Spirituality Matters 2019: March 28th - April 3rd

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(March 28, 2019: Thursday, Third Week of lent)
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“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 ones 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, 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?

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(March 29, 2019: Friday, Third Week of Lent)
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“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 – stubbornness of will, 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?

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(March 30, 2019: Saturday, Third Week of Lent)
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"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: one’s accounting of God’s graces in his life left him arrogant and aloof, whereas another’s accounting of God’s graces in his life left him humble and grateful.

Who would you rather be today?

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(March 31, 2019: Fourth Sunday of Lent)
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"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them..."

Thus 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 – with 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 also 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.

Taken together, Jesus is the ultimate “Prodigal Son.” What could be more yielding than Jesus’ willingness to take on the fullness of our humanity? What could be more lavish than Jesus’ teaching, preaching, forgiving, and healing day in and day out? What could be more extravagant than Jesus’ laying down his very life for us?

It turns out that – as far as God is concerned – there are many ways of being extravagant, lavish, giving and yielding in our relationships with others. How might God be inviting us to be his “prodigal” sons and daughter today?

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(April 1, 2019: Monday, Fourth Week of Lent)
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“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, this 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 their 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?

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(April 2, 2019: Tuesday, Fourth Week of Lent)
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“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 Isaiah! 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’s 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!

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(April 3, 2019: Wednesday, Fourth Week of Lent)
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“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 2019: March 21st - March 27th

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(March 21, 2019: Thursday, Second Week of Lent)
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“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 someone 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.

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(March 22, 2019: Friday, Second Week of Lent)
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“When his brothers saw that their father loved him best…they hated him…”

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

And 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 provides the brothers with an out: they don’t actually take Joseph’s life, but they can get Joseph out of their lives nonetheless.

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 inspired turn-of-events. Simply put, God can make miracles out of the worst of circumstances.

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

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(March 23, 2019: Saturday, Second Week of Lent)
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"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them..."

Thus 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?

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(March 24, 2019: Third Sunday of Lent)
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“The place where you stand is holy ground...”

“Holy ground.” The term conjures up images of mountaintops shrouded in smoke, sanctuaries illuminated by candlelight, grand churches with vaulted ceilings and ancient monasteries in remote locations. Such places may indeed provide the opportunity to stand on “holy ground,” but there’s a lot more to “holy ground” than meets the eye.

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

“There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly they always encounter the air, so too, whoever we go – or wherever we are – God is truly present…Thus you must say with your whole heart and in your heart, ‘O my heart, my heart, God is truly here!’ Remember that God is not only in the place where you are but is also present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit. Just as the soul is diffused throughout the entire body and is therefore present in every part of the body – but especially in the heart – so also God is present in all things but always resides in a special manner in your spirit. For this reason David calls him ‘the God of his heart,’ and St. Paul says that ‘we live, and move and are in God.’ Therefore in consideration of this truth excite in your heart great reverence toward God who is so intimately present in you.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, pp. 84-85)

Today, do you want to stand on “holy ground”? Then look in a mirror!

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(March 25, 2019: Annunciation of the Lord)
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“Ask for a sign from the Lord your God…”

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

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

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

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

Of course, God has been giving us signs of his love for us - regardless of whether we have asked for them or not - from the very beginning of time. Creation, itself – through which we were made in God’s image and likeness - is the first and fundamental sign of God’s love for us. As today’s Gospel reminds us, Jesus is the great reaffirmation of that first and fundamental sign of divine love, because Jesus not only redeems us, but through Jesus God also made himself in our image and likeness.

If you are so moved, feel free to ask God for a sign of his love and care. However, it is better that we be more moved to be signs of God’s love and care in the lives of one another.

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(March 26, 2019: Tuesday, Third Week of Lent)
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“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 presen5t 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 to God today – regardless of what it is that we may want to sacrifice for God today – just remember 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!

Spirituality Matters 2019: March 14th - March 20th

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(March 14, 2019: Thursday, First Week of Lent)
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“Ask and it will be given to you…”

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

“If a man prays to God and perceives that he is praying, he is not perfectly attentive to his prayer. He diverts his attention from God to whom he prays in order to think of the prayer by which he prays. A man in fervent prayer does not know whether he prays or not, for he does not think of the prayer he makes but of God to whom he makes it.” (TLG, Part IX, Chapter 10, p. 122)

If Jesus invites us to ask for things in prayer, who are we to refuse him? However, we need to be open to the fact that God may not always give us what we want in ways that we want. God indeed answers our prayers, but not always in ways to our liking.

For his part, Francis de Sales asks us for something. When it comes to prayer, he asks us to be less concerned about the things for which we ask and more focused upon the person to whom we bring our requests. After all, what could be better than any one thing that God might give us when compared with what God has already given us in the person of his Son?


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(March 15, 2019: Friday, First Week of Lent)
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“If the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die…”

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

“Our Savior’s redemption touches our miseries and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. The angels, says our Savior, have ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just that have no need for repentance.’ So, too, the state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence. Truly, by the watering of our Savior’s blood, made with the hyssop of the cross, we have been restored to a white incomparably better than that possessed by the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we come out of the stream of salvation more pure and clean that if we had never had leprosy. This is to the end that God’s majesty, as he has ordained for us as well, should not be ‘overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good’… (TLG, Book II, Chapter 5, pp. 115 – 116)

This display of God’s generosity is nothing if not breathtaking. God loves us so much that not only does God not hold our sins against us if we should repent from our evil ways - God goes even further by applying his grace to our repentance in ways that can transform us into something more beautiful than if we had never committed sin in the first place! How generous is God? God can even turn our sins into a means of our salvation if we but trust in his unconditional and abiding love for us. But should this really surprise us? After all, have you ever noticed that some of the greatest of saints started out by being the greatest of sinners?

Are there any ways in which you are disfigured by the leprosy of sin? Don’t be ashamed. Rather, be assured that God can transform your spiritual disfigurement into something – actually, someone – far more beautiful than you could ever have believed possible.

And God will affect something of this transformation even today!

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(March 16, 2019: Saturday, First Week of Lent)
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"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!

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(March 17, 2019: Second Sunday in Lent)<
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“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

Those who recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah certainly do their level best to “listen to him.” Of course, disciples of Jesus can’t limit discipleship to merely listening to him. They have to put into action what Jesus says to them. They have to imitate him; they have to follow his example.

We certainly hear an example of this in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He encourages this community of Christians – followers of Jesus – to not only listen to what Paul has to say, but also to imitate his example of how to put the Good News of Jesus Christ into action. The specific advice that Paul offers to the Philippians includes:

  • Conducting themselves in accord with the example that Paul and others have attempted to provide
  • Avoiding any temptation to participate in shameful activities
  • Eschewing the practice of filling their minds with earthly things
  • Acting as citizens of heaven
  • Conforming their earthly bodies to Jesus’ glorified body
  • Standing firm in the Lord.
By all means let us listen to the Lord today. But remember this: just as talk can be cheap, so, too, can listening be if it fails to lead to a change of mind, heart soul and spirit…in ways that can be experienced by others.

Are you listening?

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(March 18, 2019: Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“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 – by being 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 – we who both obey and disobey 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 pretty 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!

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(March 19, 2019: Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“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, despite 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 wife or on his son. Rather, he accepted life’s ups and downs as expressions of God’s will for him.

And so, 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.

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(March 20, 2019: Wednesday, Second Week of Lent)
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“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 the chalice from which Jesus drinks. Following Jesus – he who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – isn’t all smiles and sunshine. And somewhere deep down inside 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 2019: March 7th - March 13th

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(March 7, 2019: Thursday after Ash Wednesday)
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“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.

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(March 8, 2019: Friday after Ash Wednesday)
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“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 fee 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: 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.

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(March 9, 2019: Saturday after Ash Wednesday)
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"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?

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(March 10, 2019: First Sunday of Lent)
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“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, ‘Begone, 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, ‘Begone, Satan!’ Do not listen to big devils or little ones.”

So today, be it big or small, what bedevils you that you would like to be gone?

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(March 11, 2019: Monday, First Week of Lent)
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“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 includes:

  • 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?

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(March 12, 2019: Tuesday, First Week of Lent)
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“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.

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(March 13, 2019: Wednesday, First Week of Lent)
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“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 to are the ones who ‘get it’ when it comes to the love of God? They may not be very sophisticated – 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 – they may have a lot going for them – and 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 it or not?

Spirituality Matters 2019: February 28th - March 6th

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(February 28, 2019: Thursday, Seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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"Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

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

“The Sacred Spouse declares that he is always pleased to accept the great deeds of devout persons, that their least and lowest deeds are also acceptable to him, and that to serve him as he wishes we must have great care to serve him well both in great, lofty matters and in small, unimportant things.” (IDL, Part 3, Ch. 35)

In an obvious reference to Jesus’ own words in today’s Gospel, Francis de Sales continued:

“For a single cup of water, God has promised to his faithful a sea of perfect bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves from moment to moment it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches if you only use them well.” (IDL, Part 3, Ch. 35)

Something so simple as offering someone a cup of water of means of salvation? Don’t take my word for it – listen to Jesus himself.

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(March 1, 2019: Friday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
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“Let your acquaintances be many, but one in a thousand your confidant.”

Francis de Sales believed that we need to befriend others along the road to salvation. In other words, one of the greatest aids to our living a devout life is to identify – and cultivate – sound friendships. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis wrote:

“‘A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality, and those who fear the Lord find him.’ As you see, these divine words chiefly refer to immortality, and for this we must 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. Such a friend will serve as a medicine to ease and comfort our hearts when afflicted by spiritual sickness. Such a friend will guard us from evil and make our good still better.” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 4)

The book of Sirach counsels us to be very particular about the kind of friendship we establish: one in a thousand. For his part, Francis de Sales suggests an even higher standard:

“Chose one out of thousand...For my part, I say one out of ten thousand, for there are fewer people than we realize who are capable of this task. Such a person must be full of charity, knowledge and prudence…I tell you again, ask God for such a friend, and having once found him (or her), bless his Divine Majesty – stand firm, and do not look for another, but go forward with simplicity, humility and confidence for you will make a most prosperous journey.” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 4)

When it comes to living a life of devotion, don’t go it alone – make friends who can accompany you along the way.

But remember – choose your friends wisely.

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(March 2, 2019: Saturday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
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“The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these…

Why did Jesus hold children in such high esteem? William Barclay offers these thoughts:

  • “There is the child’s humility…The child has not yet learned to think in terms of place and pride and prestige. He has not yet learned to discover the importance of himself.”
  • “There is the child’s obedience. True, a child is often disobedient, but, paradox thought it may seem, its natural instinct is to obey. The child has not yet learned the pride and the false independence which separate a man from his fellow-men and from God.”
  • “There is the child’s trust…acceptance of authority and confidence in other people.”
  • “The child has a short memory. It hasn’t yet learned to hold grudges and nourish bitterness. Even when unjustly treated – and who of us is not sometimes unjust to children – the child forgets and forgets so completely that it does not even need to forgive.”
“Indeed, of such is the Kingdom of God.”

How might we imitate the example of children today?

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

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

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

Or do we take it for granted?

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

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

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(March 3, 2019: Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.”

Francis de Sales dedicated five chapters in his Introduction to the Devout Life to the subject of conversation. The fact that he would devote so much attention to this topic speaks to the importance – and the impact – of words.

Francis wrote:

“Physicians learn about a person’s health or sickness by looking at his tongue. In like manner, 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. We quickly move our hand to the pain we feel and our tongue to what we like. If you are truly in love with God, you will often speak of God in familiar conversation with your servants, friends and neighbors.’ The mouth of the just man shall meditate on wisdom and his tongue shall speak of judgment. Just as bees extract with their tiny mouths nothing but honey, so your tongue should always be sweetened with its God and find no greater pleasure than to taste the praise and benediction of his holy name flowing between your lips.” (IDL, Part 3, Ch. 26)

Spend just a few hours watching cable television and/or surfing social media and you’ll notice that there is no shortage of words on the airways and the Internet. These words may tell us a great deal about the people speaking them; these words may also tell us a great deal about the nature of our culture. Note the level of volume, shouting, harshness, suspicion and divisiveness that characterizes so much of our conversations – if you can call them that – these days.

Remarkable how prescient Francis de Sales’ advice sounds four hundred years ago given the context in which we live today.

“To speak little – a practice highly recommended by ancient sages – does not consist in uttering only a few words but in uttering none that are useless. With regard to speech, we must not look to the quantity but rather to the quality of our words. It seems to me that we ought to avoid two extremes. To be too reserved and to refuse to take part in conversation looks like lack of confidence in the others or some sort of disdain. To be always babbling or joking without giving others time or chance to speak when they wish is a mark of shallowness and levity.” (IDL, Part 3, Ch. 30)

Let’s be clear – words are not just words. They can shape and create reality, for better or for worse. How just are our words? What do our words tell others about the state of our soul? What do our words tell us about the health of our heart?

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(March 4, 2019: Monday, Eighth Week of Ordinary Time)
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“You shall not…You shall.”

Today’s Gospel remind us that being children of God comes with its share of “do’s” and “don’ts.”

The “don’ts” include: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; The “do’s” include: honor your father and your mother.

During the season of Lent, it is customary for people to focus on not doing the “don’ts” of life. In the Salesian tradition, however, we’re probably better off pursuing the “do’s” of God’s Kingdom as a more effective remedy for the “don’ts.” For example, why settle for giving up lying when we can tell the truth? Why promise to stop being stingy when we can redouble our efforts at being generous? Why refrain from stealing when we can commit ourselves to being honest? Why merely turn away from hatred when we can turn toward healing? Why simply renounce revenge when we can accomplish much more with reconciliation?

So, how will you use your time and energy today? By avoiding life’s “don’ts” or by doing life’s “do’s?”

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(March 5, 2019: Tuesday, Eighth Week of Ordinary Time)
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“With each contribution show a cheerful countenance, and pay your tithes in a spirit of joy. Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means.”

In the Preface I from the former Sacramentary for the Eucharistic Prayer for the season of Lent, we hear:

“For by your gracious gift each year your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts
with the joy of minds made pure, so that, more eagerly intent on prayer and on the works of charity.”

People associate the season of Lent with all kinds of experiences: sacrifice, self-denial, self-discipline, penitence, sorrow and suffering, just to name a few. The experience of joy probably wouldn’t appear anywhere near the top of most peoples’ list…if at all. But indeed, Lent can be a joyful season, provided that we understand the nature and the basis of authentic Christian joy: striving to be the best version of yourself.

In a letter to her brother Andre Fremyot, the Archbishop of Bourges, Jane de Chantal wrote the following:

Try to perform all your actions calmly and gently. Keep your mind ever joyful, peaceful and content. Do not worry about your perfection, or about your soul. God, to whom it belongs, and to whom you have completely entrusted it, will take care of it and fill it with all the graces, consolations and blessings of His holy love in the measure that they will be useful in this life…” (LSD, page 203)

How might we keep our minds joyful during the season of Lent? How about by beginning each and every day of Lent by recalling all that God – in his mercy, generosity and love – has done for you! Consider who God has made you, and who God continues to call you to be.

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(March 6, 2019: Ash Wednesday)
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“Do not babble like the pagans…”

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives instruction on the proper way to pray. He cautions us to “not babble like the pagans,” who think that they will be heard because of their many words.

In a sermon given on April 5, 1615, Francis de Sales made the following observation regarding prayer in general, and vocal prayer in particular:

“To mutter something with the lips is not praying if one’s heart is not joined to it. To speak it is necessary first to have conceived interiorly what we wish to say. There is first the interior word, and then the spoken word, which causes what the interior has first pronounced to be understood. Prayer is nothing other than speaking to God. Now it is certain that to speak to God without being attentive to Him and to what we say to Him is something that is most displeasing to Him…God tests more the heart of the one who prays rather than the words pronounced by one who prays.” (Fiorelli, OSFS, Sermons on Prayer, p. 18)

Authentic prayer is not a matter of words. Authentic prayer is a matter of the heart. Lent provides a perfect opportunity to revisit this truth…and to live by it.

Spirituality Matters 2019: February 21st - February 27th

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(February 21, 2019: Thursday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Who do you say that I am?”

No sooner does Jesus give Peter a big “shout out” for correctly identifying him as the Christ then Jesus publicly – and severely – reprimands Peter for disputing Jesus’ description of Himself as a suffering Messiah. Later, 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 one of servants of the high priest who came to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane. And after protesting his love of 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 he had cracks. Peter might even 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.

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(February 22, 2019: Chair of St. Peter)
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“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.”

The post on the web site continues:

“However, St. Peter was not without faults…” Now there’s an understatement.

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, today do we have the courage to take our place?

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(February 23, 2019: Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr)
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“He was transfigured before them…”

Something remarkable happened on that mountain.

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

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

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

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

Or do we take it for granted?

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

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

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(February 24, 2019: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat 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 – quid pro quo won’t cut it.

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 makes 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)

God, help us to live this higher love. Help us to avoid trying to simply “get by” in life; help us to understand what it means to truly live…to do good, without expecting anything back.

“Higher love” is its own reward.

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(February 25, 2019: Monday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
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“He said to them in reply, O faithless generation, how long will I be with you?
How long will I endure you?’”

Commenting on this selection from the Gospel of Mark, William Barclay makes the following observation regarding this “cry wrung from the heart of Jesus”:

“He had been on the mountaintop and had faced the tremendous task that lay ahead of him. He had decided to stake his life on the redemption of the world. And now he had come back down to find his nearest followers – his own chosen men – beaten and baffled and helpless and ineffective. The thing, for the moment, must have daunted even Jesus. He must have had a sudden realization of what anyone else would have called the hopelessness of his task. He must at that moment have almost despaired of the attempt to change human nature and to make men of the world into men of God.”

“How did he meet the moment of despair? ‘Bring the boy to me,’ he said. When we cannot deal with the ultimate situation, the thing to do is to deal with the situation which confronts us at the moment. It was as if Jesus said, ‘I do not know how I am ever going to change these disciples of mine, but I can at this moment help this boy. Let us get on with the present task, and not despair of the future.’”

“Again, and again that is the way to avoid despair. If we sit and think about the state of the world, we may well become very depressed; then let us get to action in our own small corner of the world. We may sometimes despair of the church; then let us get to action in our own small part of the church. Jesus did not sit appalled and paralyzed at the slowness of men’s minds; he dealt with the immediate situation.”

“The surest way to avoid pessimism and despair is to take what immediate action we can – and there is always something to be done.”

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(February 26, 2019: Tuesday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time
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“Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not; thus, will you be wise in all your ways. Accept whatever befalls you, when sorrowful, be steadfast, and in crushing misfortune be patient…”

Entrepeneur.com once ran an article entitled, “Eight Ways Practicing Patience Radically Increases Your Capacity for Success”. One aspect is particularly relevant to a Salesian world view.

# 4. Self-possession

“Patience puts us in direct control of ourselves. And there is no more powerful an aid to success then self-possession. When we are patient, we give ourselves time to choose how to respond to a given event, rather than get hijacked by our emotions. It allows us to stay centered no matter what is happening. With self-management, we build trust in our capacity to deal with whatever comes our way.”

“A lack of success or progress can almost always be boiled down to a lack of patience. The most basic reason for impatience is a lack of control. When we lack control, we lack understanding and insight. When we lack understanding and insight, we lack the ability to plan, communicate and set realistic expectations. But when we claim control over these issues, we develop the ability to bask in the rewards that patience can deliver.”

Sound familiar? It should. Just over four hundred years ago, Francis de Sales wrote the following in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

“‘For you have need of patience, that doing the will of God, you may receive the promise,’ says St. Paul. True, for our Savior himself has declared, ‘By your patience you will win your souls.’ It is our great happiness to possess our own soul, and the more perfect our patience, the more completely we possess our own soul.”

Great happiness is not about self-obsession. Great happiness is about self-possession – it is about practicing the patience required to take responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions. And there is no better place to practice patience than in our relationships with one another.

* * * * *
(February 27, 2019: Wednesday, Seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Whoever is not against us is for us."

William Barclay sees this selection from the Gospel of Mark as a lesson in tolerance, a lesson that nearly everyone needs to learn:

  • “Every person has a right to his own thoughts. Every person has a right to think things out and to think them through until he comes to his own conclusions and his own beliefs. And that is a right we should respect. We are too often apt to condemn what we do not understand.”
  • “Not only must we concede to every person to right to do his own thinking, we must also concede the right to a person to do his own speaking.”
  • “We must remember that any doctrine or belief must finally be judged by the kind of people it produces.”
  • “We may hate a person’s beliefs, but we must never hate the person. We may wish to eliminate what the person teaches, but we must never wish to eliminate the person.”
It takes all kinds of people to continue the work of God. At the end of the day, it matters little whether this person or that person is a member of our group or tribe – what matters is that God’s work is getting done.

No matter who they are…or aren’t.

Spirituality Matters 2019: February 14th - February 20th

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(February 14, 2019: Cyril, Monk and Methodius, Bishop)
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"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?

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(February 15, 2019: Friday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“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 and then 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?

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(February 16, 2019: Saturday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“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 an affection. It is more than a feeling. While he clearly makes the neediness of others his own, Jesus does more than that - he addresses 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 of our hearts?

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(February 17, 2019: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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"Blessed are they who trust in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord."

What does it mean to "trust?" The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines it thus: "Firm reliance on the integrity, ability or character of a person or thing."

Imagine a world without trust. Imagine a world in which nobody believed in the "integrity, ability or character" of others. Such a place could indeed be described as a living hell. Trust is the mortar that binds us together. Trust is what enables us to form families, friends, community and country. Trust is an integral part of what it means to be human.

In stark contrast with the importance of trusting one another, Jeremiah warns: "Cursed are those who trust in human beings." What are we to make of this? Simply put, trusting one another is not enough to sustain us in life. Why? Because, as we know all too well - and painfully - we humans, despite our best efforts, are not always trustworthy. If our trust is limited to the human plane, we run the risk of being overwhelmed by the woes of pain, disappointment, heartache and cynicism.

Our ultimate trust must be found in God, the one who is always trustworthy. Our ultimate trust must be found in God, the ‘faithful friend who never deceives or betrays’. Our fundamental trust allows us to not merely survive this life, but to thrive in it, especially when confronted by our own imperfections and those of others. St. Francis de Sales wrote: "If the whole world turns topsy-turvy, if all around is darkness … shall not all be well with us as long as we place our trust in God?" (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 125)

Cursed are we if we expect others to fulfill all of our deepest wants, our deepest needs, our deepest desires and our deepest dreams without fail. Such expectations lead to bitterness, resentment and despair. Blessed are we if we take confidence and consolation in the God who is always trustworthy, even when human beings - including ourselves - are not. Our trust in God will not shield us from life's inevitable disappointments - those we receive, those we cause - but it will enable us to name them, to work through them and ultimately to move beyond them.

Our trust in God enables us to celebrate the ways we are trustworthy. Likewise, our trust in God enables us to forgive one another when we are not.

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(February 18, 2019: Monday, Sixth Week of Ordinary Time)
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“He sighed from the depth of his spirit...”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “We must recall that Our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Jesus had his share of success during his public ministry. He healed the sick. He freed the possessed. He fed the hungry. He satisfied the thirsty. He welcomed the marginalized. He consoled the sorrowing. He found the lost. He raised the dead. Of course, Jesus also had his share of trials and tribulations during his public ministry. He was subjected to criticism. He was subjected to misunderstanding. He was subjected to ridicule. He was subjected to rejection. He was subjected to abandonment, arrest and crucifixion. He was subjected to death.

In short, Jesus took the bad with the good in his attempt to preach – and practice – the Good News. While Jesus didn’t go looking for trouble, he wouldn’t it trouble either, especially when it came to promoting the justice and peace of the Kingdom of God. Given the amount of resistance that he faced from some quarters, it’s amazing that the Gospels don’t provide many more examples of how Jesus “sighed from the depths of his spirit” more often!

In our day-to-day attempts at living a devout life we can relate to Jesus’ frustration. We’ve all faced resistance in ways that make us sigh from the depths of our spirits, too. While we shouldn’t go looking for trouble, we shouldn’t be all that surprised when trouble finds us. Like Jesus, when trouble comes our way, let’s do our level best to not allow it to dissuade us from doing good – and being good – in the lives of other people.

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(February 19, 2019: Tuesday, Sixth Week of Ordinary Time
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“When did Noah build the ark, Gladys? Before the rain – before the rain.”

- (Robert Redford, playing the role of Nathan

Muir in the film Spy Game, 2001.)

The Book of Genesis describes a kind of divine boiling point - God has reached the end of his patience in the face of human wickedness and has decided to start over, but not before making allowance for a remnant of both man and beast alike that will survive the flood. God chooses Noah to build an ark that will preserve this remnant and – eventually – repopulate the earth. Noah, of course, is mocked by most of his contemporaries, right up until the day that the flood came.

Francis de Sales placed a great premium on living in the present moment. He exhorted his contemporaries to live each day, each hour and each moment as it came. He counseled people against brooding over the past; he warned people about fretting over the future.

Living in the present, however, is not the same as flying blind or living by the seat of your pants. There is great value in doing a little pre-planning in the spiritual life. In fact, Francis de Sales recommended that people begin each and every day with what we now call the “Preparation of the Day”. Francis wrote:

“Anticipate any tasks, transactions and occasions that you may meet this day. Prepare yourself to make the best use of the means that may come to you. Carefully prepare to avoid, resist and overcome whatever may be encountered that is opposed to your salvation.”

Figuratively speaking, there are many arks in our lives that we plan to build that never get finished. There are other arks in our lives that we believe we need that never get used. There are still other arks that we clearly should have built – but never did – because we didn’t recognize the need until after the fact. All that said, there’s no harm in preparing for the future – be it short or long term – provided that it does not disable our ability to live in the only place in which we can possible plan for tomorrow.


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(February 20, 2019: Wednesday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."

In the Fourth Book of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Chapter 13, St. Francis de Sales begins with the following observation: “God keeps this wonderful world in existence amidst constant change. Thus, day passes into night, spring into summer, summer into autumn, autumn into winter and winter into spring. One day never exactly resembles another: some days are cloudy, some rainy, some dry, some windy. Variety gives great beauty to the universe.”

“It is the same with us,” Francis continues. “We are never in the same state. Our lives flow on earth like the water that surges and swirls in a perpetual diversity of movements. Sometimes we are lifted up by hope, sometimes cast down by fear; sometimes bent to the right by joys, sometimes to the left by sorrow. Not one day nor one hour is exactly the same.”

Indeed, how diverse, how fluid and how varied are the seasons of the human heart, of the human mind and of the human soul. In so many ways, Heraclitus (Greek philosopher, 500 B.C.) was right when he said that “the only constant is change.”

These seasons of the soul challenge us in two ways: (1) We need to accept, embrace and learn from all of the seasons of our lives, and (2) we nevertheless need to find some source of constancy in order to effectively deal with the changing tides of the ocean within us which are our thoughts, feelings and attitudes.

St. Francis offered advice regarding the former in a letter to St. Jane de Chantal (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 148) written in 1608: “You would like it to be always spring or summer; but no, you have to experience interior as well as exterior changes. Only in heaven will everything be springtime as to beauty, autumn as to enjoyment and summer as to love. There will be no winter there; but here below we need winter so that we may practice self-denial and the countless small but beautiful virtues that can be practiced during a barren season.”

Just as every season of the year plays a part in our particular role in God’s plan for our world, so, too, all the seasons of the heart have their place to play in God’s plan of salvation for us. Joy, sadness, success, setback, faith, fear, anxiety, confidence...all can teach us something more of who we are and who God calls us to be.

Who wouldn’t always like to be happy and fulfilled? Who wouldn’t like to avoid sadness and emptiness? Nevertheless, every season of the soul has its own voice that needs to be heard.

Where can we hope to find the stability to deal with the seasons of the soul? Francis de Sales wrote: “We must try to keep a constant and unchanging mind...Though everything turns and changes about us ( and within us) we must always remain firm, our eyes fixed on God, seeking God and moving towards God...Whether we are in sadness or joy, in consolation or bitterness, in peace or in trouble, in light or in darkness, in temptation or tranquility, in liking or disgust, in dryness or warmth, scorched by the sun or refreshed by the dew, yet the highest point of our heart (like the compass of a ship) should always be turned to God, our Creator and Our Savior, our unique and sovereign good.”

Our spiritual path may be filled with uncertainty. God’s plan for us may be full of surprises: some consoling and some maddening. Our minds, our hearts—our lives—may not be as calm or predictable as we might like.

The challenge for us is to believe that in all—and every—season of the soul, it is the same loving God who creates us, redeems us and inspires us to take confidence in God’s constant, unchanging and eternal love...for us.

Spirituality Matters 2019: February 7th - February 13th

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(February 7, 2019: Thursday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two…”

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

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

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

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

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(February 8, 2019: Friday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not neglect hospitality…”

In the Spring 2002 edition of Vision Magazine, Christine D. Pohl wrote: “Offering welcome is basic to Christian identity and practice. For most of the church’s history, faithful believers located their acts of hospitality in a vibrant tradition in which needy strangers, Jesus, and angels were welcomed and through which people were transformed. But for many people today, understandings of hospitality have been reduced to Martha Stewart’s latest ideas for entertaining family and friends and to the services of the hotel and restaurant industry. As a result, even Christians miss the significance of hospitality and view it as a mildly pleasant activity if sufficient time is available.” (p. 34)

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales made the following observations regarding the practice of hospitality:

“Apart from cases of extreme necessity, hospitality is a counsel. To entertain strangers is its first degree. To go out on the highways and invite them in, as Abraham did, is a higher degree. It is still higher to live in dangerous places in order to rescue, help and serve passers-by.” (TLG, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

When you consider that most – if not all – of the people to whom we extend hospitality are not strangers but people whom we actually know - or who are known at least by people we know) - how do we really practice hospitality, at least as St. Francis de Sales defined it? Since we rarely entertain total strangers these days, where does that leave us in our efforts to “not neglect hospitality?” Pohl offers a very practical answer to this question:

“The most important practice of welcome is giving a person our full attention. It is impossible to overstate the significance of paying attention, listening to people’s stories, and taking time to talk with them. For those of us who feel that time is our scarcest resource, often this requires slowing ourselves down sufficiently to be present to the person. It means that we view individuals as human beings rather than as embodied needs or interruptions.” (p. 40)

If we define hospitality as “giving a person our full attention,” it becomes obvious that life provides ample opportunities for us to welcome others: not only strangers, but especially the people we know all-too-well - those with whom we live and love every day.

So, most days what is required to practice hospitality? It would seem that we need less to be good caterers and more to be good listeners.

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(February 9, 2019: Saturday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"His heart was moved…for they were like sheep without a shepherd..."

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

In other words, the people were lost.
“Lost” is defined as:

  • not made use of, won, or claimed
  • no longer possessed or no longer known
  • ruined or destroyed physically or morally
  • taken away or beyond reach or attainment
  • unable to find the way
  • no longer visible
  • lacking assurance or self-confidence
  • helpless
  • not appreciated or understood
  • obscured or overlooked during a process or activity
  • hopelessly unattainable

It’s safe to say that we all have the experience of being “lost” from time-to-time. Sometimes, we might experience being “lost” in any number of ways for long periods of time. Fortunately for us, one of the reasons that Jesus became one of us was to find the lost.

Consider yourself found!

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(February 10, 2019: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men…”

While the invitation to follow Jesus is a life-changing event, it doesn’t necessarily change everything. The case in point is in today’s Gospel. Who is it that Jesus invites to join him in catching people? Why, fishermen! Following Jesus may have required them to catch a new sense of purpose, but it also required them to employ familiar abilities and skills.

What can Peter, James and John teach us about what we need in our own efforts to follow Jesus? Two things: we need to prepare, and we need to be flexible.

Have you ever watched fishermen as they begin their new day? They prepare! They stock up on everything that they think they could possibly need during their time out on the water. They try to anticipate any and every situation that they may encounter, and they make provisions accordingly. They never leave the dock until they have ascertained that they have stowed aboard whatever they might need to meet any eventuality.

Have you ever watched fisherman fish? They are flexible! They will pick a spot and wait. If they catch little or nothing there they will move on to another location and wait. As the day progresses they may revisit a previous spot that had yielded no results earlier only to discover that now it is teeming with fish. Sometimes their intuition may tell them to stay out a little longer than they normally would. Finally, they need to know when to call it a day.

As you begin each new day ask yourself the following questions: What are the situations and events that I may encounter today? What are the virtues that I need to bring along with me to deal with whatever eventualities life may have in store for me? How flexible am I willing to be? Am I able to ‘roll with the punches’? How open am I to adapting to what today may have in store for me rather than tenaciously clinging to what I had in store for the day?

However skeptical Peter, James and John may have been about putting out “into deep water” one more time at the end of a long and fruitless day at the suggestion of an itinerant preacher, they were professional enough – that is, prepared and flexible enough – to do what Our Lord invited them to do. Their decision to do so changed their lives forever. Not only did they catch an enormous amount of fish but also, as it turns out, they themselves were caught by the enormity of God’s love.

How might Jesus ask us to go out “into deep water” today? How will we respond?

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(February 11, 2019: Our Lady of Lourdes)
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“God saw how good it was…”

Ask yourself the question: are you basically good or are you basically evil? You might be surprised to learn how many people choose the latter.

On some level it is easy to understand why people say “evil”. Apart from our own struggles to be the kind of people that God calls us to be – that is, people created in God’s own image and likeness – the 24-hour news cycle on cable television constantly bombards us with story after story of what is wrong with us.

Thank God there are other voices that insist – as in the case of the Book of Genesis – that we are “good”. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“God has drawn you out of nothingness to make you what you are now and has done so solely out of his own goodness. Consider, then, the nature God has given you. It is the highest in this visible world and it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.” ( IDL, Part I, Chapter 9, p. 53)

Speaking of ‘image and likeness’, would you like more assurances that you are “good”? Listen to these words from the Francis’ Treatise on the Love of God:

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

Notwithstanding Francis de Sales’ statement above to the contrary, it would appear that many people are in fact ignorant of how good they are – at least, where God is concerned.

Do we good people do bad things? Of course, we do, but that doesn’t make us bad people! Unless, of course, we are bound and determined to make God a liar!

* * * * *
(February 12, 2019: Tuesday, Fifth Week of Ordinary Time)
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“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy…”

The Book of Genesis outlines all the things that God created at the beginning of time. This list includes all kinds of seed-bearing plants, living creatures, wild animals, and creeping/crawling things. God created fish of the sea, birds of the air and cattle on the land. God created man and woman. And the last thing that Genesis claims that God created was – interestingly enough – the Sabbath.

Catholic Encyclopedia Online reminds us:

“The Sabbath was the consecration of one day of the weekly period to God as the Author of the universe and of time. The day thus being the Lord's, it required that man should abstain from working for his own ends and interests, since by working he would appropriate the day to himself, and that he should devoted his activity to God by special acts of positive worship. While the Sabbath was primarily a religious day, it had a social and philanthropic side. It was also intended as a day of rest and relaxation, particularly for the slaves. Because of the double character, religious and philanthropic, of the day, two different reasons are given for its observance. The first is taken from God's rest on the seventh day of creation; in the second place, the Israelites are bidden to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt and should therefore in grateful remembrance of their deliverance rest themselves and allow their bond-servants to rest. As a reminder of God's benefits to Israel the Sabbath was to be a day of joy and such it was in practice. No fasting was done on the Sabbath; on the contrary, the choicest meals were served to which friends were invited.”

Sabbath, then, serves a twofold purpose: it reminds us of how generous God has been to us and it challenges us to be good to others.

In the Salesian tradition, at least, it would seem that our celebration of “Sabbath” should not be limited to one day a week. We should remember God’s goodness to us – and our need to do good for others – every day!

How can we keep the “Sabbath” today?

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(February 13, 2019: Wednesday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile…”

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation (on the “Obligations of the Constitutions”), Francis de Sales counseled:

“The rules do not command many fasts, but nevertheless some individuals may for their own special needs practice extra fasts; let those who do fast not despise those who eat, nor let those who eat despise those who fast. And the same, for that matter, in all other things that are neither commanded or forbidden, let each person abound in one’s own sense, that is, let each person enjoy and use one’s liberty, without judging or interfering with others who do not do as they do, or trying to persuade others that their ways are the best…”

Lent begins today, on Ash Wednesday. It is traditionally a day of fasting and abstinence. It is also a day when many people are tempted – however unconsciously – to compare their fasting and abstaining with how others fast and abstain which, of course, misses the whole point of fasting and abstaining in the first place.

What about you? Are you still undecided about things from which to fast and abstain on this first day of Lent or - for that matter – perhaps throughout the entire season of Lent? Here’s a suggestion: how about trying to fast and abstain from the temptation to compare ourselves to others?

Spirituality Matters 2019: January 31st - February 6th

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(January 31, 2019: Don Bosco, Religious 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)

How might we follow the example of John Bosco in following the example of St. Francis de Sales today? 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, what we feel, what we say and what we do with and for one another?

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(February 1, 2019: Friday, Third Week in Ordinary Week)
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“Remember the days past when – after you had been enlightened – you endured a great contest of suffering…”

Memories aren’t all bad. In fact, memories can be very good by reminding us of our ability to work through and rise above challenging times in our past. Recall the words from Barry Manilow’s song, “I Made it through the Rain:”

We dreamers have our ways
Of facing rainy days
And somehow we survive

We keep the feelings warm
Protect them from the storm
Until our time arrives

Then one day the sun appears
And we come shining through those lonely years

I made it through the rain
I kept my world protected
I made it through the rain
I kept my point of view
I made it through the rain
And found myself respected
By the others who
Got rained on too
And made it through

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

“We must often remember 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 that we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

We’ve all been “through the rain.” We’ve all had our share of “injuries, denials and discomforts.” When we look back – when we remember – the tough and challenging moments through the lens of time, we can become either bitter or better.

Today which will you chose – to be bitter or to be better?

* * * * *
(February 2, 2019: 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 God 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)

Most folks are probably very familiar with the notion that through Creation we are made in God’s image and likeness. By contrast, most folks are probably far less familiar with the notion that God - through the Incarnation - made himself in our image and likeness. In keeping with the Feast that we celebrate today, God presented the fullness of his divinity within the fullness of our humanity in the person of Jesus, his Son!

St. Francis de Sales was captivated by the notion that God loved us so much that he came to be with us not just in any old manner but in a very specific manner - God became one of us! 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.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews clearly believed this truth He wrote 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 would not only redeem us but also would understand us. This is indeed a great mystery. This is indeed a great intimacy: God so loved us that God took on our nature…God assumed our nature and likeness up close and personal!

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

Jesus challenges us to do the same each and every day, to meet others precisely where – and how – they are. Instead of giving in to the temptation to reach out to others when we judge them to be ready or worthy…instead of waiting for others to take the first step in the dance of life and love…we must stretch ourselves to put ourselves in the places of others. As we see in the life of Jesus, the first step of any attempt to help, to sustain, to encourage, to ransom or redeem others, is to know them.

To love someone is to know someone. How far are we willing to go in our attempts to really know other people whom we will encounter today?

Out of love!

* * * * *
(February 3, 2019: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“I shall show you a still more excellent way…”

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.

Of course, it is God’s love that Paul describes in his First Letter to the Corinthians. By contrast, we do grow jealous; we are sometimes pompous; we are occasionally rude; we do seek our own interests; we do fly off the handle; we do harbor old hurts; we do fail.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but our love is far from perfect. Where does that leave us? In a Conference to the Sisters of the Visitation (on “Antipathies”), St. Francis de Sales counseled:

“We should not be astonished about our passions; they will be with us throughout all our lives. We shall always commit some faults, but we must try to make them rare. If, however, we commit many faults despite our best efforts to avoid them must not grieve or lose courage; rather, we must take heart and strengthen ourselves to do better.” (Conference XVI, p. 310)

To paraphrase St. Paul, at present we love imperfectly and with difficulty; in the future we shall love perfectly and quite easily. In the meantime, what are we to do with our imperfect attempts at loving?

The best we can.

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(February 4, 2019: Monday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with Him, but Jesus would not permit him…”

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

Especially in the case of John the Baptist!

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

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

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

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

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(February 5, 2019: Memorial of Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr)
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“Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners in order that you might not grow weary and lose heart…

In Saints & Angels: Catholic Online, we read:

“Although we have evidence that Agatha was venerated at least as far back as the sixth century, the only facts we have about her are that she was born in Sicily and died there a martyr. In the legend of her life, we are told that she belonged to a rich, important family. When she was young, she dedicated her life to God and resisted any men who wanted to marry. One of these men, Quintian, was of a high enough rank that he felt he could force her to acquiesce. Knowing she was a Christian in a time of persecution, he had her arrested and brought before the judge, who happened to be himself. He expected her to give in to when faced with torture and possible death, but she simply affirmed her belief in God by praying: ‘Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart. You know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep; make me worthy to overcome these sufferings.’”

“Legend tells us that Quintian then imprisoned her in a brothel in order to get her to change her mind. He brought her back before him after she had suffered a month of assault and humiliation, but Agatha had never wavered. Quintian then sent her to prison - a move intended to make her more afraid, but which ironically enough may have been a great relief to her. When she continued to profess her faith in Jesus, Quintian had her tortured. He refused her any medical care, but God gave her all the care she needed in the form of a vision of St. Peter. When she was tortured a final time, she died after saying: ‘Lord, my Creator, you have always protected me from the cradle; you have taken me from the love of the world and given me patience to suffer. Receive my soul.’” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=14 )

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

“We must often remember 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 that we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Following Jesus doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free life. However, Jesus invites us to follow his example of how to deal with the trouble that we may face in this life.

Saint Agatha certainly did. Today, how might we?

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(February 6, 2019: Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs)
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“Strive for peace with everyone…”

In a letter of spiritual direction, Francis de Sales counseled:

“We must in all things and everywhere live peacefully. If trouble – whether inside of us, or around us – comes upon us, we must respond to itpeacefully. If success or joy comes, we must receive it peacefully, without a proud or puffed-up heart. When we need to avoid sin or evil, we must do that peacefully, without upsetting ourselves; otherwise, we may fall as we run away and give time to our enemy to kill us. If there is peace that we need to bring about we must do that peacefully; otherwise, we might commit many faults in our hurry to be peacemakers. Even our repentance and contrition must be made peacefully…”

Do you get the point? While we must indeed strive for peace with everyone, we need to include – perhaps, even begin with – ourselves. After all, charity – while not limited to home – begins at home. Put another way, you can’t give what you haven’t got! As Francis de Sales put it, “Haven’t I told you before that we must be patient with everyone, primarily with ourselves?” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 107)

Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me…today!

Spirituality Matters 2019: January 24th - January 30th

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(January 24, 2019: Francis de Sales - Bishop, Founder and Doctor of the Church)
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“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 having 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 his 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.

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(January 25, 2019: Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle)
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St. Francis de Sales had a special place in his heart for the person whose conversion we celebrate the feast of Paul of Tarsus. Throughout his writings Francis not only refers to Paul by name but also 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, too, 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.

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(January 26, 2019: Timothy and Titus, Bishops)
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In his preface to his Introduction to the Devout Life, the Bishop of Geneva 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 least 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 folks 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 would-be protégé’s like 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. After all, as 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 is our work. This 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 day – one person – at a time.

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(January 27, 2019: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it…”

It has been said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, however, if some of the parts are missing, then it is true to say that whole is diminished.

In today’s second reading St. Paul goes to great lengths to illustrate that each of us is a unique part of the Body of Christ. Each of us plays a unique role in God’s ongoing plan of salvation and sanctification. To that end, Paul challenges us to avoid the temptation to believe that some parts are more important than others because when it comes to the Body of Christ, every part – regardless of how obvious or obscure – has its rightful place.

In the mind of St. Francis de Sales, one of the most practical dimensions of Paul’s exhortation regarding the Body of Christ – and our parts in it - is experienced in the practice of virtue. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, the “Gentleman Saint” wrote:

“Every state (and stage) of life must practice particular virtues. A bishop’s virtues are of one kind, a prince’s another, a soldier’s a third kind and those of a married woman are different from a widow’s. All people should possess all the virtues, yet they must exercise them in different measures. Each person must practice in a unique manner the virtues needed by the kind of life to which he or she is called…Among virtues associated to our particulars duties and responsibilities we must prefer the more excellent to the more obvious…we must choose the best virtues, not the most popular; the noblest, not the most obvious; those that are actually the best, not the most spectacular.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 1, p. 122)

Regardless of how spectacular or sublime, we are all parts of Christ’s one rich and varied Body.

How might we do our part in building up that Body today?

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(January 28, 2019: Thomas Aquinas, Priest, Religious)
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In a Conference to the Sisters of the Visitation (“On Private Judgment”), Francis de Sales made reference to Saint Thomas Aquinas whose feast day we celebrate.

“The great St. Thomas, who had one of the loftiest minds possible, when he formed any opinion supported it with the weightiest arguments that he could bring forward. Nevertheless, if he encountered anyone who did not approve of what he had decided to be right, or had contradicted it, he neither disputed with them nor was offended by their action, but took all in good part. He thereby showed that he had no love for his own opinion, even though he could not abandon it. He left the matter alone to be approved or disapproved by others as they pleased. Having done his duty, he troubled himself no more about the subject.” (Conference XIV, p. 259)

Thomas Aquinas is universally recognized as one of the brightest intellectual lights of his age (AD 1225 – 1274). But perhaps his greatest genius, to which St. Francis de Sales alludes, was his recognition that being bright doesn’t always mean to be right. While there is little doubt that he could make an argument for his position on any particular topic, Thomas was grounded enough not to have to win every argument. His brilliance was only matched by his humility in allowing others to draw their own conclusions after having done his level best to state his case. As the saying goes, after giving it his best shot, Thomas would allow the chips to fall where they may.

Each of us is entitled to our opinion; that’s a part of our humanity. However, we are all familiar with another part of our humanity that is the source of much conflict and distress - the need to always be right and the need for others to always agree with us.

Let’s do our level best this day to avoid the temptation to force other people to make our opinions their own. In the Salesian tradition it is better to devote our efforts to trying to win people over rather than trying to knock people down.

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(January 29, 2019: Tuesday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

The Letter to the Hebrews states that it is “impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. For this reason, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire…but to do your will.’”

And 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.” And what does it mean to be merciful? Jesus is very specific in Luke 6: 36 – 38, where we hear: “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.”

Doing the will of God, then, is far less a function of what we might give up to God in the form of special or occasional sacrifices and more concerned about what we can give to one another. Doing the will of God is all about not judging and not condemning. Doing the will of God is all about pardoning and giving. Doing the will of God is all about doing our level best to recall often throughout each day that “the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”

Do you want to be “brother, sister and mother” to Jesus? Do you want to be recognized as a member of Jesus’ family? Try putting into to practice this maxim from St. Francis de Sales: “The measure of love is to love without measure.”

And today embrace all the sacrifices – great and small – that will surely come with your efforts.

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(January 30, 2019: Wednesday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Their sins and their evildoing I will remember no more…”

There are an infinite number of ways in which God demonstrates his power to us. In the Letter to the Hebrews we hear of one of the most remarkable – and generous – displays of God’s power: “Their sins and evildoing I will remember no more.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but while God may have a long - if not infinite - memory, God does not hold grudges.

We are children of God. We are made in God’s image and likeness. Like God, today are we willing to have long memories without holding grudges?

Spirituality Matters 2019: January 17th - January 23rd

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(January 17, 2019: Saint Anthony, Abbot)
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“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

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

“Anthony was the son of a wealthy Egyptian family. When his parents died, he inherited a fortune, which he gave away to the poor and then moved to the desert west of Alexandria to live as a hermit. St. Athanasius – Anthony’s contemporary and the author of his biography – says that the devil tried to break Anthony’s resolve by tempting him with the pleasures of indolence, fine food and wine and beautiful women. Through intense prayer, Anthony resisted all these temptations, at which point the devil attacked him, beating him into unconsciousness.”

“On rare occasions Anthony returned to civilization - once to encourage martyrs during a period of anti-Christian persecution, and on another occasion to publicly refute the heresy of Arius. In the last decades of his life, Anthony accepted disciples and organized them into a religious community over which he eventually presided as abbot. He remained with his monks until the day he died at the age of 105.” ( This Saint’s for You, p. 325)

Be it in the business of society or the solitude of the desert, St. Anthony appears to have developed a knack for discerning which voices he might have been hearing at any given moment in time. He eschewed the suggestions of the devil and he embraced the promptings of God.

On any given day there are lots of voices vying for our attention. Some of these voices may be temptations coming from the evil one; other voices may be inspirations coming from the Holy One. How can we imitate Anthony’s example? If today you should hear the devilish voice, by all means cover your ears! By contrast, if today you should hear the Divine voice, harden not your heart.

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(January 18, 2019: Friday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not forget the works 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. 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 suffering more from something missing in their humanity. They come off in this story as being sorry excuses for human beings.

Maybe the reason that the scribes failed to recognize a singular work of the Lord in the present (at the hands of Jesus) was due to the fact that they had managed to forget the collective works of the Lord in the past. 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 like something is missing from your humanity? Are you experiencing any resentment? Then “do not forget the works of the Lord.” For that matter, do not forget the works of all the people in your life who have helped to make you who you are today.

And especially don’t forget to be grateful. Your humanity depends on it!

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(January 19, 2019: Saturday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The word of God is living and effective...”

In today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark we see these words from the Letter to the Hebrews in action in the person of Jesus. Jesus’ words are not mere words, but they words mean something. Jesus’ words are commands, invitations, assurances, challenges, promises, and occasionally, even rebukes. Jesus’ words – all of Jesus’ words – are powerful. They make things happen. They change peoples’ lives for the better

Jesus says to Levi, “Follow me.” Levi follows. In another instance Jesus says, “Stand up.” The person stands up. In another instance Jesus says, “Go. Your faith has healed you.” And the person goes. In yet another instance, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” And they are forgiven.

And what about us? Are our words just words or do they mean something? Do our words accomplish things? Do our words makes things happen?

And if so, do they change other peoples’ lives for the better?

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(January 20, 2019: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet…”

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

“Among the crowds in certain senate chambers and parliaments we see ushers crying, ‘Quiet, there!’ thus making more noise than those they wish to silence.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 8, p. 148)

Being a son or daughter of God empowers us (as St. Paul reminds us) with a variety of “spiritual gifts.” Among these is the gift of “prophecy,” the charism – and the courage – to speak the truth when it needs to be spoken. Of course, as St. Francis de Sales suggests, you don’t have to scream and shout in order to be heard.

The story of the wedding feast at Cana in today’s selection from the Gospel of John is a great illustration of this point. When Mary informs her son that the caterers have run out of wine, Jesus initially resists her suggestion that he needed to do something about it. Mary chose not to remain silent; rather she spoke up. However, her way of speaking up, saying to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you” – five simple words – demonstrates that speaking less may actually result in saying more when it comes to practicing prophecy, that is, when saying what needs to be said…and done.

How about us? Today when we exercise the gift of prophecy – when we speak the truth, let alone do what is true – do we say what needs to be said, or do we say nothing while continuing to speak?

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(January 21, 2019: Agnes, Virgin and Martyr)
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Notwithstanding the increasingly common trend of removing all things religious from the public forum, did you know that St. Agnes is still on the books as the patron saint of the Girl Scouts? In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“St. Agnes was chosen because not only was she martyred when she was barely in her teens, but she also possessed many of the qualities the Girl Scouts attempt to cultivate in themselves: courage, honesty, respect for self and for others, and service to God and neighbor.”

“Agnes came from a Christian family in Rome. She was about thirteen years old when she was arrested and hauled before a magistrate for the crime of being a Christian. He threatened to burn her alive, but Agnes would not deny her faith. Next, he tried to force her to join the virgins who served the goddess Vesta, but Agnes refused to perform any function in a pagan temple. Finally, the magistrate ordered the early adolescent to be exposed in a brothel and then beheaded. Despite the fact that Agnes was but one of tens of thousands of Christians martyred during the emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the Church, devotion to her sprang up and spread almost instantly after her death. In imagery and art, Agnes is frequently portrayed with a lamb, a symbol of her innocence and purity as well as a take-off on her name: in Latin, the word for “lamb” is agnus.” ( This Saint’s for You, p. 192)

Perhaps Agnes should also be portrayed with a lion in addition to a lamb. After all, not only was she innocent and pure but also courageous and tenacious…to the death.

Today how might we imitate her example on both scores?

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(January 22, 2019: Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children)
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In his popularization of Bishop Camus’s accounts of the life and legacy of St. Francis de Sales (in The Spirit of Love) CF. 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 that where people ‘were’ was 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 v. Wade and its impact in the United States shows no signs of waning. 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 purpose – and persuasion – as we can.

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(January 23, 2019: Vincent – Deacon, Martyr)
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“Grieved at their hardness of heart…”

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

We see the same dynamic played out in today’s Gospel. Jesus is painfully aware that the Pharisees are looking for any excuse to discredit him, even if it requires demonizing an objectively good and righteous act! In another case of putting the cart before the horse (or perhaps dropping the cart on the horse altogether!) 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.

Spirituality Matters 2019: January 10th - January 16th

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(January 10, 2019: Leonie Aviate, OSFS, Founder and Religious)
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“Anyone who welcomes one such child for my sake welcomes me...”

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

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

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

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

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

~ OR ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(January 11, 2019: Christmas Weekday)
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“You have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God…”

In his book The Spirit of Love, C.F. Kelley wrote:

“If the divine humanism of St. Francis de Sales did not specialize in theology, to what, then, did it give attention? Indeed, if it must be said to have specialized in anything at all, then sure it was the praising of all the divine aspects of human nature. He taught that the abuse of human instincts is the only thing about which we need to be ashamed: we should not be ashamed of our humanity. Rather than speculate about God he preferred to glorify the divinity of man. Instead of thinking about original sin, he thought about redemption. Instead of thinking about punishment, he thought about eternal life. Instead of thinking about grace for the elect, he thought about grace for all. Instead of thinking about God in the head, he thought about God in the heart. Nevertheless, his divine humanism had its opponents: not only Calvinists and Lutherans, Naturalists, Idealists and philosophical skeptics, but others less extreme who emphasized the misery of fallen nature, or others who were afraid of holding man in high esteem for fear of inviting him to somehow dispense with God. Francis de Sales was devoid of this kind of fear. After all, how can someone fear something about which he is not thinking or at which he is not looking? Those who are in love with God and the things of God have raised themselves to where they no longer think or look. They simply love.” (Select Salesian Subjects, p. 115, 0496.)

Note that John uses the present tense in addressing us. He tells us that we “have” eternal life. Rather than presuming that eternal life is reserved solely for the next life, John suggests that eternal life is already available to us in this life. How might we access that eternal life here and now already? As Francis de Sales suggests, eternal life has a great deal to do with how we think about this life. Eternal life has a great deal to do with what we think about – what we focus upon – in this life. Eternal life has a great deal to do with love, and little – or nothing - to do with fear.

How can we experience eternal life? By loving God, the things of God and – most importantly – the people of God.

Beginning with yourself!

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(January 12, 2019: Christmas Weekday)
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“Be on your guard against idols...”

“Idolatry is a pejorative term for the worship of an idol, a physical object such as acult image, as a god or practices believed to verge on worship, such as giving undue honor and regard to created forms other than God. In all the Abrahamic religions idolatry is strongly forbidden, although views as to what constitutes idolatry may differ within and between them. In other religions the use of cult images is accepted, although the term “idolatry” is unlikely to be used within the religion, being inherently disapproving. Which images, ideas, and objects constitute idolatry is often a matter of considerable contention, and within all the Abrahamic religions the term may be used in a very wide sense, with no implication that the behavior objected to consists of the religious worship of a physical object. In addition, theologians have extended the concept to include giving undue importance to aspects of religion other than God, or to non-religious aspects of life in general, with no involvement of images specifically. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods, or demons (for example Satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idolatry)

Odds are pretty slim that any of us actually worship craven images in our homes, offices or places of worhsip. However, there are other ways of practicing idolatry. What might we be tempted to worship in this life? Some idols might include our time, our talents, our opinions, our way of doing or seeing things, our appearance, our popularity or our plans.

Today, be on your guard against idols…whatever they may be!

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(January 13, 2019: Baptism of the Lord)
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“Here is my servant…he shall bring forth justice…not crying out, not shouting....”

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation (on the “Three Spiritual Laws”), Francis de Sales began:

“I turned my attention to the Gospel of today, which makes mention of the baptism of Our Lord and the glorious appearing of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove. Remembering that the Holy Ghost is the love of the Father and of the Son, I thought I ought to give you laws which should be wholly laws of love, and these I have taken from the doves, remembering that the Holy Ghost deigned to take the form of a dove and, moreover, that all souls which are dedicated to the service of the divine Majesty must be like pure and loving doves.” (Conference VIII, p. 105-106)

(The three “Spiritual Laws” that follow have been edited for our contemporary audiences.)

Law One : Do all for God and nothing for yourself

We are made by God, from God and for God. Our glory comes from our God-given dignity. Our glory will be perfectly expressed in our God-given destiny: life on high with Jesus Christ. On any given day it is easy to lose sight of this profound truth and to find our glory in our own personal projects and endeavors. To be sure, there is much work that God wants us to do in the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. God wants us to work at being sources of Christ’s power and promise in the lives of others…but in the end it is ultimately God’s work in which we share, and not something which we cling to for ourselves. Doing what is right is its own reward. As for the glory, leave that for - and give it to - the One to whom it belongs.

Law Two : Make great use of the little you have

Loosening – letting go – is a part of life. Some of what we need to let go of are things that we choose to give away. Some of what we need to let go of are things that are taken from us.

Sometimes it is only when we lose something that we more deeply appreciate that which we still possess. Throughout the life-long process of letting go, we have a fundamental choice. We can complain about that which is no more, or we – while acknowledging our losses – can continue to dream about and work for that which still might be.

Growth in devotion is not measured by how much we have or possess. In the eyes of God, the quality of our lives is measured by how diligently, readily and frequently we take hold – and let go – of all that God gives us, be it great or especially, when it is little.

Law Three : Be the same in sadness and joy

Life is a mix of setbacks and success. Life has its measure of both agony and ecstasy, and of defeat and delight. A sure sign that we are growing in devotion is our ability to embrace both sadness and joy to the same degree, and to experience the ups and downs of life in a reasonable, balanced and even-tempered way. While we cannot control much of what happens to us, we can certainly choose how to respond to what happens to us.

Some folks are great losers but not very good winners. Some folks are great winners but terrible losers. Neither person is very pleasant to be around for long periods of time. Take the good with the bad. Mourn loss. Celebrate gain. Take as your motto the words of Winston Churchill: “Success is never final; failure is never fatal.” In all things, be grateful for who you are and who God calls you to be.

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Francis de Sales desired that the Sisters of the Visitation be ‘spiritual doves:’ people who would devote their strength to bringing “justice to the nations” without being strident. He challenged them to give God his due – and other people their due – not by crying out or shouting but by quietly living their day-to-day lives as best as they could.

Today how might we follow these same “Spiritual Laws” in out attempts to promote justice not only by our words, but also by our deeds? How might we be ‘spiritual doves” in our relationships with others?

For love of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost!

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(January 14, 2019: Monday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“They left their nets and followed him...They left their father along with the hired men and followed him.”

The word left (used twice in today’s Gospel) is, of course, a form of the verb leave, defined as “(1) to go out of or away from; (2) to depart from permanently; quit: to leave a job; (3) to let remain or have remaining behind after going, disappearing, ceasing; (4) to allow to remain in the same place, condition, etc; (5) to let stay or be as specified.”

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, encounters with God almost always seem to involve people “leaving” something, somewhere or someone. Adam and Eve left Eden; Abraham and Sarah left their homeland; Noah left dry land and later left his boat; Moses and the Israelites left Egypt; Mary left in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth; the Magi left the East to follow a star; Mary, Joseph and Jesus left Bethlehem ahead of Herod’s rage; Matthew left his tax collecting post. And in today’s Gospel, Simon, Andrew, James and John left their nets, their livelihood, their families and their homes.

Be that as it may, leaving – at least, as far as God is concerned – isn’t only about walking away from something, somewhere or someone. It’s also about drawing closer to something, somewhere or someone else. Specifically, loving God – and the things of God – frequently invites us to leave that which is comfortable and familiar in order that we might experience that which is challenging and new. By most standards that’s what growth, especially human growth, is all about: knowing when it’s time to leave and move on – even when leaving someone, somewhere or something is good – and sometimes, very, very good!

One of our greatest temptations in life is to stop moving; growing; changing; learning and developing. There was a time when psychologists seemed to suggest that human beings stopped growing somewhere in their twenties or thirties. Today, we know that human beings continue to grow right up until the day they die…or, at least, they are invited to do so. Leaving – as it turns out - is a part of living.

Leaving is not about doing with less. Very often, leaving is about making room for more. Today what might God be asking us to leave in order that we might have more life - and more love – tomorrow?

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(January 15, 2019: Tuesday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

In today’s Gospel we hear that the people of Capernaum were “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 differences include - but are certainly not limited to – these:

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?

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(January 16, 2019: Wednesday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons…”

M. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist, wrote two books on the subject of “demons” - People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil and Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist's Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption . Peck describes in some detail several cases involving his patients. In People of the Lie he provides identifying characteristics of an evil person, whom he classified as having a character disorder. In Glimpses of the Devil Peck goes into significant detail describing how he became interested in exorcism in order to debunk the myth of possession by evil spirits – only to be convinced otherwise after encountering two cases which did not fit into any category known to psychology or psychiatry. Peck came to the conclusion that possession was a rare phenomenon related to evil, and that possessed people are not actually evil; rather, they are doing battle with the forces of evil. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon )

In today’s Gospel – and all throughout the Gospels – we are told that Jesus drove out “demons” as a part of his ministry of proclaiming the power and promise of the Good News. Whether or not you believe in demons – regardless of your thoughts regarding exorcisms – we all struggle with things that plague us, that exasperate us or that appear to ‘possess’ us to the extent that they prevent us from being the people God wants and intends us to be. Despite our best efforts, these “demons” seem impervious to our feeble attempts at conquering, dispelling or exorcizing them. Perhaps therein lies the lesson because the greatest mistake we make in struggling with our own “demons” is to believe that we must do it alone or that we must battle with our “demons” all by ourselves.

Today however large, small, frequent or few they might be, are you willing to bring your “demons” to Jesus?

Spirituality Matters 2019: January 3rd - January 9th

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(January 3, 2019: Most Holy Name of Jesus)
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“Those who have this hope based on him make themselves pure, as he is pure...”

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

This notion of purity might be very helpful in our attempts to understand today’s selection from the First Letter of John. After all, who of us can claim to be “pure?” Who 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, 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.

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!

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(January 4, 2019: Elizabeth Ann Seton, Religious)
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“The person who acts in righteousness 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. The 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 indispensible woman.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 99-100)

Elizabeth Ann Seton was – indeed – a righteous person. She did the right thing 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.

Today how can we imitate her example by doing what is righteous – and being someone righteous – in the lives of others? How can we – like her – be “indispensible” citizens of the Kingdom of God?

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(January 5, 2018: John Neumann, Bishop)
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“Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and in truth...”

“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 remembered less for the way he loved in words and more for the way he loved in deeds.

Could the same be said of us.


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(January 6, 2019: Epiphany of the Lord)
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“They prostrated themselves and did him homage: then, they opened their treasures....”

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

“In the Orient that 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? By opening the most valuable treasure of all - the God-given star of love within your heart.

And by following it!

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(January 7, 2019: Raymond of Penyafort, Priest)
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“They brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain…who were possessed…paralytics…and he cured them.”

“A disease is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism. It may be caused by external factors or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions. In humans, ‘disease’ is often used more broadly to refer to any condition that causes pain, dysfunction, distress, social problems, or death to the person afflicted, or similar problems for those in contact with the person. In this broader sense, it sometimes includesinjuries, disabilities, disorders, syndromes, infections, isolated symptoms, deviant behaviors, and atypical variations of structure and function, while in other contexts and for other purposes these may be considered distinguishable categories. Diseases usually affect people not only physically, but also emotionally, as contracting and living with many diseases can alter one’s perspective on life, and their personality.”

“People use metaphors to make sense of their experiences with disease. The metaphors move disease from an objective thing that exists to an affective experience. The most popular metaphors draw on military concepts: Disease is an enemy that must be feared, fought, battled, and routed. The patient or the healthcare provider is a warrior, rather than a passive victim or bystander. The agents of communicable diseases are invaders; non-communicable diseases constitute internal insurrection or civil war.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disease )

Look at the word closely: “dis-ease.” Dis-ease, then, is anything – be it physical, emotional, psychological, social, spiritual, material – that causes pain, discomfort, agitation, anxiety or distress. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus stands ready to receive any – and all – “dis-eases” with which we – or others we know – are afflicted. Jesus has the power to put us – or others we know – at ease.

How might Jesus put you “at ease” today? How might you imitate His example by doing the same for others?

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(January 8, 2019: Christmas Weekday)
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“In this is love: not that we have loved God but that God has loved us.”

In attempting to describe the ‘love of God,’ Francis de Sales wrote the following in his Treatise on the Love of God:

“This is not a love which natural powers – whether of angels or of men – can produce. It is the Holy Spirit who pours it into our hearts. Just as our souls which give life to our bodies do not take their origin from our bodies but are placed in our bodies by God’s natural providence, so also charity – that is, the love of God – which gives life to our hearts is not extracted from our hearts but is poured into them like a heavenly liquor by the supernatural providence of His divine majesty…We don’t love our parents because they belong to us; we love them because we belong to them. It is thus that we love and desire God: not that He may become our good, but because He is our good; not that He may become ours but because we are His. It is not as though He exists for us: we exist for Him.” (Living Jesus, p. 207; 209-210)

When we describe the “love of God,” we need to be crystal clear that the “love of God” is not about something we do for God - the “love of God” is all about God, and God’s love for us. That said, it says a great deal about God when we consider that God would share this most divine of gifts with us. What return can we possibly make to God for empowering each of us with so wonderful a gift? The truth is we can’t return it. However, we can share it!

With one another!

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(January 9, 2019: Christmas Weekday)
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“There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment…”

And yet, we hear in the Book of Proverbs (9:10): “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Solomon is warning his son that no matter how much knowledge you gain, unless you fear - or stand in total awe of - God, you will not know how to use it. This theme runs through most of the book of Proverbs. It is God who establishes what is moral, what is right and what is good. And if you have no plumb line for your behavior external to yourself, you are like a rudderless ship, driven by changing emotions and opinions and ideas. In that case, your knowledge will not do you -- or anyone else -- much good. You will cause far more disaster than good.

Keep in mind the key word is: beginning. Even the loftiest of projects has to start somewhere. In a perfect world, we would always do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do. Insofar as this world is anything but perfect, however, sometimes we do the right thing for fear of being punished, for fear of getting into trouble or for fear of losing out. St. Jane de Chantal once remarked: “The way of fear closes the heart and only ends in making us avoid evil and do good from the motive of being afraid of reprimands and penances.” (Select Salesian Subjects, p. 127, 0532) However, if our pursuit of wisdom never grows beyond fear, we are doomed to failure. Spiritual maturity requires that we grow beyond fear - that we leave fear behind.

Francis de Sales employs a powerful image to make this point. Referencing the famous scene in which Peter is invited by Jesus to walk upon tempestuous waters, Francis de Sales observed:

“Behold St. Peter. Fear is a greater evil than the evil that is feared. It would have caused him to perish in the waters had not his Master saved him. O child of little faith, fear not! You are walking on the waters – in the midst of the wind and waves – but it is with Jesus. If fear seizes you, cry loudly, ‘ Lord, save me or I perish!’ He will extend His hand to you; clasp it firmly and continue on joyously.” (Words of the Saints: St. Francis de Sales, p. 114)

Fear may be the beginning of wisdom, but as we grow in wisdom we find less use for fear. Where there is love – the fullness of love – there is no room or need – for fear at all.

God is love and there is no fear in Him.

Today what extent can the same be said of us?

Spirituality Matters 2018: December 27th - January 2nd

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(December 27, 2018: St. John, Apostle and Evangelist)
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“The life was made visible...”

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

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

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

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

What a friend we have in Jesus!

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(December 28, 2018: Holy Innocents, Martyrs)
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“A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation…”

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

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

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

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

All hail, ye infant martyr flowers

Cut off in life’s first dawning hours:

As rosebuds snapped in tempest strife,

When Herod sought your Savior’s life.

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

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(December 29, 2018: St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr)
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“This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: to walk just as he walked.”

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)

How do we know that Thomas Becket was “in union” with Jesus? The archbishop of Canterbury walked “just as He walked.” Just as in the case of Jesus, Thomas stood his ground when threatened by the face of oppression. Just as in the case of Jesus, Thomas ultimately gave his life to protect – and promote – the freedom and liberty of others.

How might God call us to walk in the ways of Thomas Becket – and Jesus – today?

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(December 30, 2018: Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph)
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“God’s chosen ones...”

“Public or hidden, the earthly lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph may sometimes seem far removed from our own today. But if we look at them carefully, we can see how their individual lives offer an invitation to grow in our own humanity and holiness. Unfortunately, the Gospel writers say nothing about the life of Jesus between the time he is discovered teaching in the Temple at age twelve and the beginning of his public ministry around age thirty. This eighteen-year period was undoubtedly crucial in the growing self-awareness and maturation of Jesus. But we can imagine this: Over the years, Mary and Joseph most likely came to understand that their son was destined for a unique vocation. At the same time, Jesus probably spent much time preparing for what he may have thought would be his lifelong occupation: that of a carpenter, or what we might also call a craftsman or construction worker.”

“Those same virtues that Jesus acquired as a real-life carpenter (patience, persistence, hard work, honesty and so on) would serve him well in his later ministry. As Jesus matured, God the Father may have been preparing him for his eventual work, much as God can use our own backgrounds and talents for the good. God, in each of our lives, can prepare us for things we might never have predicted!” (James Martin, SJ in Catholic Update: http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/preview.aspx?id=233 )

In a Conference he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation on “Constancy,” Francis de Sales remarked:

“O man, you who are so much disquieted because all things do not succeed according to your wishes, are you not ashamed to see that what you want was not to be found even in the family of Our Lord? Consider, I pray you, the vicissitudes and changes – the alternations of joy and sorrow – which we can find even there.” (Conference III, p. 37)

There’s no question that the family in which Jesus was raised – and of which he was a member – played a pivotal role in the kind of person he would become. Notwithstanding our romanticized and idyllic images of the Holy Family, they, too, - like our families - had their share of headaches and heartaches. They, too, - like our families - had their share of ups and downs. They, too – like our families - had their feasts and famines.

Family life – no matter how wholesome or holy – is never a trouble-free life. Whether you have more in common with the Holy Family or with the Addams Family, both families share this common value - in thick and in thin, in good times and bad, in plenty or paucity, they stick together and they look out for each other.

Can the same be said of our families - God’s chosen ones - as imperfect as we may be?

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(December 31, 2018: Seventh Day within the Octave of the Nativity)
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“Every lie is alien to the truth…”

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

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

Jesus tells us “the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

Do you want to be free? Then don’t merely tell the truth but also be a truthful – and truth-filled – person.

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(January 1, 2019: Mary, Mother of God)
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“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

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

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

As we begin another New year, let us rededicate our lives to the glorious Virgin Mary. Let us honor, venerate and respect her. Let us turn to her. Let us have confidence in her. Let us invoke her maternal love while striving to imitate her virtues. For her part, may Mary – Mother of Jesus – help us in our efforts every day during this New Year to be worthy brothers and sisters of her Son. And in so doing, may God bless us and keep us. May the Lord let his face shine upon us and be gracious to us. May the Lord look upon us kindly and give us peace!

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(January 2, 2019: Basil the Great, Bishop and Doctor)
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“Remain in him...”

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

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

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

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.


Spirituality Matters 2018: December 20th - December 26th

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(December 20, 2015: Thursday, Advent Weekday)
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“May it be done to me according to your word...”

These words spoken by Mary in today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke gets to the heart of the virtue of obedience. In his Conference “On Obedience,” Francis de Sales remarked:

“There are three sorts of pious obedience. The first is that to which is common to all Christians – the obedience due to God in the observance of the commandments. The second is righteous obedience, which is of a far higher value that the first because it concerns itself not only with the commandments of God but also with the observance of His counsels. There is a third kind of obedience of which I wish to speak as being the most perfect: this is called a loving obedience. It follows that those who practice loving obedience love the command given, and so as soon as they are aware of it – whether it be to their taste or not – they embrace it, caress it and cherish it tenderly. It is of this obedience that Our Lord gave us as an example throughout the entire course of His life on earth.” ( Living Jesus, p. 257)

Have you ever considered how Jesus – in the fullness of his humanity – may have acquired something of this loving obedience from Mary, his mother? Have you ever considered how Mary – in the fullness of her humanity – may have modeled something of this loving obedience for her son?

Today how can we imitate this same loving obedience to God in our relationships with one another?

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(December 21, 2018: Friday, Advent Weekday)
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“Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one and come!”

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

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

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

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

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

How can we prepare to receive the God who loves us so much?

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(December 22, 2018: Saturday, Advent Weekday)
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“He has looked upon his lowly servant…and has done great things for me: holy is his name.”

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

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

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

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

Can the same be said of us?

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(December 23, 2018: Fourth Sunday of Advent)
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“Mary set out and traveled in haste.”

The angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary contained 2 discrete, yet related, messages: (1) Mary would be the mother of the long-expected Messiah, & (2) her cousin Elizabeth had conceived a child. No sooner has Mary said ‘yes’ to the invitation to be the mother of the Messiah than she is off "in haste" to visit her cousin.

In a very real sense, long before she actually delivered the child, who would redeem the world from the hopelessness and despair of sin, Mary was already giving birth to the Messiah through her own willingness and eagerness to serve the needs of another. In this case, a relative who, because of her age, might have been considered a woman with a "high risk" pregnancy.

On the face of it, there is nothing noteworthy about Mary's action. After all, wouldn't any decent human being do the same for a relative in need? What makes Mary's service remarkable is the urgency with which she did it. She truly is a model of virtue, one who clearly demonstrates in her own life that the best way of saying "thank you" for God's goodness to her is to be a source of that goodness to others.

St. Francis de Sales observed: “Mary does not consider that she is wasting time when she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. No, it is an act of loving courtesy.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 159) In her ‘haste’ to serve Elizabeth, Mary shows us the path of true devotion. Francis de Sales continues: “God rewards us according to the dignity of the office we exercise. I do not say that we may not aspire to the outstanding virtues, but I do say that we must train ourselves in the little virtues first without which the great ones are often false and deceptive.”

Advent reminds us that the great hope for which we all long is built upon the foundation of little, simple, ordinary things: kindness, graciousness, welcome, patience, honesty, hospitality and compassion. Mary shows us that even the most singular demonstrations of God's love for us, first and foremost, challenge us to recognize the opportunities already present in our ordinary lives to devote our energies in promoting the welfare of one another.

Like Mary, may we come to see that our willingness to do little things for one another with great love and enthusiasm - to display “loving courtesy” - is the first step in our ultimate vocation: to give birth to the Great Promise of God's love for all people - Jesus Christ.

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(December 24, 2018: Monday, Advent Weekday, Mass in the Morning)
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“He promised of old that he would save us from our enemies…”

Advent is a season of promise: a promise that God will “save us from our enemies.” These words beg the question: who are our enemies? How about:

  • Unresolved angers
  • Unadjusted attitudes
  • Unbridled anxieties
  • Unaddressed actions
  • Unrelenting fears
  • Unaddressed hurts
  • Unhelpful memories
  • Unhealed injuries
  • Unhealthy attributes
  • Unpursued hopes
  • Unfulfilled dreams
What are the enemies – the thoughts, the feelings, the attitudes and actions that prevent us from being the people that God wants us to be and from which we need our God to save us?

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(December 24, 2018: Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord)
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“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…”

“Genealogy (from Greek: γενεά, genea, “generation”; and λόγος, 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, this chapter of Matthew 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 today? How can we give convincing witness of our divine kinship today? How can we demonstrate that we are sons and daughters of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ – today?

~ OR ~

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(December 24, 2018: Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord)
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“Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…”

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

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(December 25, 2018: Nativity of the Lord)
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With regard to the great Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Blessed Louis Brisson wrote:

“We honor the three births of Our Lord. In the case of the first we recall the eternal birth of the Son of God in th3 bosom of His Father; in the second, we recall His temporal birth in the stable of Bethlehem; and in the thirds, we recall His mystical both in our hearts by means of Holy Communion and His grace. The consideration of the first birth should lead us to adore the Son of God on the throne of His glory, in the endless reaches of eternity, where equal to His Father He receives the adoration of the angels and seraphim. By contrast, in Bethlehem we adore him on the throne of poverty, which is a throne of love. He hides his grandeur because he wants us to draw near him without fear.”

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

We recognize Jesus at the right hand of the father. We recognize Jesus lying in a manger. Do we recognize that same Jesus within ourselves? Do we recognize that same Jesus in others?

Merry Christmas!

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(December 26, 2018: Saint Stephen, First Martyr)
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“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

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

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

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

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


“You will be hated because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved…”

The day after we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the day after we celebrate the gift of the Incarnation, the day after we celebrate the coming of Emmanuel, God-who-is-with-us, the day after we ponder the miracle of the Word-made-Flesh, we remember the ultimate sacrifice of the first martyr, Stephen. A stark contrast, indeed, to the idyllic images of a newborn babe, of a manger, of barn animals, of shepherds and of choirs of angels.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “Look at the example given by the saints in every walk of life. There is nothing that they have not done in order to love God and be God’s devoted followers. See the martyrs, unconquerable in determination. What torments they suffered to keep their resolutions…” (IDL, V, Chapter 12, p. 284)

The deacon Stephen was “working great wonders and signs among the people”. He was simply being faithful to God’s will for him. He wasn’t looking for a fight. But when others decided to bring the fight to Stephen, he didn’t duck it. No, he stood his ground in giving witness to the power and promise of the Lord, Jesus Christ. He endured to the end, an end that came almost immediately.

We share two things with Stephen: (1) we are called to give witness to the power and promise of the Lord Jesus in our own lives, and (2) we are challenged to endure to the end. As Francis de Sales tells us in so many places throughout his writings, ‘martyrdom’ will not come for most of us in the form of “enduring to the end” of an unexpectedly-shortened life; rather, we are called to bear witness by “enduring to the end” a long, perhaps unexpectedly-exhausting life.

Either way, may God give us the strength to hold our ground in bearing witness to God whenever, wherever and however God may choose!

Spirituality Matters 2018: December 13th - December 19th

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(December 13, 2018: Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr)
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“Fear not, I will help you.”

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

“As is true of many ancient martyrs, few facts are known about Lucy’s life. All that is certain is that her martyrdom occurred during the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Diocletian in Syracuse, the city that has always been the center of devotion to her. By the fifth century an unknown author had recorded a legendary biography of her life. The story says that Lucy came from a Christian family and that by the time she was about twenty years old her father was already dead and her mother was dying from a chronic hemorrhage. In hope of a cure, mother and daughter traveled to Catania to the tomb of St. Agatha. The women spent the night beside the martyr’s tomb, and while they slept, St. Agatha appeared to Lucy in a dream, assuring her that her mother had been healed. In addition, the saint said that Lucy would become famous and revered in her home of Syracuse, just as Agatha had become in Catania. When Lucy’s mother realized she had been cured of her ailment, Lucy took the opportunity to ask her mother to break off her betrothal to a young pagan man and consecrate her virginity to Christ. Her mother agreed and upon returning to Syracuse the two distributed Lucy’s dowry to the poor.”

“Angry at having been jilted, Lucy’s would-be fiancé denounced her as a Christian to the local magistrate. Operating on the principle ‘let the punishment fit the crime,’ he sentenced the virginal Lucy to serve in a brothel. When guards attempted to lead her away, Lucy would not move. No amount of pulling or pushing – not even a team of oxen – could dislodge her. The magistrate then commanded his servants to pile wood around Lucy and burn her where she stood, but the flames billowed away from her. Finally one of the judge’s henchmen plunged a dagger into Lucy’s throat, yet even then she lingered until a priest came to give her viaticum for the last time before she died.” (This Saint’s for You!, pp. 167 – 168 )

God helped this unusual woman in the time of her exceptional decision to give her life for the Lord. Do we believe that this same God will also help us in the midst of the ordinary, everyday decisions to give our lives for the Lord, too?

Fear not - He will!

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(December 14, 2018: Saint John of the Cross
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“Blessed the one who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night...”

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

“John of the Cross had joined the Carmelite order and was ordained a priest just at the time that St. Teresa began her reform of the order’s nuns and friars. Many convents and priories had grown lax. The old austerity had given way to opulent furnishings and expensive food and wine: gossiping with visitors took precedence over prayer. Teresa won the approval of the superiors of Spain’s Carmelites, as well as of King Philip II, to restore the Carmelites’ original principles. But not all the friars wanted to be reformed, and they took out their frustration on Teresa’s chaplain, confessor and protégé, John of the Cross. In 1577 a band of renegade Carmelites kidnapped John and imprisoned him in their priory in Toledo. He spent nearly nine months locked inside a tiny cell with only a three-inch-wide slit for a window. His friar-jailers gave him so little food he almost starved to death. He was refused water for washing and his habit became infested with lice; he was denied candles to dispel the gloom or a fire to warm him in winter. He was brutally flogged, bearing the terrible scars for the rest of his life.”

“Terrified of being locked up forever, John took refuge in meditation, mentally composing some of his finest mystical poems. He also plotted his escape. By mid-August 1578, he managed to dismantle the lock on his cell door and made a rope by tying together strips torn from his blankets. Late one night he crept out of his cell, hurried to the parapet and used his makeshift rope to climb down the priory’s outer wall. Weak and disorientated, John called upon the Blessed Virgin Mary for help. She must have heard his plea because after staggering through the city he found himself at the door of one of Teresa’s convents. Once the nun’s recognized him, they brought him inside their enclosure (something normally forbidden under both Church and civil law). When the friar-jailers and local police arrived looking for John, they searched everywhere except in the enclosure.”

“Once he had regained his health and strength, John wanted to return to his quiet life, but civic and religious leaders prevented this from ever happening. First he served as head of a college; next he was prior of a Carmelite house; and then he was made one of the superiors of the order in Spain. Since he had to be out among people, John took the opportunity to teach others about the joy of meditation. ‘Contemplation,’ he taught, ‘is nothing else but a secret, peaceful and loving infusion of God, which, if admitted, will set the soul on fire with the Spirit of love.’” ( This Saint’s for You!, pp. 268-269)

John of the Cross learned the wisdom of meditating on the Lord’s law day and night the hard way.

Here’s hoping we learn the same lesson with a lot less difficulty!

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(December 15, 2012)
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“You were destined…to turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons.”

Advent is the season during which we are challenged ‘to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. In this season we are challenges to lay down our arms, and to let bygones be bygones.

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

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

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

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

Or return?

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(December 16, 2018: Third Sunday of Advent)
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“Your kindness should be known to all...”

In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul identifies one of the qualities associated with ‘rejoicing in the Lord’ – kindness. And not just any old kindness but a kindness that “should be known by all.”

Today’s Gospel sheds some light on what this kindness - that “should be known by all” – may be. If it has two cloaks, it shares with the person who has no cloak; it does the same with foods and drink. If it collects taxes, it takes only what it is owed. If it wields authority, it should avoid abusing its power. It should be truthful and it should be happy with fair compensation. In sum, Gospel kindness is about being reasonable, being fair; being and just.

Francis de Sales once observed:

“‘Share your bread with the hungry and bring the needy and the homeless into your house’ with a joyful and eager heart. ‘He who performs acts of mercy should do so with cheerfulness.’ The grace of a good deed is doubled when it is done with promptness and speed.” (Living Jesus, pp. 190 – 191)

Do you want to “rejoice in the Lord, always?” Always do your level best to be kind.

And in the process help others to “rejoice in the Lord” as well.

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(December 17, 2018: Monday, Advent Weekday)
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“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…”

“Genealogy (from Greek: γενεά, genea, “generation”; and λόγος, 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 today? How can we give convincing witness of our divine kinship today? How can we demonstrate that we are sons and daughters of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ – today?

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(December 18, 2018: Tuesday, Advent Weekday)
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“He shall reign and govern wisely; he shall do what is just and right in the land…the Lord our justice.”

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

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

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

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(December 19, 2018: Wednesday, Advent Weekday)
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“Consecrated to God from the womb…filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.”

Perhaps it is easy to believe that God loved Samson from the time he first appeared in his mother’s womb. Likewise, it is even easier to believe that God also loved John the Baptizer when he first appeared in his mother’s womb, given the fact that John would announce the coming of the Messiah. After all, Samson – and John – played significant roles in God’s plan of salvation.

God’s love for us from the first moment when we appeared in our mother’s womb – actually, long before each of us appeared anywhere. Ii is not a function of how great or how small our respective roles in God’s plan of salvation may be. Regardless of how famous or anonymous we might be, one thing is certain: each of us is consecrated from our mother’s womb. Each of us is filled with the Holy Spirit from our mother’s womb. God uniquely – and eternally – loves each of us.


Spirituality Matters 2018: December 6th - December 12th

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(December 6, 2018: Thursday, Advent Weekday)
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“A strong city have we; he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.

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

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

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

We have a strong city in the person of Jesus Christ! In Christ we find walls and ramparts in which we find not only protection, but also experience “His life, His body, His soul, His divinity and His happiness.” And perhaps more than ever these days, we could use more than few extra ramparts.

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

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(December 7, 2018: Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“Do you believe I can do this for you?”

Today the Church celebrates the life and legacy of St. Ambrose. We read in Thomas Craughwell’s This Saint’s for You!:

“In St. Ambrose’s day, all Roman boys studied the Latin classics. But Ambrose’s mother found him a tutor who also taught him Greek so that he could read Plato, Aristotle and other great author’s of Greece’s golden age. This mastery of both the Latin and Greek schools of philosophy gave Ambrose an intellectual edge over his contemporaries. As bishop of Milan, he tailored his sermons to fit his audience. To worshippers at Sunday Mass, he spoke of the joys of living virtuously. But when addressing the emperor or Roman senators or some other highbrow audience, he drew upon his classical education to present sophisticated arguments that his cultured listeners would appreciate.”

“Around the year 386, a woman named Monica arrived in Milan and began attending Mass at Ambrose’s cathedral. The sorrow of Monica’s life was that her brilliant son Augustine had rejected Christianity in favor of a pagan sect known as the Manicheans. Upon hearing Ambrose preach, Monica knew she had found a man whose learning equaled – perhaps even surpassed – that of her son. Monica dragged Augustine to Ambrose’s Masses, and her instincts proved true. Augustine was impressed by this bishop who was as familiar with Plato’s philosophy as he was with the four Gospels. After listening to several sermons, he sought out Ambrose for private discussions about Christianity. In time, Ambrose convinced Augustine of the truth of the Catholic faith. On the night of April 24/25, 387, at the Mass of the Easter Vigil, Ambrose baptized Augustine. It was a triumph for classical learning and the faith.” (This Saint’s for You!, p. 246)

Monica believed that Ambrose could change the life of her son for the better – to convert him to the faith – through his words. In today’s Gospel, two blind men believed that Jesus could change their lives for the better – specifically, restore their sight – through his words.

Today, might God invite you to change the life of someone else – for the better – by the words you say.

Do you believe?

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(December 8, 2012: Immaculate Conception)
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“She became mother of all the living...”

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

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

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

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

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

Today which of our mothers will we imitate today?

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(December 9, 2018: Second Sunday of Advent)
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“Prepare the way of the Lord.”

John went throughout the whole region proclaiming a baptism of repentance as it is written using the words of Isaiah: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths."

Just as John the Baptist reminds the people in the region of the Jordan to prepare the way of the Lord, so too we are called to do the same. It started with our Baptism when we became members of the Body of Christ. It happens by our daily words and actions, our call to "Live Jesus" every moment of every day.

Our reading from Baruch reminds us to put on the splendor of the glory of God forever and our Responsorial Psalm reminds us that the Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.

We should ask ourselves - we truly are filled with joy as we prepare the way of the Lord? This joy only happens if we work on our relationship with God and one another. We can not give what we do not have. If God is not the center of our life, we will fail.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales tells us that devotion must be experienced in different ways: by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the widow, the young girl and the married woman. Not only that, but its practice must be adapted to the strength, activities and duties of each individual person.

St. Francis de Sales believes that we must start with our interior, that is, with our prayer life. If we work on building a healthy, ongoing relationship with God, it can go a long way in helping us to build, healthy, ongoing relationships with others. It can help us to put into action the prayer of St. Paul: “I pray always with joy in every prayer for all of you”.

If we are deepening our relationship with God on a daily basis, we will be better able to prepare the way of the Lord with joy in our daily encounters with one another. We will be able to “Live Jesus” every moment of every day.


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(December 10, 2018: Monday, Advent Weekday)
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“Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak. Say to those whose hearts are frightened: be strong, fear not!”

In today’s Gospel Jesus fulfills the prophetic words from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah through prophetic action. First, Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man; second, he heals the man’s paralysis.

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

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

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(December 11, 2018: Tuesday, Advent Weekday)
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“Comfort; give comfort to my people, says your God.”

In a commentary on the necessity to “reprint the Gospel,” Blessed Louis Brisson observed:

“The third evangelical task about which I want to speak is the evangelization of the nations - the preaching of Our Lord. Our Lord has come to earth to give us an example, to instruct us and to redeem us by His sufferings. The preaching of the Gospel was one of the principal reasons for His coming. We, therefore, should reprint the Gospel also by our preaching.”

“All of us should preach. Those who work with their hands as well as those who are occupied with exterior works, those who conduct classes as well as those who teach by example, those who direct souls as well as those who are assigned to the ministry of the pulpit - all of us should preach. We should preach in a practical way. We should teach our neighbor, if not by our words, at least by our actions. If you do so, do you think that you will have no influence on those who see you?” (Cor ad Cor, p. 30)

Today are you looking for a way to “reprint the Gospel?” Are you interested in doing your part to continue “the evangelization of the nations, the preaching of Our Lord?” Then here is one suggestion that comes directly from our God Himself.

“Comfort; give comfort to my people.”

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(December 12, 2018: Our Lady of Guadalupe)
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“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

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

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

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

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

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

Through us?

Spirituality Matters 2018: November 29th - December 5th

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(December 2, 2018: First Sunday of Advent)
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“Be vigilant at all times.”

It is the beginning of yet another season of Advent! It is the time for vigilance. Listen to the words of Blessed Louis Brisson, OSFS:

“Advent means coming. This time is set aside to help prepare us for Christmas. These four weeks of Advent represent the four thousand years that preceded the coming of the Messiah. Throughout these many years the prophets announced the coming of Our Lord. In reading their prophecies we find all the details of His life and sufferings described in advance with as much accuracy as if they had already taken place.”

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

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

Each and every moment of every day has the potential for presenting us with an opportunity for experiencing the “advents of Our Lord”. Of course, as Jesus himself warns us in the Gospel, each and every moment may also have its share of worries and anxieties associated with the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves.

Are we open to considering how the worries and anxieties of life may precisely be the places in which the “advents of Our Lord” may come? Are we vigilant? Are we watchful?

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(December 3, 2018: St. Francis Xavier)
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“Many will come from the east and west...”

When it comes to missionaries, they don’t wait for the “many” people to come to them; rather, many – if not all – missionaries will go themselves to the “many” people. They go to the east, west, north and south - anywhere they need to go – in order to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

We find a clear example of this missionary spirit in the person whose life and legacy we celebrate today: Saint Francis Xavier. In his book This Saint’s for You!, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“Francis Xavier was a man of tremendous zeal, energy and optimism. As a student at the University of Paris he met St. Ignatius of Loyola (a fellow Basque). Led by Ignatius, in 1534 Francis and five friends formed the Society of Jesus (better known as the Jesuits). The first Jesuits hoped they all would serve as missionaries together in the Holy Land; instead, Francis was sent to southwest Asia. He sailed with a convoy of Portuguese ships bound for the colony of Goa, India. The journey consumed thirteen months, and Francis was seasick through most of it. While the Portuguese already had been in Goa for thirty-one years (the city was well established with churches, monasteries and even a bishop), most of the town’s population was composed of cruel, dissolute and vicious men who abandoned the illegitimate children that they had with Indian women, tortured their slaves, despised the helpless and regarded India as their personal property to pillage as they wished.”

“With so much work to be done, Francis maintained an exhausting routine that included visits to the city prison and hospitals, saying Mass for the lepers, teaching catechism to children and slaves, and writing lyrics that explained the basics of Christianity and then setting them to the tunes of popular songs. One of his toughest challenges was trying to convince the Goa Portuguese to live like Christians instead of godless despots.”

“After months in Goa he sailed to the Spice Islands (in what is now Indonesia). There he met three Japanese converts to Christianity. This chance meeting piqued his interest, and once he arrived in Japan the refinement, elegance and courtesy of the people there captivated him. But Francis could never stay long in one place; he wanted to bring the Gospel to China. With the help of a Chinese convert named Anthony, Francis struck a bargain with a Chinese merchant who – for an extravagant fee – agreed to transport him to China. However, the merchant abandoned Francis and Anthony instead on a desolate island. There, Francis fell ill and died, attended by Anthony, two slaves and a Portuguese ship’s captain who’d stumbled upon the castaways.”

“Francis Xavier set a very high standard for missionaries: it is estimated that during a period of eleven years he converted forty-thousand people to Christianity. In 1904 Pope Pius X recognized his achievements by naming him as the patron of missionaries.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 277 – 278)

When it comes to evangelizing – when it comes to continuing the work of Jesus Christ – it could be said that we are all missionaries by virtue of our Baptism. Fr. Brisson believed that evangelizing isn’t only about waiting for people to come to us but also about going to them.

Today, how far are you willing to go to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to others?

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(December 4, 2018: Tuesday, Advent Weekday)
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“The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…”

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

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

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

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

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

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(December 5, 2018: Wednesday, Advent Weekday)
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“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: November 22nd - November 28th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not just in words, but also in deeds!

Spirituality Matters 2018: November 15th - November 21st

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

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

In his instructions of preaching, Blessed Louis Brisson observed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Francis de Sales advises us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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