spirituality Matters 2018: January 25th - January 31st

* * * * *
(January 25, 2018: Conversion of Paul, Apostle)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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


* * * * *
(January 26, 2018: Timothy and Titus, Bishops)
* * * * *

“Stir into flame the gift of God that you have…a spirit of power and love and self-control.”

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

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

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

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

One person – one day – at a time!

* * * * *
(January 27, 2018: Saturday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Why are you terrified?”

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

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

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

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

Jesus is always – and forever – with us.

* * * * *
(January 28, 2018: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“I should like you to be free of all anxieties.”

Sure! Where do I sign up???

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 29, 2018: Monday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“The man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with Him, but Jesus would not permit him…”

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

Especially in the case of John the Baptist!

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 30, 2018: Tuesday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Please come and lay your hands on her…If I but touch his clothes I will be cured.”

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 31, 2018: John Bosco, Priest and Founder)
* * * * *

In his pamphlet about the life of St. Francis de Sales entitled A True Nobleman, Philip J. Pascucci, SDB wrote:

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: January 18th - January 24th

* * * * *
(January 18, 2018: Thursday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Hearing what Jesus was doing, a large number of people came to him…”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 19, 2018: Friday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“He sent them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons…”

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

Well, perhaps not completely over.

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 20, 2018: Saturday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

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

Especially from family, friends and other loved ones!

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 21, 2018: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“The world as we know it is passing away.”

Francis de Sales wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


* * * * *
(January 22, 2018: Day of Prayer - Legal Protection of Unborn Children)
* * * * *

In his popularization of Bishop Camus’s accounts of the life and legacy of St. Francis de Sales (in The Spirit of Love) C.F. Kelley wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 23, 2018: Tuesday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Whoever does the will of God is brother, and sister and mother to me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


* * * * *
(January 24, 2018: Francis de Sales: Bishop, Founder, Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *

Prv 16: 16-2    : Ps 34: 2-3, 4 and 6, 9 and 12, 14-15     JAS 3:13-18     Mk 5: 23-28

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

So close, yet so far.

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

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

Not unlike Our Lord Himself!

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

~ OR ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: January 11th - January 17th

* * * * *
(January 11, 2018: Thursday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“The leprosy left him immediately...”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 12, 2018: Friday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Today, be grateful. Your humanity depends on it!

* * * * *
(January 13, 2018: Hilary, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *

“I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners…”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 14, 2018: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“What are you looking for?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 15, 2018: Monday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, and your disciples do not fast?”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 16, 2018: Tuesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“You are my father, my God, the Rock, my savior…”

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

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

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

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

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

God’s strength.

* * * * *
(January 17, 2018: Wednesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Grieved at their hardness of heart…”

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: January 4th - January 10th

* * * * *
(January 4, 2018: Elizabeth Ann Seton, Religious)
* * * * *

“The person who acts in righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, how might we follow her example?

* * * * *
(January 5, 2018: John Neumann, Bishop)
* * * * *

“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 6, 2018: Andre Bessette)
* * * * *

“Whoever possesses the Son has life …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 7, 2018: Epiphany of the Lord)
* * * * *

“They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then, they opened their treasures....”

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

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

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

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

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

And by following it!

* * * * *
(January 8, 2018: Baptism of the Lord)
* * * * *

“I the Lord have called you for the victory of justice.” “Those of any nation who…act uprightly are acceptable to God.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not begin today?

* * * * *
(January 9, 2018: Tuesday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 10, 2018: Leonie Aviate, OSFS, Founder and Religious)
* * * * *

“Anyone who welcomes one such child for my sake welcomes me...”

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

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

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

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

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

~ OR ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2017: December 28th - January 3rd

* * * * *
(December 28, 2017: Holy Innocents)
* * * * *

“A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(December 29, 2017: Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr)
* * * * *

“And you yourself a sword will pierce…”

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

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

“Turned out, Henry was wrong.”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(December 30, 2017: Sixth Day within the Octave of the Nativity)
* * * * *

“Do not love the world or the things of the world…”

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

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

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

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

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

For God! For ourselves! For one another!

* * * * *
(December 31, 2017: Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph)
* * * * *

The child grew and became strong…and the favor of God was upon him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(December 31, 2017: New Year’s Eve)
* * * * *

An Exhortation by St. Jane de Chantal: The Beginning of a New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(January 1, 2018: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God)
* * * * *

“Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.”

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

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

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

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

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


* * * * *
(January 2, 2018: Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church)
* * * * *

“Remain in him...”

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

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

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

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

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

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


* * * * *
(January 3, 2018: Most Holy Name of Jesus)
* * * * *

“Those who have this hope based on him make themselves pure, as he is pure...”

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

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

So now, where does that leave us?

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2017: December 21st - December 27th

* * * * *
(December 21, 2017: Thursday, Third Week of Advent)
* * * * *

“Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one and come!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(December 22, 2017: Friday, Third Week of Advent)
* * * * *

“He has looked upon his lowly servant…and has done great things for me: holy is his name.”

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

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

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

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

Today, can the same be said of us?

* * * * *
(December 23, 2017: Saturday, Third Week of Advent)
* * * * *

“Lift up your heads and see: your redemption is near at hand…”

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

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

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

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


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

* * * * *
(December 24, 2017: Fourth Sunday of Advent)
* * * * *

Mary said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

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

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

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

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

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

Mary lives out her advent. We wait with Mary.

* * * * *
(December 24, 2017: Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord)
* * * * *

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…”

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

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

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

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


* * * * *
(December 24/25, 2017: Nativity of the Lord - Mass at Midnight)
* * * * *

In a Christmas sermon, Francis de Sales remarked:

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

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

* * * * *
(December 25, 2017: Nativity of the Lord)
* * * * *

With regard to the great Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Blessed Louis Brisson wrote:

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

* * * * *
(December 26, 2017: Stephen, First Martyr)
* * * * *

“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

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

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

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

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

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

With one another!

* * * * *
(December 27, 2017: John, Evangelist)
* * * * *

“The life was made visible...”

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

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

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

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

What a friend we have in Jesus!