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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:
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
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
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
“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
* * * * *
(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
How can we experience eternal life? By loving God, the things of God and –
most importantly – the people of God.
Beginning with yourself!
* * * * *
(January 12, 2019: Christmas Weekday)
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“Be on your guard against idols...”
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
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,
ancestors, the state,
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!
* * * * *
(January 13, 2019: Baptism of the Lord)
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“Here is my servant…he shall bring forth justice…not crying out, not
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
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
* * * * *
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!
* * * * *
(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
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?
* * * * *
(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. (
When other people encounter us – especially as it relates to matters of
faith, life and love – to whom do we bear a greater resemblance: the
scribes, or The Christ?
* * * * *
(January 16, 2019: Wednesday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“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. (
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?