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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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.

Today!

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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!

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

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

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?

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(February 2, 2019: Presentation of the Lord)
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"Since the children are people of blood and flesh, Jesus likewise has a full share in these..."

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that 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!

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

* * * * *
(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.

Today?

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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.

Together!

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!

~OR~

“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.

Forever!

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.

Together!

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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?

Today!

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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?

Spirituality Matters 2018: November 8th - November 14th

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(November 8, 2018: Thursday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time )
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“There will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Whence comes all this rejoicing over repentant sinners? In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“God’s favor floats over all life’s difficulties and finds joy in turning all miseries to the greater profit of those who love him. From toil he makes patience spring forth, contempt of this world from inevitable death, and from concupiscence a thousand victories. Just as the rainbow touches the thorn of aspalathus and makes it smell sweeter than the lily, so our Savior’s redemption touches our miseries and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. The angels, says our Savior, have ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance.’ So, too, the state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence. Truly, by the watering of our Savior’s blood – made with the hyssop of the cross – have been restored to a white incomparably better than that possessed by the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we come out of the stream of salvation more pure and clean than if we had never had leprosy.” (TLG, Book II Chapter 6, pp. 116 – 177)

“Redemption is a hundred times better than innocence.”

Given the fact that all of us suffer from the leprosy of sin in any number of ways, not only should the power of repentance make for rejoicing among the angels in heaven, but this repentance should also produce even greater rejoicing among us here on earth! Who else but God could have the power to turn our sins into a means of our salvation?

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(November 9, 2018: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica)
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“You are God’s building...”

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

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

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

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

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(November 10, 2018: Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church)
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“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones…

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

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

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

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

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(November 11, 2018: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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In the first reading today and in the Gospel, we meet two widows who have one thing in common - both put their trust in God rather than in things. In turn, both are rewarded and recognized for their trust and for their faith in God.

In the first reading, the widow is a foreigner to the Hebrews. She is from Zarephath, a coastal city on the Mediterranean. Elijah traveled through this land during a famine. As in all famines, the rich complain and the poor starve. The woman was poor. When Elijah met up with her, she was putting her last scraps together before she and her son would die. Imagine a stranger going up to this woman and asking for food in the name of the Lord. And imagine this woman putting her faith in God and feeding the prophet. Because of her putting her total trust in God, she received enough to eat for a full year.

In the Gospel, the widow puts two small coins into the temple treasury. Jesus said that her donation, although it seemed insignificant, was tremendous because she gave all that she had. Her donation was an act of faith that God would provide for what she needed.

What these two widows did is extremely difficult for most of us to imitate. No matter how great our faith is, it is profoundly difficult to put our total trust in God. There is something within us all that looks for solutions to our problems outside of the realm of faith, or at least, to have a back-up plan ready to go if our prayers don’t pan out.

A great fallacy of our age is that money can solve our problems. It is the job of advertisers to convince us that we can buy happiness. Paradoxically, the happiest of those blessed with material wealth and riches are those who freely share their success with others. Authentic, lasting happiness requires the practice of humility. Only a humble person who recognizes his or her profound need for God is certain that the presence of God in his or her life is fundamental to happiness.

Someday, perhaps we will grow in our ability to acquire the kind of faith that these two widows displayed. But, then again, that is the fundamental reason why we gather together to worship to pray and to celebrate the Sacraments - while we realize that our faith can always be deepened, we also acknowledge that we cannot do that alone. We need God and we need one another.

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(November 12, 2018: Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr )
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“I directed you…that a man be blameless…”

The qualities that Paul associates with a “blameless” bishop include: not being arrogant, not being irritable, not being a drunkard, not being aggressive, not being greedy for sordid gain. On the positive side, a bishop should also be hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy and self-controlled.

The adjective “blameless” is defined as: “Free of blame or guilt; innocent.” Synonyms include “clear, clean, upright, stainless, honest, immaculate, impeccable, virtuous, unsullied, unimpeachable, untarnished, above suspicion, irreproachable, guiltless, unoffending and above suspicion.”

You get the idea!

But notice what being blameless does not require: it does not require being a sinless person or being a perfect person. However, being blameless does seem to imply that as imperfect as we are – and as sinful as we are – we should be people of integrity.

Bishop or no bishop, it’s probably a safe bet that Jesus expects all of us who bear the name “Christian” to be blameless. Given the fact that He himself shows us how to be blameless and gives us the means to become blameless, can you (wait for it) blame Him?

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(November 13, 2018: Frances Xavier Cabrini, Religious and Founder)
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“You must say what is consistent with sound doctrine…so that the word of God may not be discredited.”

What should we infer from today’s selection from Paul’s Letter to Titus? We can talk all we want about what we believe as Christians, but if we really want to give credible witness to the power and promise of God’s word, we need to be more concerned with how we live what we believe. In other words, we actually need to do what we say!

So, what does it look like when we are talking the talk and walking the walk? Paul tells us that we need to be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, loving, reverent, self-controlled and chaste…among other virtues.

When push comes to shove, what do authentic, credible Christians look like? Paul suggests we look for folks who are “eager to do what is good.”

Today, can the same be said about us?

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(November 14, 2018: Wednesday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

We all have skeletons in our respective closets. We all have things in our past about which we are embarrassed or ashamed. In his Letter to Titus, Paul remarks: “We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another.”

As we considered on Monday, who of us can claim to be ‘blameless’?

And yet, because of God’s mercy – because of God’s generosity – there’s more to us than our past. We can have a new present; we can have a new future. Paul continues: “When the kindness and generous love of God our Savior appeared - not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy - he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

The Gospel story of the ten lepers is a powerful illustration of how God’s love can change and transform our past. Jesus cured these men not because of anything that they did to deserve it, but rather Jesus cured them simply because he wished to do so. However, if Jesus did expect anything in return for his pity – for his mercy – for his generosity – he expected some semblance of gratitude.

Today, think about all the good things that God has done for you. Think about how merciful God is. Think about how generous God is. How can we show our gratitude? How can we say “thank you”? Perhaps, Paul says it best.

“Be peaceable, considerate, exercising all graciousness toward everyone.”

Spirituality Matters 2018: November 1st - November 7th

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(November 1, 2018: All Saints)
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“He began to teach them...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(November 2, 2018: Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed)
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“The souls of the just are in the hands of God...”

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

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

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

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

Here’s hoping that we pray for our faithful departed. Here’s hoping that our faithful departed pray for us.

And isn’t it true that all of us could stand to do with some purgation of one kind or another!

Today, and every day!

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(November 3, 2018: Martin de Porres, Religious)
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“I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two...”

In today’s letter to the Philippians, Paul appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place. He is at one and the same time attracted to continuing to live in this world so as to continue his labor for Christ even as he longs to leave this world so as to experience Christ in his fullness. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“What does it matter to me whether God’s will is offered to me in tribulation or consolation? In each of them I neither desire nor seek anything except the divine will, which is better seen because no other beauty is present there but that of God’s most holy, eternal good pleasure. Heroic, yes, more than heroic, is the indifference of St. Paul the incomparable. ‘I am hard pressed,’ he says to the Philippians, ‘from two sides, desiring to be delivered from this body and to be with Christ – a thing far better – and yet to remain in this life for your sake.’”

“Admirable indifference of the Apostle! He sees paradise open to him; he sees a thousand labors on earth. Choice of one or the other is indifferent to him. Only God’s will can give counterweight to his heart. Paradise is no more worthy of love than the miseries of this world if God’s good pleasure lies equally in them both. For him to toil is paradise if God’s will is found in it, whereas paradise is a trial if God’s will is not found in it…” (TLG, Book IX, Chapter 4, p. 106)

In the end, Paul continued his labors of love for Christ and his children in this world until God’s will clearly indicated that it was time for Paul to rest from his labors in the next world. So, too, with us - until the day comes when God clearly indicates that the time has arrived for us to live forever with him and each other in heaven, let’s devote our time and energy to living as best as we possibly can with him and each other on this earth.

No rock and hard place there!

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(November 4, 2018: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In today’s reading, a scribe - that is, a Pharisee with a degree in canon law - “steps up”, presumably in an attempt to put Jesus down. Hence, the question: which of the Ten Commandments plus the six hundred and thirteen rules [the Deuteronomic laws] that rabbis believed God orally gave Moses was the most important of all?

Some rabbis thought all were equally important - a kind of early example of “the seamless garment” notion. Most others used to spend a great deal of time disputing which ones were the greatest.

Jesus’ response is an acceptable one, quoting DT: 6:5 (today’s first reading!), stressing that the love of God must involve the total person: heart, soul, and mind. There are no half measures. Then, Jesus goes on to quote LV19:18, which stresses that we should love our neighbors as ourselves.

Jesus combines these two commandments and declares that they are the foundation of God’s entire revelation. That is, the whole law and the prophets rest on these two pillars. Combining these two may not be unique to Jesus, but it clearly shows his position on his understanding of the Torah.

We have the saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When one part fails, the entirety fails. This saying also applies to love, too, in regard to the three-link chain of love: for ourselves, for our neighbor and for our God. Note the order in which the “loves” are named in the Gospel, however: God, neighbor and self. Love of self, perhaps, is the trickiest one of all.

On the one hand, love of self (what Francis de Sales referred to as “self-love”) from a solely earthly perspective can all-too-easily revert to infantile behavior - life is all about me. I have trouble learning that I am not the center of the universe - as a young child believes. If I fail to learn to admit that I am a sinner, then I am in for trouble. While I might admit that I am not perfect, I might have trouble admitting being wrong in any specific instance. Frequently enough, I will do anything to avoid admitting failure. In sum, I have an overblown sense of the person I really am.

On the other hand, some of us may have been love-starved or abused when young in any number of ways. Authority figures or other powerful role models in our early development may have put us down so heavily that our self-image is badly damaged. From a solely earthly perspective, I may have real trouble loving myself. I may see myself as having little or no value. In sum, I sell myself way too short.

The Romans said it well: in medio stat virtus - in the middle (between the extremes) stands virtue. A healthy self-image stands in the middle. I am not the center of the universe, but neither am I a doormat. I need to check for the need for balance on this first step in the progression from what Francis de Sales calls “self-love” to “love of self”. Which begs the question – what is the difference between the two?

Simply put, “self-love” is all about how I see myself from an earthly perspective. “Love of self” is all about how God sees me; that is, with a heavenly perspective.

What better way to live this virtue than how Jesus did it – by meeting others where they are and by meeting ourselves where we are. After all, we can’t love ourselves and others for the person we aren’t – we can only love ourselves and others for the person we are.

As God sees us.

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(November 5, 2018: Monday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Complete my joy…”

In the movie Sudden Impact (1983), hard-nosed San Francisco detective, Harry Callahan, (played by Clint Eastwood) uttered these now-famous words while challenging a would-be robber to do something stupid (specifically, to pull a gun on him): “Go ahead. Make my day”.

One can hear a parallel in today’s first reading. For all intents and purposes, Paul says the same thing – “Go ahead. Make my day” – while challenging the Philippians to do something good, appealing to “any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, and compassion and mercy.” What will make Paul’s day?

  • Being of the same mind with others
  • Being of the same love with others
  • Being united in heart
  • Doing nothing out of selfishness
  • Putting others first
  • Looking out for others’ interests.
Today, imagine Jesus saying, “Go ahead, make my day” or if you prefer, “Complete my joy”. How can we make Jesus’ day? How can we complete his joy? Try to be of the same mind, heart and love with others. Try to do nothing out of selfishness. Try to put others first by looking out for their interests.

And make your own day – and complete your own joy – in the process!

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(November 6, 2018: Tuesday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus…”

What does it mean to have the ‘attitude’ of Christ? In his great ‘hymn’ to the Philippians, Paul notes that Jesus did not cling to his divinity nor to his power. However, Jesus’ self-emptying is not self-deprecation, because Jesus viewed his divine power as something which – by its very nature – is meant to be placed at the service of others. His self-emptying is the ultimate expression of divine – and, for that matter, human – generosity!

This ‘attitude’ of Christ lies at the very heart of the Beatitude that Jesus taught (and lived): “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Blessed – happy – are those who realize that whatever they possess – whoever they are – is designed, deemed and destined, to be shared with others.

Francis de Sales certainly understood the necessity of having the attitude of Christ. “Our possessions are not our own”, he wrote in the Introduction to the Devout Life. “God has given them to us to cultivate and God wants us to make them fruitful and profitable.” How do we make our possessions – our power – “fruitful and profitable?” The Gentleman Saint is quite clear: “Make yourself a servant of the poor.” (IDL, Part Three, Chapter 15, pp. 164-165)

Do you want to have the “attitude” of Christ? Be generous! Put what you have – and who you are – at the service of others.

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(November 7, 2018: Wednesday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work…”

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

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

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

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

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

Remind yourself throughout this day that God has made you a good person – after all, you are made in God’s very own image and likeness. In like manner remind yourself throughout the day to ask for the grace you need to be instrument’s of God’s good purpose in the lives of other.

Spirituality Matters 2018: October 25th - October 31st

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(October 25, 2018: Thursday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

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

The name of the film is Man on Fire.

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

Earlier this week, we remembered the life and legacy of John Paul II. Like Jesus himself, John Paul II was a man on fire for the Gospel. We recall the electricity that he generated wherever he went when he was in the prime of his life and papacy - he literally traveled all around the globe in his attempts to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. We remember his surviving being shot by a would-be assassin, and how that attempt on his life began a slow and protracted period of physical decline. We witnessed his battle with Parkinson’s disease, and the death that it inevitably hastened. Yet through it all, John Paul faced his mortality with grace and confidence and with a fire – however diminished in the end – that was forever part and parcel of the person he was.

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

Today, how might we get “fired up” for the sake of the Gospel?

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(October 26, 2018: Friday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received...”

What call have we received? We are sons and daughters of God; we are brothers and sisters of Jesus; we are temples of God’s Holy Spirit.

How do we live in a manner worthy of this call? St. Paul is clear and unambiguous: “Live with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

In today’s Responsorial Psalm, we prayed the words “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face”. How do we know if we are making progress in our efforts to “live in a manner worthy of the call” we have received?

The answer is - look to see if other people see in our thoughts, our affections, our attitudes and our actions something of the face of God.

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(October 27, 2018: Saturday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of God’s gift....”

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

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

God has great expectations for us: “Life on high with Jesus Christ”. God – through his mercy, that is, through his generosity – also gives us the grace we need to strive to meet those expectations. How can we possibly show our appreciation for the “grace that was given to each of us according to the measure of God’s gift”? Perhaps St. Francis de Sales said it best. “The measure of love is to love without measure.”

God’s love in our regard is certainly without measure. To what degree can the same be said of our love for one another?

Today!

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(October 28, 2018: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”

Today’s first reading reminds us of the Lord’s promise to the people of Israel that God will protect them and bring them home for He is “the Father of Israel and Ephraim is my firstborn”. God is particularly solicitous of the weak - the blind and the lame, women with children and those who cannot survive on their own.

This concern exhibited by a loving Father gives us some glimpse into the unique relationship between God and His people. St. Francis de Sales continually reminds us of God’s love for his creation. This “truth” certainly makes sense and is very consistent with the fundamental reason for our existence. After all, what child is not loved by his or her parents in a totally gratuitous fashion?

In the second reading, we are confronted with the role of the high priest, human as we all are. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews makes clear that the high priest is able to be compassionate because he, himself, is a wounded healer. Here again, we see the gratuitous nature of our relationship to our God. God gives us a vocation, no matter what our state in life. It is not ours to take, but rather to respond to his invitation.

The Gospel recounts the story of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. What a powerful example of how deeply God loves all of us, but especially those who are disadvantaged. This relationship, while gratuitous, is not passive – in fact, there is a real sense of mutuality on display here. Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus to have pity on him. Jesus, in return, restore the sight of the blind man. The blind man asks that he might be able to see and Jesus tells him that his faith has saved him.

In other words, both men contributed to an interaction that resulted in a miracle!

We ask for the faith that we need to see the fundamental relationship between God and his people. Sometimes, our own brands of blindness prevent us from seeing the unique God-given goodness in other people. Perhaps even more tragically, our blindness prevents us from seeing the unique, God-given goodness in ourselves. This inability to see the good imprisons us and others by denying the possibility of maximizing our gifts and talents for our own good and the good of our brothers and sisters.

Francis de Sales challenges us to emulate the faith of Bartimaeus. He challenges us to be confident enough in our own intrinsic self-worth that we dare to ask our Lord that we might see more of whom we – as well are others – really are, especially in the sight of God.

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(October 29, 2018: Monday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Live as children of the light…”

In his Letter to the Ephesians Paul describes what it looks like when we are living as “children of the light”:

  • We are kind and compassionate to others.
  • We forgive others.
  • We avoid even speaking of things like immorality, impurity or greed.
  • We eschew obscene, silly or suggestive speech.
  • We dedicate ourselves to thanksgiving and gratitude.
Even as we strive to “be imitators of God”, we are still imperfect people. Each of us still retains our share of shadows; all of us still struggle with some elements of darkness. What are we – as children of the light – to do about this dilemma? Francis de Sales certainly offers this encouragement:

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

The presence of shadows – and even darkness – should not discourage us in our attempts to be children of the light. Rather, let us “live in love” – and demonstrate that love – through our support and encouragement of one another.

Today!

* * * * *
(October 30, 2018: Tuesday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“To what can I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed…”

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

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

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

* * * * *
(October 31, 2018: Wednesday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“You have a Master in heaven in whom there is no partiality...”

In today’s selection from his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul outlines a sort of shorthand guide as to how people should treat one another. Children are supposed to honor their parents. Parents are supposed to raise their children without provoking or angering them. Slaves are supposed to serve their masters. Masters must not bully or abuse their slaves.

When it comes to showing respect, there is no caste system in the Kingdom of God. Regardless of how lofty or lowly our positions in this life may be, we are all expected to do “the will of God from the heart…knowing that each person will be requited from the Lord for whatever good” we do. To that end, Paul warns us that we will all be judged by how we treat other people because when it comes to honoring others, God shows no partiality and God has no favorites.

Recall this exhortation in Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and place your neighbor in yours, and then you will act justly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell – and buy – justly. Examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor as you would like your neighbor to be toward you were you in his or her place. This is the touchstone of true reason...” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

When it comes to honoring others – and when it comes to treating them with justice, then just don’t do it in the hope of “currying favor” with God, but do it simply because it is the right thing to do.

And start today!!!

Spirituality Matters 2018: October 18th - October 24th

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(October 18, 2018: Luke, Evangelist)
* * * * *

“The Lord stood by me and gave me strength...”

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

Including being betrayed!

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

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

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

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

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

How? By standing with them today!

* * * * *
(October 19, 2018: John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and Companions, Martyrs)
* * * * *

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more…”

Today’s Gospel reminds us that we can never be certain as to when we will need to provide an accounting to God for the lives we have lived. We’ll never know for sure when we will need to demonstrate how well we have made good use of the gifts, the talents, the blessings – and above all, the life – God has given us.

When that day, that hour or that moment comes, will we be ready?

This consideration is sobering. The reality that each of us will die one day can be more than a bit unsettling. While Francis de Sales himself said that we should fear death, he challenged us not to be afraid of death. If we focus too much upon the inevitability of our last moment on this earth, the fear – and more importantly, the anxiety - it produces could prevent us from living fully each and every present moment that will precede our last moment.

The sacrifice of these Jesuit martyrs gives radical witness to the delicate dance that comes with acknowledging the inevitability of death while not being afraid of death – of owning our immortality without allowing our mortality to prevent us – risks included - from living life to the full.

As members of the Salesian family, we are challenged to be “confident and unafraid” when it comes to facing our mortality. The same God who will judge us at the end of our lives is the same God who gives us the strength and courage to do the best we can throughout our lives.

Francis de Sales offers us sound counsel in our daily attempts to live our mortal lives as best we can with confidence and without fear. “There is no better preparation for a good death than to lead a good life.” The Jesuit Martyrs of North America are a shining example of how there is no better way of preparing for death than by fully living each and every day to the utmost.

Today, how can we imitate their confidence and fearlessness today?

* * * * *
(October 20, 2018: Paul of the Cross)
* * * * *

“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened....”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote on the subject of rash judgments:

“Charity is fearful of meeting evil, so she never looks for it. Whenever she encounters it, she turns away her face and does not look at it. At the first threat of evil, she closes her eyes and later believes with a holy simplicity that it was not really evil but a shadow or mere appearance of evil. If sometimes she cannot help admitting that it is real evil, she quickly turns away and tries to forget its form. Charity is the supreme remedy for every evil, and especially for the evil of rash judgment. ‘All things look yellow to the jaundiced eye’ and …the spirit of rash judgment is truly spiritual jaundice for it causes all things to appear evil to the eyes of those infected with it. Whoever wants to be cured must apply remedies not to his eyes or intellect but to his affections. If your reflections are kind, your judgments will also be kind. If your affections are charitable, your judgments will be likewise…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 165)

We know from our own experience that it is sometimes all-too-easy to look for – and find – the worst in others. Of course, how we look at others often reveals a great deal more about the truth of our own hearts than about our perceptions of others’ lives.

See any signs of spiritual jaundice in the eyes of your heart? How might the eyes of your heart need to be enlightened?

By charity - that is - by love.

* * * * *
(October 21, 2018: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Through his suffering my servant shall justify many.”

Following the admonition of Christ that we should be the servants of others wouldn’t sound so daunting if it weren’t for one little word.

Suffering.

Jesus is very clear: to serve is to suffer and to suffer is to serve. This statement begs the question: did Jesus serve because he liked pain?

Consider the meaning of the word “suffering”. The American Heritage Dictionary describes suffering as “to feel pain or distress; sustain loss, injury, harm or punishment.” Jesus certainly experienced all these things in a big way. In this regard, we have in Christ one who is able to sympathize with us. (Hebrews)

But suffering is more than simply experiencing pain. The same dictionary directs the reader to consider the roots of the English word servant, and therein we find a powerful revelation: in its root meaning, to suffer is to carry, to bear, to “bear children.”

Suffering is not simply the ability to experience pain. No, suffering is the willingness to forbear, to persevere, to carry on in doing what is right and just, what is healthy and holy even in the face of opposition or resistance. Suffering is the pain that comes from efforts at bringing forth life in the lives of others.

This kind of suffering is not powerless passivity. This suffering – divine suffering – is about being proactive. This suffering – this service – is a matter of choice: the choice to love.

Jesus did not love to suffer. Jesus suffered precisely because he was willing to love. Jesus suffered – he persevered – in his commitment to being a source of love in the lives of others.

That’s what made Jesus a servant. That’s what can make us true servants. Like Jesus, while our service will be marked with suffering, it is far more important that it be marked with love.

* * * * *
(October 22, 2018: John Paul II, Pope )
* * * * *

“Take care to guard against all greed…”

Greed is defined as “an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.”

What’s important to note is that greed is not equated with merely possessing material wealth, but that greed is also about having an excessive or inordinate desire to possess material wealth. It isn’t about the amount of the wealth; it’s about the size – and intensity - of the desire for wealth.

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

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

The Gospel parable is a classic example of what Francis de Sales described. The rich man isn’t condemned because he is rich. No, the rich man is condemned because he does not even consider sharing his good fortune – his rich harvest – with others.

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

What kinds of greed – in any form, in all forms - might we need to be careful to guard against, today?

* * * * *
(October 23, 2018: John of Capistrano, Priest)
* * * * *

“He is our peace…”

In a letter to Mother de Chantal, Francis de Sales wrote:

“I entreat you to keep very close to Jesus Christ and your Our Lady and to your good angel in all your business, so that the multiplicity of your many affairs may not make you anxious nor their difficulties dismay you. Do things one by one as best you can, and apply your mind loyally but gently and sweetly. If God gives you good issue we shall bless him for it; if his pleasure should be otherwise, we will bless him all the same. And it will be enough for you that you did your best in complete good faith, since Our Lord and reason do not demand results in things we do, but only our faithful and whole-hearted cooperation, endeavor and diligence; for these depend on us, whereas success does not. God will bless your good intention in undertaking this journey...” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 195-196)

Jesus is the embodiment of this spirit. In success or setback, in acceptance or rejection, in good times or in bad times, Jesus always possessed inner peace in the midst of the multiplicity of his affairs; his “whole-hearted cooperation, endeavor and diligence” were united to his Father’s will. What Jesus did or did not accomplish throughout his earthly ministry was not nearly as important as the fidelity of his relationship with his Father.

So whatever you accomplish – or don’t accomplish – just this day, try above all things to do this one thing.

To remain in peace!

* * * * *
(October 24, 2018: Anthony Mary Claret, Bishop)
* * * * *

“You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come…”

We all know the expression, “Hindsight is 20-20.” As we know from our own experience, often times it is much easier to recognize the truth about something hours, days, weeks or perhaps, even years after the fact. While hindsight is better than having no sight at all, there are certain limitations associated with recognizing how God has been active in one’s life only after further reflection.

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2018: October 11th - October 17th

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(October 11, 2018: John XXIII, Pope)
* * * * *

“He will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence...”

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

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

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

In some cases, maybe even over a lifetime.

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

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

* * * * *
(October 12, 2018: Blessed Louis Brisson - Priest, Founder and religious)
* * * * *

~ PROPER READINGS ~

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

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

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

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

Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to John

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel of the Lord.

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we reprint the Gospel today?

* * * * *
(October 13, 2018: Saturday, Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Come what may!

* * * * *
(October 14, 2018: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.”

In the closing minutes of the movie Field of Dreams, the character of Thomas Mann is invited by the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson to come “out” with the team. Ray Concella is incensed. Why is the writer invited instead of Ray? Ray launches into a litany of all the things that he has done in following the promptings of the “voice” and ends with the statement: “Not once have I asked what’s in it for me!” The ghost inquires: “What are you saying, Ray?” Ray responds: “I’m saying - what’s in it for me?”

How honest! How revealing! How human!

We hear echoes of this same refrain in St. Peter’s statement in today’s Gospel: “We have put aside everything to follow you.” Implied? “What’s in it for us?”

The truth is that the Good News never seems to let up. God never settles for less or for just “getting by”. Even as we grow in our love for God, ourselves and others, the Good News always calls us to give more, to go deeper and to press on. The truth is that the Good News is not about being “good enough” or simply “getting by”. No wonder we sometimes ask the questions - “What more do you want?” that can turn into, “What’s in it for me?”

What’s in it for us is a twofold promise. First, we are promised that we will come to know the joy associated with being more concerned about giving than receiving. We will experience in this life the freedom that comes with allowing God to penetrate all – not just some – of whom we are. In short, we experience the wealth that is only known by generous people. Second, we are promised that there will come a day when we will enjoy this God-given freedom forever in a life that never ends.

So, what’s in it for us? How about purpose, meaning and direction in this life! How about the fullness of purpose, meaning and direction – and so many other gifts – in the life to come!

Now that’s Good News!

* * * * *
(October 15, 2018: Teresa of Avila, Religious and Doctor of the Church
* * * * *

“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm…”

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

“Every day – all day long – God pours his grace upon the world. Those who accept it – who cooperate with God’s will – draw closer to the Lord, as in the case of St. Teresa of Avila, the patron of souls in need of divine grace. The easygoing life of the Carmelite convent she entered was not conducive to the contemplative life. So, she began planning a new branch of the Carmelites, one that would bring nuns (and friars) back to the order’s original commitment to a life of austerity and deep prayer…St. Teresa’s legacy is her collection of spiritual writings. She was the first Catholic woman to write systematically about prayer and the interior life. In 1970, upon naming her a Doctor of the Church, Pope Paul VI praised Teresa as ‘a teacher of remarkable depth.’”

Insofar as Teresa died in 1582, her writings were well known by the “Gentleman Saint”. In a letter to Madame de Chantal (1605), Francis de Sales wrote:

“The practice of the presence of God taught by Mother Teresa in chapters 29 and 30 of The Way of Perfection is excellent, and I think it amounts to the same as I explained to you when I wrote that God was in our spirit as though he were the heart of our spirit and in our heart as the spirit which breathes life into it, and that David called God: the God of his heart. Use this boldly and often for it is most useful. May God be the soul and spirit of our heart forever….” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 160 – 161)

Through her writings and the accounts of her life, we see in Teresa the heart of a woman set free in Christ.

Today, how might we experience something of that same freedom today?

* * * * *
(October 16, 2018: Margaret Mary Alacoque, Religious and Mystic)
* * * * *

“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm…”

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

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

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

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

How ironic that God would choose a religious woman living in a cloistered community to become the herald (with the help of Claude de la Colombiere, of course!) of Christ’s unbounded love as seen so clearly in the image of his Sacred Heart? As Jesus told us late last week, nothing – however seemingly unlikely – is “impossible with God”. God took a personal, private revelation of his love to Margaret Mary and managed to transform it into a universal expression of love!

Notwithstanding her personal liabilities and the wholesale skepticism of her own community members and local clergy, Margaret Mary never relented in her fidelity to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

To what degree could the same be said of us?

* * * * *
(October 17, 2018: Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr)
* * * * *

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

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

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

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

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

We do not know if Ignatius was afraid of his impending martyrdom. We do know that he was brave enough to face – and embrace – it. In other words, afraid as he might have been of death – and a violent death at that – he nevertheless acknowledged Jesus Christ before others.

Today, how might we imitate his example of courage by facing – and embracing – the challenges that we will meet? In ways that fit the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves today, how might we display the “fruit of the Spirit”?