Spirituality Matters 2019: June 6th - June 12th

*****
(June 6, 2019: Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter)
*****

“Take courage…”

In a letter to Soeur de Soulfour, Francis de Sales offered this advice:

“Be like a little child who, while it knows that its mother is holding its sleeve, walks boldly and runs all around without being distressed at a stumble or fall; after all, it is as yet unsteady on its legs. In the same way, as long as you realize that God is holding on to you by your will and resolution to serve him go on boldly and do not be upset by your setbacks and falls. Continue on joyfully and with your heart as open and widely trustful as possible. If you cannot always be joyful, at least be brave and confident.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 45-46)

Be brave; be confident; be courageous.

Being courageous is not about being foolhardy. Being courageous (as we learn from the Italian word, coragio) is about being a person of heart. We all have issues in life; we all have difficulties in life; we all have setbacks in life; we all have heartaches in life. Often times what distinguishes triumph from tragedy in our attempts to deal with life’s challenges is whether we end up encouraged or discouraged, that is, whether we manage to maintain our hearts or whether we lose our hearts.

Today consider the stumbles and falls that you have experienced in life. How have they left you? Encouraged or discouraged? Are you managing to keep your heart or are you losing it?

*****
(June 7, 2019: Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter)
*****

“Do you love me…?”

In a sermon preached at the Visitation monastery at Annecy on the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in 1618, Francis de Sales observed:

“God wants our love for Him to be a love of choice. He wants us to love Him with a love that chooses Him out from all others. He wants the love which we have for others to be just a faint reflection of the supreme love which we have for Him and to allow His love to reign supreme in our hearts.” “Some foolish people claim that such a commandment to be impossible in this life. Such people make a big mistake! Our Lord would never have given this commandment without also giving us the power to set about doing it. Other people will say that we cannot love God with our whole heart, soul mind and strength; we must share some of our love with our families and friends. Had our Lord commanded us to love Him as the blessed do in heaven, there might be some point to their objection insofar as the love of the angels and the saints never changes; it is never interrupted. As for us, there are many things vying for our time and attention. Yet for all that, our love for God can be strong and unchanging even though we cannot always be actively showing it.” (Pulpit and Pew, pp. 222 - 223)
Francis de Sales concludes his sermon by asking this question: “How can you be sure that you love God?” He lists three “infallible signs:”
  1. “If you love God, you will seek His presence; you will yearn to be close to Him. You will seek Him, not for your own pleasure, but to please Him.”

  2. “The love of too many things dissipates our love and lessens its perfection. We are to love other things besides God, but always put Him first. Be forever ready to forego whomever and/or whatever else we may love as God’s pleasure may require.”

  3. “You are to love one another with a love similar to the love that God has for us – a love that is loyal and unchanging; a love that does not rely on outward appearances; a love that is not impatient of faults and imperfections; a love that is ever ready to lend a helping hand to further our neighbor’s good…all the ways in which God, in his goodness, shows his love for us.”

Do you love God? Jesus told Peter how he should show it! Today how will you demonstrate your love for God?

*****
(June 8, 2019: Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter)
*****

“Who is the one who will betray you…?”

Well, the obvious answer is Judas. We know that he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Later he regretted his betrayal and hanged himself.

Then again, Peter betrayed Jesus by denying that he even knew him - not once, not twice but three times. He regretted it almost immediately and went on to become “the rock” on which Jesus would build his Church. How about James and John? Didn’t they betray Jesus – in a way – by asking for places of honor at his left and at his right? In subsequent years they gave their lives for their faith.

It might make a great deal more sense – and require a lot less time – to ask this question: who is the one who has not betrayed Jesus? The answer would produce a much shorter list. After all, each of us betrays Jesus when we are focused upon our own benefit at the expense of others. Each of us betrays Jesus when we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the needs of others. Each of us betrays Jesus when we decide that we are not up to the challenges that come with being his disciples.

Each of us betrays Jesus when we sin.

Thanks be to God that Jesus doesn’t hold grudges. Thanks be to God that Jesus doesn’t settle old scores. Thanks be to God that Jesus doesn’t hold on to old hurts or betrayals. Imperfect as we are, Jesus continues to say to us, day in and day out: “Follow me”.

Thanks be to God!

*****
(June 9, 2019: Pentecost Sunday)
*****

“Each of us hears them speaking in our own tongue about the marvels that God has accomplished.”

Despite the fact that they were speaking to many people of many languages, from many places and from many cultures, the apostles were, nonetheless, understood by all of their listeners as they proclaimed the marvels that God had accomplished.

How was this possible?

Enflamed by the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were speaking the language of the heart. They were speaking with enthusiasm. They were speaking with gratitude. They were speaking with praise and thanksgiving. They were speaking from their core. They were speaking from their soul. In short, they were speaking the universal language – the language of the heart, which is the language of love.

We are most human - we are most divine - when we speak the language of the heart, when we speak the language of love, when we speak and listen from the soul, when we are grounded in the Word Made Flesh. St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Treatise on the Love of God:

“The Holy Spirit almost always uses words that express union and conjunction when wishing to express a perfect love. ‘And the multitude of believers,’ says St. Luke, ‘had but one heart and one soul.’ Our Savior prayed to his Father for all the faithful to the end that they all ‘might be one.’ St. Paul warns us to be ‘careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ These unities of heart, soul and spirit signify the perfection of love which joins many souls into one.” (Treatise, Book One, Chapter 9)

Communicating is often easier said than done. We misunderstand one another. We presume to know what others are thinking or feeling. We use the same words for which we have different meanings. We have different ways of saying the same thing. We hear, but we fail to listen. We so infrequently use the language of the soul.

St. Francis de Sales tells us that the Holy Spirit comes to inflame the hearts of believers. When we speak and listen from hearts enflamed with joy, truth and gratitude, conflict gives way to understanding, confusion gives way to clarity, estrangement gives way to intimacy, hurt gives way to healing, frustration gives way to forgiveness, violence gives way to peace, sin gives way to salvation, and division gives way to unity.

How might you need to speak – and to hear - the language of love today?

*****
(June 10, 2019: Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church)
*****

“Who told you that you were naked?”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales does not equate happiness with self-centeredness, self-absorption or self-obsession. However, Francis does equate happiness with what he calls self-possession. The Gentleman Saint writes:

“It is man’s great happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls.”

What happiness it is to know and accept yourself for who you are in the sight of God! What delight it is to be comfortable – without being complacent – in your own skin! What joy it is to be essentially at home – to be at peace – with the person that God made you to be! Why, it’s the next best thing to Paradise.

Tragically enough, the ability to be at home with ourselves became the first – and the most fundamental – casualty of The Fall. No sooner had Adam and Eve eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge than their natural state – their nakedness, their transparency – became a reproach. They were embarrassed – they were ashamed – of who they were. Literally, they were no longer comfortable in their own skin. Suddenly sullied by self-alienation and self-loathing, Paradise was lost…and life became a burden.

As we know all-too-well, so much of the misery, sin and sadness that plagues the human family to this very day comes from either (1) the inability to be who we really are, or (2) the fruitless attempt to become someone we’re not.

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

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that he wills all of us to be saved that no one should be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose, through Creation God made us ‘in his own image and likeness’, whereas through the Incarnation God has made himself in our image and likeness.”

The redemptive grace of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the happiness that comes from possessing our own souls. The restorative power of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the joy of being essentially at home with who we are in the sight of God. Wounded as we are by sin, our practice of devotion – our quest to possess our own souls – no longer comes effortlessly as it originally did in Paradise. It requires perpetual practice; it demands tremendous patience That said, God not only promises us the joy and peace born of this heavenly self-acceptance; God also shows us how to achieve it on this earth in the person of his Son.

Jesus embodies the power of self-possession. Jesus exhibits the joy of self-acceptance. Jesus exudes the peace of self-direction. Who better than Jesus shows us what it looks like to be comfortable in one’s own skin? Who better than Jesus demonstrates what it looks like to invite - and to empower - others to do the same?

Not unlike what he did with our first parents, The Evil One hits us where it hurts. Sometimes Satan tempts us to believe that we can’t possibly be happy by being who we are. Other times, Satan tempts us to believe that we’d be happier if we were someone else – perhaps anybody else – other than who we are. In very deep, dark places within our minds and hearts, each and every one of us is tempted to ask this question:

Sinner as I am, weak as I am, wounded as I am and imperfect as I am, why should I believe that God wants me to be comfortable – at home - in my own skin?

*****
(June 11, 2019: Barnabas, Apostle)
*****

"You are salt for the earth…you are light of the world…”

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

“In the time of Jesus salt was connected in people’s minds with three special qualities:

(1) Salt was connected with purity. No doubt its glistening whiteness made such a connection easy to make. The Romans believed that salt was the purest of all things because it came from the purest of all things: the sun and the sea. So then, if Christians are to be salt of the earth, they must be an example of purity.”

“(2) Salt was the most common (and most readily available) of all preservatives. It was used to prevent good things from going bad. So then, if Christians are to be salt for the earth, they must be a remedy for corruption.”

“(3) The greatest and most obvious quality of salt is that it lends flavor to things. Food without salt is a sadly insipid and perhaps even sickening thing. So then, if Christians are to be salt for the earth, they must add flavor to life.” (The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 119-120)

We are created to be salt for the earth. We are meant to be pure, that is, to be unadulterated, to be genuine, and to be real. We are meant to be a remedy for anything in danger of decay or disrepair in life. We are meant to add flavor, gusto and zest to life.

How can we be sources of this divine, life-giving salt in the lives of those whom we encounter today?

Look at the day ahead. What trials – large or little – might be headed your way today? How do you plan to deal with them?

*****
(June 12, 2019: Wednesday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time)
*****

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets...”

Throughout the Gospels Jesus was repeatedly criticized by the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes for not “doing it by the book”. That is, he was accused of abolishing the Law and the prophets by not living by the letter of the Law. In today’s Gospel Jesus responds to that charge by saying not only does He have no intention of abolishing the Law, but also, he plans to go one step further – to fulfill the Law.

And how does Jesus fulfill the Law and the Prophets? He does so by being himself, that is, by performing the works of God in accordance with the will of God, and not by the whims of man – a life described by St. Paul as a life lived in “the Spirit.”

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

“The Holy Spirit dwells in us if we are living members of Jesus Christ, who said to his disciples, ‘He who abides in me, and I in him bears much fruit.’ This is because one who abides in him partakes of his divine Spirit, who is the midst of a person’s heart as a living fountain springs up and flashes its waters into everlasting life...Thus, like a little grain of mustard seed, our works are in now ay comparable in greatness to the tree of glory they produce. Still they have the vigor and virtue to produce it because they proceed from the Holy Spirit. By a wondrous infusion of his grace into our hearts he makes our works become his and yet at the same time they remain our own, since we are members of a head of which he is the Spirit…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 7, pp. 211-212)

So, it turns out that the reason that Jesus did not abolish the Law – even the smallest parts of it – is that he embodied the Law, that is, the Law of the Spirit which supersedes (“fulfills”) the letter of the Law. While we, the followers of Jesus, may need to know how to do it “by the book,” the life of Jesus clearly suggests that there is something much more important than the letter of the law – the law of the Spirit, which leads to life.

Today, how can we do our part in fulfilling Jesus’ law of love through our love for one another?

*****

Spirituality Matters 2019: May 23rd - May 29th

*****
(May 23, 2019: Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter)
*****

“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete…” This debate outlined in the today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles puts us in touch with Francis de Sales’ perspective on two gifts of the Holy Spirit: knowledge and understanding.

The Gift of Knowledge

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

Mere human knowledge only enables us to know the difference between good and evil. Just hearing God’s word doesn’t guarantee the ability to follow it! The Spirit’s gift of knowledge, by contrast, actually enables us to turn away from what is evil and to put our hands to doing what is good.

Francis concludes with this observation.

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

Many practicing Jews – considered knowledgeable of the Law and Prophets – rejected Jesus. Many Gentiles – considered by these same Jews – to be ignorant of the Law and Prophets – accepted Jesus! Tough pill for some to swallow.

The Gift of Understanding

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

There is no substitute for the knowledge that helps us to grow in our understanding of the ways of the Lord. However, we must be careful not to allow knowledge to take the place of understanding. Ultimately, this became the Achilles heel of many of the Jews of Jesus’ day. While Francis de Sales recognizes the need to know the difference between good and evil (and, by extension, to actually do good and to actually avoid evil), such knowledge only comes to full flowering when we demonstrate our understanding of God’s ways through our practice of the Beatitudes, that is, by being sources of blessing, happiness and joy in the lives of others!

How does Jesus make our joy complete? By helping us to be sources – perhaps even signs and wonders - of joy in the lives of one another!

(Based upon a sermon preached by St. Francis de Sales on the feast of Pentecost, date unknown. Translation from Pulpit and Pew: A Study in Salesian Preaching. Vincent Kerns, MSFS.)
*****
(May 24, 2019: Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter)
*****

“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden...”

“Living Jesus” is not always easy. “Living Jesus” brings with it its share of difficulties and challenges. “Living Jesus” will certainly stretch us and challenge us to be more of the people that God calls us to be.

But one thing that “Living Jesus” is not supposed to be is burdensome.

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

“True devotion does us no harm whatsoever, but instead perfects all things. It not only doers no injury to one’s vocation or occupation, but on the contrary adorns and beautifies it. All kinds of precious stones take on greater luster when dipped into honey, each according to its color. In the same way every vocation becomes more agreeable when united with devotion. Care of one’s family is rendered more peaceable, love of husband and wife more sincere, service to one’s prince more faithful and every type of employment more pleasant and agreeable.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 3, p. 44)

If your practice of devotion is weighing you down, you must be doing something wrong. If your attempts at “Living Jesus” make your everyday life more complicated, something’s not right. Perhaps you’re trying too hard. Or, worse yet, maybe you’re trying to “Live Jesus” all by yourself.

Take Jesus at his word! Go to him when you find life burdensome. Let him refresh you. Take up his yolk and learn from him, for he is meek and humble of heart. And you’ll find rest for your soul, for his yolk is easy, and his burden light.

And if you let him, Jesus might even put a spring in your step today!

*****
(May 25, 2019: Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter)
*****

"No slave is greater than the master…”

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

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

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

*****
(May 26, 2019: Sixth Sunday of Easter)
*****

"My peace is my gift to you...but not as the world gives peace."

Jesus makes a distinction in today's Gospel between the "peace as the world offers it" and the peace that comes from him.

Just what does Jesus mean?

The American Heritage Dictionary on the English Language may provide us with some clues. It defines peace as: 1. the absence of war or hostilities. 2. an agreement or treaty to end hostilities. 3. freedom from quarrels or disagreements; harmonious relations. 4. public security and order. 5. inner contentment; serenity.

The vision of peace that the world offers - appropriately enough - tells us that in order to experience true inner contentment we must first establish a world in which there is no war, no hostility, no quarrels, no disagreements, no public disorder or chaos. Tempting as this vision is to pursue, history - the world's and our own - painfully illustrates how truly fleeting and fallacious is this promise of peace…at least, this way of going about it.

By contrast, the peace that Jesus promises starts from within. It's about having a sense of integrity. It's about having a sense of purpose. It's about having a sense of meaning. It's about having a sense of mission. Ultimately, it's about having a clear and unambiguous sense of self, a self that is only fully understood and actualized in the context of one's relationship with God, oneself and others.

This is the kind of peace that the world cannot give.

Ironically, it is Jesus' promise of inner peace that offers the greatest hope for world peace. Only when we have first set aside our own personal hostilities, can we truly work for a world free of war. Only when we have first set aside our own need to be always right, can we strive for a world in which disagreements are not the last word. Only when we have first established some order and direction in our own lives, can we hope to achieve the same on a greater scale. Only when we experience the power and possibility that comes from knowing - and embracing - who we really are in the sight of God, can we become sources of that same power and possibility in the lives of others.

God's peace is not measured by the absence of conflict. God's peace is a function of how dedicated each one of us is to first knowing who we are so that we can see more clearly what the world can be and what steps we must take - together - to make that ideal, however fleeting or fragile, a reality.

Do you want world peace? Then think globally. But, like Jesus, act locally. As the last line of a well-known hymn challenges, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

*****
(May 27, 2019: Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter)
*****

“I have told you this so that you may not fall away…”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a ‘heads up.’ Notwithstanding the imminent arrival of the Paraclete, whom Jesus will send from the Father, there will still be tough – and trying – times ahead for them. Jesus wants them to be prepared so that when the tough – and trying – times come they won’t fall away, that is, they don’t give up.

In a letter to a nun (dated August 20, 1607) Francis de Sales wrote:

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

Francis de Sales’ advice to a nun over four hundred years ago is just as relevant today as it was then. Following Jesus – being a servant of God and a temple of the Holy Spirit – will always bring its share of challenges, trials and tribulations. We sometimes fall – we sometimes fail – in the face of these same challenges, trials and tribulations. However, falling down is not the same as falling away - unless, of course, you choose to stay down after falling down.

If you fall – if you fail – in your attempts to “Live + Jesus” just this day, will you say down, or will you get back up?

*****
(May 28, 2019: Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter)
*****

"Where are you going…?”

Where are you going?

Where are you going?

Can you take me with you?

For my hand is cold

And needs warmth

Where are you going?

"By My Side" (Godspell, 1971)

For some time now Jesus has been telling his disciples that he will be leaving them in order that the Advocate (a.k.a. the Paraclete) can come to them. As we see in today’s Gospel, Jesus is trying to convince them that it will be better for them if he goes. By all accounts, the disciples are having a hard time believing - or accepting – his reassurances.

Put yourself in their position. Jesus keeps talking about going back to the Father while they’d prefer to ask the question: “Where are you going?” They’d prefer to ask the question: “Can’t you stay?” Either way, they are struggling with the fear of losing Jesus; they are struggling with the prospect of being left alone to fend for themselves.

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

“After Jesus had shown himself for a little while to the disciples, he ascended up to heaven, and at length a cloud surrounded him, took him and hid him from their eyes. Jesus Christ, then, is hidden in heaven in God. Jesus Christ is our love, and our love is the life of the soul. Therefore our ‘life is hidden in God with Christ Jesus, and when Christ who is’ our love and therefore our spiritual life ‘shall reappear’ in the Day of Judgment, we shall also appear ‘with him in glory.’” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

For our purposes, let’s hear the question “Where are you going?” in a slightly different way. Just suppose that now it is Jesus who is asking the question of us! Jesus asks us “Where are you going?” today. Where will our steps, conversations and interactions take us today? At the end of the day will we have drawn any closer to the “Day of Judgment” when we shall “appear with him in glory”?

Regardless, we know one thing for sure: no matter where we go, Jesus doesn’t want us to walk alone. He asks us to take Him with us.

*****
(May 29, 2019: Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter)
*****

“The Spirit of truth will guide you to all 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 never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purpose, 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 has more grace and force to excuse us than a lie has…As the Sacred Word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Jesus promises that the “Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth.” How do we know, then, that the Spirit dwells in us? How do other people know that the Spirit dwells in us? We do when we do our level best to tell the truth, when we do our level best to speak the truth, when we do our level best to be truthful, truth-filled people.

*****

Spirituality Matters 2019: May 16th - May 22nd

*****
(May 16, 2019: Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

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

Today!

*****
(May 17, 2019: Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter)
*****

“Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

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

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

How will that place – and the people in it – be better for the way we attempt to live our lives today?

*****
(May 18, 2019: Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And perhaps today even find joy in that!

*****
(May 19, 2019: Fifth Sunday of Easter)
*****

"God's dwelling is with the human race...God will always be with them."

In Part II, Chapter 2 of his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote: “God is in all things and in all places. There is no place or thing in this world where God is not truly present. Just as where birds fly they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are, we find ourselves in God’s presence.”

Easier said than done.

The truth is that we frequently lose sight of God's abiding, loving, and challenging presence. When we forget this truth we frequently get into trouble: “Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore they do not show him the respect that they do after being told of his presence. However, because they do not actually see him they easily forget his presence, and having again forgotten it, they still more easily forget the respect and reverence owed to him...Likewise, we really know that God is present in all things, but because we do not reflect on that fact, we act as if we did not know this.” (Ibid)

When we forget about God's presence we sin; we fail to give God the respect that God deserves. When we forget about God's presence we sin; we fail to give others the respect that they deserve. We might say: “Out of sight, out of sync.” When we fail to see God we are more likely to think, feel and act in ways that are out of sync with who and how God calls us to be.

The Good News is that remembering God's presence not only provides a potent prescription for avoiding sin but also places tremendous power, possibility and potential at our disposal. Practically speaking, remembering God's presence enables us: to be on our best behavior, to be our best, to live lives of love, to do our part in helping to fashion family, church and community in which every tear is wiped away and to create places and relationships in which there is no more death or mourning, wailing or pain. As one sentence in a sermon suggests, we should: “Give God what is right rather than what is left over.”

In short, remembering that God is always with us empowers us to follow St. Francis de Sales' exhortation: "Wherever we may be, we can and should aspire to live a perfect life.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 3). It empowers us to be who we are, and to be that well, in the service of God and one another.

That's a presence -- and a power -- worth remembering

*****
(May 20, 2019: Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****
(May 21, 2019: Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter)
*****

“Peace I leave you; my peace I give you…”

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

“God wishes our care to be a calm and peaceful one as we proceed faithfully along the road marked out for us. As for the rest, we should rest in God’s fatherly care, trying as far as is possible to keep our soul at peace, for the place of God is in peace and in the peaceful and restful heart. You know that when the lake is very calm – and when the winds do not agitate its waters – on a very serene night the sky with all its stars is so perfectly reflected in the water that looking down into its depths the beauty of the heavens is as clearly visible as if we were looking up on high. So when our soul is perfectly calm, unstirred and untroubled by the winds of superfluous cares, unevenness of spirit and inconstancy it is very capable of reflecting in itself the image of Our Lord.” (Conference III, On Constancy, pp. 50-51) Why were people able to see reflections of the Father in the person of his son, Jesus? Because in the depths of his soul – in his heart of hearts – Jesus managed to rest in his Father’s care. No matter what happened around him on any given day, Jesus was able to keep himself “calm, unstirred and untroubled”. If we are having trouble seeing reflections of that same Father in ourselves (or others), perhaps it is because we have some work to do in our own efforts to remain “calm, unstirred and untroubled” as we try to “proceed faithfully along the road marked out for us.”

Jesus adds this caveat as he offers peace to his disciples: “I do not give it as the world gives it…” What does this mean?

In broad strokes, many – if not most - of the things that the “world” offers us as sources of peace tend to come from the outside: income, zip code, cologne, clothing, cars, looks, diplomas, etc., etc. As we see in the case of Jesus, true peace comes from the inside!

It has been said that the essence of peace is being comfortable in your own skin. This way of being at peace, in turn, does not result in complacence. In contrast, it unleashes personal power flowing from a person’s clear and convincing sense of identity and purpose. In the ebb and flow that marked Jesus’ life and ministry, he was – remarkably and powerfully – comfortable in his own skin. He was at home with himself and with his Father’s will for him. Jesus’ way of being at peace, in turn, helped him to unleash this same peace – this power – in the lives of those he touched.

Jesus shows us the way to true peace in his own life – not a peace that is passive, but rather, a peace imbued with potential, possibility and power!

How can we experience that peace ourselves – and share that peace with others – today?

*****
(May 22, 2019: Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter)
*****

“Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit…” (John 15: 1-8)

From the perspective of St. Francis de Sales, the fruit that first comes to mind when hearing these words from Jesus is the most important fruit of all - charity or the love of God. Of course, this fruit-of-fruits is manifested in a whole host of ways. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

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

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

Simply put, how much – and what kind of – fruit do we bear?

*****

Spirituality Matters 2019: May 9th - May 15th

*****
(May 9, 2019: Thursday of the Third Week of Easter)
*****

Do you understand what you are reading?”

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

The Gift of Knowledge

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

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

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

The Gift of Understanding

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

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

Do you understand what you are hearing?

*****
(May 10, 2019: Friday of the Third Week of Easter)
*****

“He recovered his strength…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****
(May 11, 2019: Saturday of the Third Week of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

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

“Pray. O God, strengthen me in these affections and resolutions.”

How can I make a return to the Lord - by being the person that God has created me to be, and by encouraging others to do the same!

*****
(May 12, 2019: Fourth Sunday of Easter)
*****

Remain faithful to the grace of God.”

Paul and Barnabas’ advice to the Church in Antioch to “remain faithful to the grace of God” was sound advice for new believers living in the midst of religious ferment. But what did that pious exhortation practically mean for those who heard it and what does it mean for us today who seek to keep these words of scripture “real” in our lives?

It is a call to Salesian humility and gentleness.

Paul reminds all of us that Christians are called to be faithful. Living in truth about who we are reminds us that we are constantly in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. No one is perfect. We make mistakes and we need to be gentle as we forgive, not excuse, ourselves for them. Perfection allows for no mistakes; faithfulness does not allow us to be conquered by them.

It assumes an ongoing relationship with God in the first place.

How consistent and honest is our prayer life? It’s hard to be faithful to those with whom we never speak.

It demands a new vision.

Remaining faithful to God’s grace calls us to see life, its things and its events, as gifts freely given by a loving, empowering God who is for us and on our side. Our God is a loving Father, a Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep, not an evil hired hand who does not have the flock’s welfare constantly in mind.

It demands flexibility.

Grace, a free gift, cannot be controlled. It can make demands on us and stretch us and lead us to places we never would have gone by ourselves. DeSales once said: “Blessed are those with flexible hearts, for they shall never be broken.” Perhaps we can add: “Blessed too are those of “flexible faithfulness,” for the grace of God will always be there.

Paul and Barnabas’s ministry described in today’s first reading showed flexibility as they turned from their unsuccessful preaching to the Jews towards the more responsive and Spirit-led Gentiles. They looked for and saw the grace of God at work even in the midst of rejection and abuse. On a more humble, but no less important a scale, we are called to that same “flexible faithfulness” as we “preach” the grace of God by the way we live our lives with precision and passion. Paul and Barnabas were filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Our reward can - and will - be no less.

*****
(May 13, 2019: Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****
(May 14, 2019: Matthias, Apostle)
*****

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

In a sermon entitled “Dedicated Hearts,” Francis de Sales stated:

“We might possibly reach a saturation point when it comes to our quest for wealth and honors, but when it comes to loving God, how can we ever say, “I have enough”? No limits can ever be set to our hunger and thirst for Him...’” (Pulpit and Pew, p. 223)

In other words, no matter how happy and joyful we might be, our happiness and joy will always be incomplete unless it includes the love of God. And in what will we find complete joy? In the opinion of St. Francis de Sales, it is experienced through our willingness to be what he describes as a “servant of God.” He wrote:

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

Jesus embodies the fullness of joy. Jesus shows us what a joyful and joy-filled life looks like.

Today, how can we imitate his example today and share His joy – as well as ours – with others?

*****
(May 15, 2019: Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter)
*****

“His commandment is eternal life…”

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

“Many men keep the commandments in the same way that sick men take medicine – more from fear of dying in damnation than for the joy of living according to our Savior’s will. Just as some people dislike taking medicine – now matter how pleasant it may be – simply because it is called medicine, so there are some souls who hold in horror things commanded simply because they are commanded. On the contrary, a loving heart loves the commandments. The more difficult they are the sweeter sand more agreeable it finds them since this more perfectly pleases the beloved and gives him greater honor. It pours forth and sings hymns of joy when God teaches it his commandments. The pilgrim who goes on his way joyously singing adds the labor of singing to that of walking, and yet by this increase of labor he actually lessens his weariness and lightens the hardship of the journey. In like manner the devout lover finds such sweetness in the commandments that nothing in this mortal life comforts and refreshes him so much as the precious burden’s of God’s precepts.” (TLG, Book XIII, Chapter 5, pp. 67-68)

Perhaps in this observation from Francis de Sales we can hear the echo of Jesus’ words from Matthew 11: 29 – 30: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

Seeing the commandments of God as strong medicine that cures our sickness can surely weigh us down but seeing the commandments of God as that which keep us healthy can surely lift us up.

How will you see – and experience – God’s commandments today - as burden or bounty?

*****

Spirituality Matters 2019: May 2nd - May 8th

*****
(May 2, 2019: Thursday of the Second Week of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****
(May 3, 2019: Phillip and James, Apostles)
*****

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

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

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

While not all of us are called to preach from a pulpit, all of us are called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ through our actions. When we preach to others through the lives we attempt to live, do they find themselves a more – or less – abundant life?

*****
(May 4, 2019: Saturday of the Second Week of Easter)
*****

Do not be afraid...

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

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

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

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

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

And not when you don’t!

*****
(May 5, 2019: Third Sunday of Easter)
*****

When you grow old someone else will lead you where you do not want to go."

Let's face it: we'd like to be in charge of our own lives. We like to do what we want, when we want, where we want and how we want. Given a choice, we would prefer to be the masters of our own destiny. Nowhere is this so obvious than in our teenage years and in our experience as young adults.

This touches every dimension of life: even our spiritual life. St. Francis de Sales wrote the following to St. Jane de Chantal: “Young apprentices in the love of God gird themselves; they take on the mortifications that they think are good; they choose a penance of their liking; they choose resignation and devotion of their own design.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 203)

However, gradually, a funny thing - and, sometimes, a not-so-funny thing - happens. We begin to learn some hard lessons about life. We learn that we don't have absolute control; we learn that we don't always have the first word, let alone get the last one. We learn that some of the best things in life are not of our own making, but are the designs of others.

This, too, applies to every dimension of our lives, including the spiritual: “The older masters of the trade allow themselves to be bound and girt by others, submitting to the yoke given to them by others, and finding themselves following the kinds of roads that they would not choose by their own inclinations. They stretch forth their hands: they willingly allow themselves to be governed by a will other than their own...this is how to give glory to God.” (Ibid)

Francis de Sales offers touching insight into his own struggle with this truth in a letter to Sr. Marie Ammie: “I am a poor, frightened little creature, the baby of the family, timid and shy by nature and completely lacking in self-confidence. That is why I should like people to let me live unnoticed and all on my own according to my own inclination." He continued: "When I was young and still had very little understanding I already lived like this; but although according to my temperament I am shy, nervous and timid as a mole, I want to make a good try at overcoming my natural preferences and, little by little, learn to do everything...that God has laid upon me.” (Selected Letters, page 242)

One might say that he secret to happy, healthy and holy living is to embrace the wisdom of age with the passion of our youth: to follow God's will for us rather than to stubbornly cling to our own, but to do this as passionately and persistently as if it were naturally or clearly our own preferences that we were pursuing.

This is not weakness: no, this is real strength. Christ's willingness to follow the will of his Father for him - difficult as it frequently was - unleashed in Jesus incredible power for life and love, justice and peace, healing and reconciliation. The promise of Easter is that the same power is available to us, provided that it is God's plan, not ours, which we follow.

*****
(May 6, 2019: Monday of the Third Week of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

Devotion enables us to follow the law of the Lord. Devotion enables us “to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired.”(Ibid) Such devotion enables us to experience the blessings of life for ourselves; this same devotion enables us to be a blessing in the lives of others.

How might we follow the law of the Lord today?

*****
(May 7, 2019: Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

What have we done for God – or others – lately

*****
(May 8, 2019: Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

Jesus is the bread of life. Whoever comes to him – whoever receives him – will never hunger. Whoever believes in him – whoever receives him – will never thirst: with, perhaps, one exception.

The hunger and thirst to follow Jesus’ example in doing what is good!

* * * * *

Spirituality Matters 2019: April 25th - May 1st

*****
(April 25, 2019: Thursday of the Octave of Easter)
*****

“He showed them his hands and his feet.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****
(April 26, 2019: Friday of the Octave of Easter)
*****

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

Familiar with the term “one-hit wonder?”

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

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

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

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

How might the Risen Jesus reveal himself to you today?

*****
(April 27, 2019: Saturday of the Octave of Easter)
*****

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

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

Peter and John were bold: so bold as to identify themselves as the “companions of Jesus,” so bold as to proclaiming in Jesus “the resurrection of the dead,” and so bold as to heal a crippled man in the name of Jesus. Even after being detained, interrogated and ordered by the Sanhedrin to stop speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus – or else – Peter and John told them flat out that they would continue to speak about what they “had seen and heard” with vim and vigor, apparently without much – if any – care or concern about their own health, wealth or welfare. There can be no doubt that the Pharisees, Scribes and Elders might have considered Peter and John to be – in their own way – “bold, brazen articles!” No surprise here, if you consider that these same Pharisees, Scribes and Elders had formed the same opinion of Jesus.

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

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

*****
(April 28, 2019: Second Sunday of Easter)
*****

“Doubting Thomas” is an image—a moniker—that remains part of our language nearly two thousand years after the (in) famous post-Resurrection interaction between St. Thomas the Apostle and the risen Jesus.

We know by now that St. Francis de Sales drew upon many sources in order to proclaim the redeeming and transforming nature of God’s love. No surprise, then, that the “Gentleman Saint” gleans some valuable insights and lessons from the life—and the most well-known moment in the life—of this Apostle.

In a sermon preached at the Visitation community in Lyons a week before his own death, St. Francis de Sales began: “Historians of our day, when they discuss famous people, have a habit of hiding the truth and drawing a veil over evil, making these authors far from trustworthy. By contrast, the Holy Spirit speaks the truth without fear or favor. It is the normal practice of Holy Scripture to reveal frankly the sins of many very holy people. When the Spirit wishes to point to the forgiveness of Mary Magdalene, or to the tears of St. Peter, or to the conversion of St. Paul, for example, it recalls their faults before recognizing their repentance. It is the same with St. Matthew and others, especially St. Thomas.”

Not to be too hard on “Doubting Thomas,” Francis de Sales quickly reminds us that the “gravity of his fault only throws into even greater relief the infinite mercy of God compared to the unworthiness of sinners. Gods reigns in our wretchedness, so Scripture tells us.”

Doubtless we can all relate!

So, what are the lessons that Francis de Sales gleaned from the story of St. Thomas? “His first mistake was his failure to be present with the others. It is important to notice that no person achieves perfection in one leap, but bit by bit; similarly, no one falls from grace in a moment, but by little faults is led to greater. It is not for us to make light of being absent from the community at prayer or other exercises; if St. Thomas had been with the other apostles, he would have been a saint and a believer eight days sooner. Don’t think that a few days more or less make little difference: moments are precious, and we should hoard them.”

What was Thomas’ second mistake? “His refusal to believe when his companions told him: We have seen the Lord. He should have pressed the other apostles about the Savior’s appearance, and rejoiced with them at their good fortune. The pity is that he did just the opposite, and even went so far as to refuse to admit that he was in the wrong anywhere. All of us share this fault: if we make a mistake, we are unwilling to admit it. The one who makes excuses is his or her own accuser…”

What was his third mistake? Thomas “became stubborn and made wild, obstinate statements...St. Thomas was simply carried away by his passions: such behaviors, theologians tell us, can lead to mortal sin.”

And yet, for all that, God was not finished with Thomas. Because of God’s boundless mercy, this doubting apostle got a second bite at the apple. Jesus appeared to Thomas, and “he placed his fingers into the sacred wounds of his Savior.” And this one who had so strenuously doubted became a great herald of the Risen Christ...and was martyred for his faith.

Unlike Thomas, we need to take even more on faith. We don’t have the same luxury that St. Thomas did as he saw Jesus with his own eyes, both before and after Calvary. Nevertheless, for all our doubts or stubbornness we can nevertheless be transformed by the eyes of faith.

For many of us seeing is – indeed – believing. May others believe in Jesus’ love for them by what they see in us!

*****
(April 29, 2019: Monday of the Second Week of Easter)
*****

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness…”

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

Not so for Peter and John. No sooner had they been released from imprisonment that they resumed proclaiming the Good News publicly with vim and vigor, apparently without much – if any – care or concern about their own health, wealth or welfare. There can be no doubt that the Pharisees, Scribes and Elders might have considered Peter and John to be – in their own way – “bold, brazen articles”! Then again, these same Pharisees, Scribes and Elders had the same opinion of Jesus.

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

In those moments, do we have the courage to do so?

*****
(April 30, 2019: Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****
(May 1, 2019: Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

What do people see in me that gives witness to the truth of what God sees in all of us?

Spirituality Matters 2019: April 18th - April 24th

*****
(April 18, 2019: Holy Thursday)
*****

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

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

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

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

Even to this very moment!

*****
(April 19, 2019: Good Friday)
*****

“He learned obedience from what he suffered…”

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

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

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

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

*****
(April 20, 2019: The Vigil of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****
(April 21, 2019: Resurrection of the Lord)
*****

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

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

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

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

Francis de Sales offers this image in Book 9 of his Treatise on the Love of God: “God commanded the prophet Isaiah to strip himself completely naked. The prophet did this, and went about and preached in this way for three whole days (or, as some say, for three whole years). Then, when the time set for him by God had passed, he put his clothes back on again. So, too, we must strip ourselves of all affections, little and great, and make a frequent examination of our heart to see if it is truly ready to divest itself of all its garments, as Isaiah did. Then, at the proper time we must take up again the affections suitable to the service of charity, so that we may die naked on the cross with our divine Savior and afterwards rise again with him as new people.”

Be certain of one thing - the daily dying to self that is part of living a passionate life is not about dying, stripping and letting go for its own sake. The goal is that we are may be purified to live more faithfully and effectively lives of divine passion. God does not desire that we die to self out of self-deprecation. God desires that we die to self in order that, ironically, we may become more of the person God calls us to be.

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

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

*****
(April 22, 2019: Monday of the Octave of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****
(April 23, 2019: Tuesday of the Octave of Easter)
*****

"Why are you weeping?”

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

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

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

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

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

Alleluia!

*****
(April 24, 2019: Wednesday of the Octave of Easter)
*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

Spirituality Matters 2019: June 13th - June 19th

*****
(June 13, 2019: Anthony of Padua, Priest/Doctor of the Church)
*****

“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus raises the bar when it comes to considering just what it takes in order to “enter into the Kingdom of God. Jesus calls his disciples to a higher love! When it comes to judgment, it’s no longer enough for them to say, “Well, we never killed anybody.” Now, they must also be able to say, “We did not grow angry with somebody else; we did not hold another person in contempt; we didn’t hold a grudge against anybody!” In other words, Jesus calls his disciples to live a higher love!

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales describes what this higher love – “devotion” – looks like:

“Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to his Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do what is good but also enables us to do what is good carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion. Ostriches never fly; hens fly in a clumsy fashion near the ground and only once in a while, while eagles, doves and swallows fly aloft, swiftly and frequently. In like manner sinners in no way fly up towards God but make their way here upon the earth and for the earth. Good people who have not yet attained devotion fly toward God by their good works but do so infrequently, slowly and awkwardly. Devout souls ascend to Him more frequently, promptly and with lofty heights.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

Today, how might we rise to Jesus’ challenge to live a higher love? How might our souls “ascend to Him more frequently, promptly and with lofty heights” with our feet planted firmly on this earth?

*****
(June 14, 2019: Friday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time)
*****

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out…if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off…”

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

“The words of Jesus are not to be taken literally. However, what Jesus is saying is that anything that may entice us to sin is to be ruthlessly rooted out of our lives. If there are habits that tempt us to sin - if there are associations that can increase the likelihood of wrongdoing - if there are pleasures that could lead to our ruin - then such things must be surgically excised from our lives.”

Drawing from wisdom gleaned from countless spiritual classics, Barclay offers a two-pronged approach to rooting out from our minds, hearts and attitudes anything that can serve as a stumbling block in our efforts to imitate the life of Jesus:

“First, do something! One way to defeat negative thoughts or influences is through Christian action. Fill your life so full with Christian labor and service that you have little or no time left for negative thoughts or feelings. One effective cure for evil thoughts or attitudes is being fully engaged in good action.”

Second, fill your mind with good thoughts and your heart with good feelings. “There is a famous scene in Peter Pan in which Peter in the children’s bedroom – they have seen him fly, and they wish to fly, too. They have tried to fly from the floor, and they have tried it from the beds, both resulting in failure. ‘How do you do it?’ John asks Peter. ‘You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts and they will lift you up in the air.’” The other effective remedy for evil thoughts or feelings is to choose to think or feel something else. (The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, pp. 148-150)

Are there negative thoughts, feelings or attitudes that are holding you back from being more like Jesus? While you might be tempted to simply rip them out, it is perhaps more advisable – and far more Salesian – to replace them with good thoughts, feelings and attitudes, and to allow such life-giving transplants to lead to more God-like actions.

*****
(June 15, 2019: Saturday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time)
*****

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the Evil One.”

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

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

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

* * * * *

(June 16, 2019: Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity)

* * * * *

“I was beside God as his craftsman; I was God's delight day by day.”

God is revealed to us as a creating and loving Father, a nourishing and redeeming Son, and an inspiring and challenging Spirit. It is in the image and likeness of the Trinity that we are created; it is in the image and likeness of the Trinity that we are called to live with one another on this earth; it is in the image and likeness of the Trinity that we are destined for the glory of heaven.

Trinity speaks of creative fullness; Trinity speaks of healing abundance; Trinity speaks of inspiring generosity.

The Holy Spirit, the Wisdom of God, is the source of the gifts that we need to experience and embody this Triune God in our daily lives. St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Treatise on the Love of God:

“We need temperance to restrain the rebellious inclinations of sensuality; justice, to do what is right in relation to God, our neighbor and ourselves; fortitude, in order that we might remain faithful in doing what is good and in avoiding what is evil; prudence, to discover the most proper ways for us to pursue what is good and to practice virtue; knowledge, that we might know the true good to which we must aspire, as well as true evil, that we must reject; understanding, to penetrate well into the first and chief foundations or principles of the beauty and excellence of virtue, and; at the very end, wisdom, to contemplate the divine nature, the first source of all that is good.” (TLG, Book 11, Chapter 15)

Do these virtues sound familiar? They should be! We know them as the "seven gifts" of the Holy Spirit.

The love that comes from this triune God, a love that is part and parcel of who we are, contains all of these gifts. Francis de Sales described this love as “a splendid lily that has six petals whiter than snow, and in its center are the beautiful little golden hammers of wisdom that drive into our hearts the loving taste and flavor of the goodness of the Father, our Creator, the mercy of the Son, our Redeemer, and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier.” (Ibid)

As mysterious as the Trinity may be, two things are crystal clear: (1) we are called to embody God's creative fullness, God's healing abundance, and God's inspiring generosity, and (2) we have been given the gifts to make that call a reality.

Today, we pray: Triune God – Father, Son, Spirit – help us to clearly - and convincingly - reflect your image in our own minds, hearts, attitudes and actions. Give us the grace to be your delight day by day in the lives of one another.

* * * * *

(June 17, 2019: Monday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)

* * * * *

“Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.”

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

“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 by us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But in the meantime, in each passing moment 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)

Seen through the lens of Salesian spirituality, St. Paul’s exhortation makes absolute sense. The seed “of all eternity” isn’t found in the past; it isn’t found in the future. It is found only in each and every present moment as it comes!

Just this day.

* * * * *

(June 18, 2019: Tuesday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)

* * * * *

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

It’s safe to say that we all have enemies. We all have people in our lives that we do not like. We all have people in our lives whose company we avoid. We all have people in our lives that rub us the wrong way. We all have people in our lives that push our buttons. We all have people in our lives that drive us crazy.

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

“Antipathies are certain inclinations which excite in us a certain repugnance toward those about whom we entertain these feelings…If I feel a repugnance to conversing with a person whom I know to be most excellent – and from whom I mighty learn much that would do me good – I must not succumb to the antipathy which prompts me to avoid his company. On the contrary, I must discipline myself to listen to the voice of reason telling me rather to seek his company or at least, if I am already in it, to remain there in quiet, peaceful mind…People who are of a harsh, severe disposition will dislike those who are gentle and mild. They will regard such gentleness as extreme weakness, though indeed it is a quality most universally beloved. What remedy is there for these antipathies, since no one, however perfect, can be exempt from them? The only remedy for this evil – as indeed for all other kinds of temptation – is simply to turn away from it and think no more about it…We should never try to justify our reasons for our antipathies, let alone wishing to nourish them. If you have simply a natural, instinctive dislike for anyone, I beseech you to pay no attention to it; turn away your thoughts from it and so trick your mind. When, however, you find these antipathies going too far you must fight against them and overcome them, for reason will never permit us to foster antipathies and evil inclinations for fear of offending God.” (Conference XVI, pp. 298 - 301)

Francis knows the human heart very well. He acknowledges that “this instinctive tendency to love some more than others is natural.” (Ibid) Likes and dislikes are part-and-parcel of life. That said, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Jesus commands us to love those whom we dislike. Jesus commands us to love those who get on our nerves.

Like it or not…and beginning today!

* * * * *

(June 19, 2019: Wednesday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)

* * * * *

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds…that others might see them.”

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

“Humility is the virtue of virtues, but a humility that is generous and peaceable. Preserve a spirit of holy joy which – modestly spreading over your words and actions – gives consolation to the good people who see you, that thus they may glorify God, which is your only aim.” (Living Jesus, p. 150)

Jesus calls us to “perform righteous deeds.” He calls us to live a life of virtue. That said, Jesus cautions us against doing so to win the applause, praise or adulation of others.

Let’s try our level best this day to do the right thing for others. Let’s try our level best to do it for the right reason: to the praise and glory of God!

* * * * *

Spirituality Matters 2019: April 11th - April 17th

*****
(April 11, 2019: Thursday, Fifth Week of Lent)
*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today can the same be said of us?

*****
(April 12, 2019: Friday, Fifth Week of Lent)
*****

“I hear the whisperings of many…”

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

Slander.

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

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

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

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

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

*****
(April 13, 2019: Saturday, Fifth Week of Lent)
*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****
(April 14, 2019: Palm/Passion Sunday)
*****

“The passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ…”

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

  • A passion for human justice.

  • A passion for divine justice. 

  • A passion for doing what is right and good. 

  • A passion for challenging others to promote the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****
(April 15, 2019: Monday of Holy Week)
*****

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

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

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

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

*****
(April 16, 2019: Tuesday of Holy Week)
*****

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

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

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

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

And to live accordingly!

*****
(April 17, 2019: Wednesday of Holy Week)
*****

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

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

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

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

How will we speak to the weary today?

Spirituality Matters 2019: April 4th - April 10th

*****
(April 4, 2019: Isidore, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
*****

“I see how stiff-necked these people are…”

Regardless of what words you use – stiff-necked, obstinate, bull-headed, strong-willed – all of us have at least one thing in common with the Israelites described in to today’s selection from the Book of Exodus.

Stubbornness!

In a letter to Peronne-Marie de Chatel (one of the three women who joined Jane de Chantal at the first Visitation in 1610), Francis de Sales wrote:

“Truly, you are right when you say there are in you two men, or rather, two women. One is a certain Peronne who is a bit touchy, resentful and ready to flare up if anyone crosses her; this is the Peronne who is a daughter of Eve and therefore bad-tempered. The other is a certain Peronne-Marie who fully intends to belong totally to God, and who, in order to be all His, wants to be most simply humble and humbly gentle toward everyone; this is the Peronne-Marie who is a daughter of the glorious Virgin Mary and therefore of good disposition. These two daughters of different mothers fight each other. The good-for-nothing one is so mean that the good one has a hard time defending herself; afterward, the poor dear thinks she has been beaten and that the wicked one is stronger than she. Not at all, my poor dear Peronne-Marie! The wicked one is not stronger than you, but she is more brazen, perverse, unpredictable and stubborn...” (LSD, pp. 164-165)

Most days we already have enough on our plates trying to deal with our own stubbornness without even considering the stubbornness of others. In what ways are we stiff-necked? What are the issues and concerns about which we are obstinate? What are the things about which we are bull-headed? How does our stubbornness get in the way of our relationships with God and others, and perhaps, even my relationship with myself?

Yes, there’s something of both “Peronne-Marie’s” inside each and every one of us. Which one will get the upper hand today?

*****
(April 5, 2019: Vincent Ferrer, Priest)
*****

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

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

Do you get the idea?

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

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

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

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

Of course, this isn’t a perfect world!

*****
(April 6, 2019: Saturday, Fourth Week of lent)
*****

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, we considered how others might find us obnoxious for doing what is right. Today, we might ask ourselves this question: do we ever find people who do the right thing obnoxious to us?

The truth is there might be something of the Pharisees in all of us.

*****
(April 7, 2019: Fifth Sunday of Lent)
*****

"For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things..."

In her book Praying Our Goodbyes, Joyce Rupp writes:

“Goodbyes are a part of every single day. Sometimes we choose them, sometimes they choose us. Usually they are small, not so significant losses that do not pain us very much, but at times they are deep, powerful, wounding experiences that trail around our hearts and pain inside of us for years.”

“Goodbyes, especially the more intense ones, cause us to face the ultimate questions of life: Why is there suffering? Where am I headed? What are my most cherished values? What do I believe about life after death? Goodbyes create a certain space in us where we allow ourselves room to look at life in perspective and to gradually discover answers to some of those questions about life. We also learn a great deal about the significant others in our lives; we learn who is willing to walk the long road with us, whose heart always welcomes us no matter what, who loves us enough to stand with us in good times and in bad, who is willing to love us enough to speak the truth for us or to us. Goodbyes, when reflected upon in faith, can draw us to a greater reliance upon the God of love, our most significant other.” (p. 10; 12)

There is no doubt – because he tells us so – that Paul experienced a great deal of loss and change in his life. But his losses did not leave him with nothing. Rather, his losses helped him to realize one thing that he could never lose in the midst of all the give-and-take that comes with life – the love of Jesus Christ.

Of course, that’s not to say that the love of Jesus shielded Paul from the pain that comes from the inevitable changes and losses of life. After all, Paul tells us that he still struggles to forget what has been left behind. But the love of Jesus helps Paul to make sense of what has come – and gone - before, thus enabling him to focus on what lies ahead, to turn his attention on what is still to come.

Paul’s losses and goodbye’s helped him to recognize in Jesus the most significant, dependable and loving “other” in his life.

What are our losses? How are we dealing with change? Where are our “goodbye’s” taking us?

*****
(April 8, 2019: Monday, Fifth Week of Lent)
*****

“It’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up.”

“After the Watergate break-in, ‘quick action, resolution on the spot,’ could have saved President Nixon, said Prof. Michael Useem, an expert in business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

‘It was the inaction, the cover-up, that absolutely ruined his reputation in history forever,’ he said. Since the Nixon administration, a mantra repeated during many scandals has been, ‘It's not the crime, it's the cover-up.’” (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/01/business/choosing-whether-to-cover-up-or-come-clean.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm)

In today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel, we are presented with what might be considered as the Watergate scandal of the Old Testament: the story of Susanna. In short, two elders of the people attempted to have their way with her – the crime. When she resisted, they accused her of adultery – the cover-up. In effect, they sinned against Susanna twice by (1) attempting to physically assault her, and (2) by falsely assaulting her reputation. In the end, their crime – and perhaps even more so, the cover-up – results in their paying the ultimate price – death.

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

“A soul that has consented to sin must have horror for itself and be washed clean as soon as possible out of the respect it must have for the eyes of God’s Divine Majesty who sees it. Why should we die a spiritual death when we have this sovereign remedy at hand?” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 19, p. 111)

Anyone can make a mistake. Why make it worse for yourself or others by covering it up?

*****
(April 9, 2013: Tuesday, Fifth Week of Lent)
*****

“We have sinned in complaining against the Lord…”

How quickly we forget.

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

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

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

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

On some level, we can all relate to the Israelites. We’ve all experienced tough times. We’ve all gotten bad breaks. We’ve all had our share of difficulties and disappointments. We’ve all had moments when we felt that the road to happiness shouldn’t take so much time, effort and energy. But we also know from our own experience that chronic complaining is toxic. It poisons our perceptions and perspectives, and it ultimately does nothing to address or reduce whatever difficulties we may be facing, be they real and/or imagined. In fact, chronic complaining simply makes things worse – for us, as well as for those around us.

Do you suffer from chronic complaining? If you do, then today try applying the surest remedy of all.

Gratitude!

*****
(April 10, 2019: Wednesday, Fifth Week of Lent)
*****

“The truth will set you free…”

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

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

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

How might this truth set you free today?

* * * * *

Spirituality Matters 2019: March 28th - April 3rd

* * * * *
(March 28, 2019: Thursday, Third Week of lent)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 29, 2019: Friday, Third Week of Lent)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 30, 2019: Saturday, Third Week of Lent)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

The Pharisee and the tax collector are a study in contrast: one’s accounting of God’s graces in his life left him arrogant and aloof, whereas another’s accounting of God’s graces in his life left him humble and grateful.

Who would you rather be today?

* * * * *
(March 31, 2019: Fourth Sunday of Lent)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(April 1, 2019: Monday, Fourth Week of Lent)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

Talk about faith! A faith, as it turns out, for which he and his entire family were richly rewarded.

St. Francis de Sales once wrote:

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

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

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

* * * * *
(April 2, 2019: Tuesday, Fourth Week of Lent)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Today let it flow!

* * * * *
(April 3, 2019: Wednesday, Fourth Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“The Lord is gracious and merciful…”

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2019: March 21st - March 27th

* * * * *
(March 21, 2019: Thursday, Second Week of Lent)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 22, 2019: Friday, Second Week of Lent)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 23, 2019: Saturday, Second Week of Lent)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your answer? Why?

* * * * *
(March 24, 2019: Third Sunday of Lent)
* * * * *

“The place where you stand is holy ground...”

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 25, 2019: Annunciation of the Lord)
* * * * *

“Ask for a sign from the Lord your God…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 26, 2019: Tuesday, Third Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“Let our sacrifice be in your presence today…”

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

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

“Although faith assures us of God’s presence we forget about him and behave as if God were far distant from us because we do not see him with our eyes. We really believe that God is presen5t in all things, but because we do not reflect on this fact we act as if we did not believe it.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)

Whatever we might choose to offer to God today – regardless of what it is that we may want to sacrifice for God today – just remember our offerings and sacrifices are not intended to draw God’s attention to us. Rather, our offerings and sacrifices are designed to draw our attention to God!

Over and over again!

Spirituality Matters 2019: March 14th - March 20th

* * * * *
(March 14, 2019: Thursday, First Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“Ask and it will be given to you…”

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

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

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

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

Himself!

* * * * *
(March 15, 2019: Friday, First Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“If the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die…”

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

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

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

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

And God will affect something of this transformation even today!

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

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

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

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to the Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also do this carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

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

Carefully, frequently and promptly!

* * * * *
(March 17, 2019: Second Sunday in Lent)<
* * * * *

“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

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

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

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

Are you listening?

* * * * *

* * * * *
(March 18, 2019: Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *

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

What does it mean to be merciful as the Father is merciful? As the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel suggests, it is about being generous – by being loyal. Daniel wrote: “Lord, great and awesome, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those people who love you and observe your commandments!” Daniel then proceeds to remind his audience that the Lord also keeps his merciful covenant with those people who rebel against God’s commandments and laws through sin, evil and wickedness. Of course – as we know from our own experience - there is something of both within each one of us – we who both obey and disobey God’s commandments. And still, for all that, God remains loyal to us in good times, in bad times and in all the times in between. God stands by us in all things. God loves us no matter what. God is, after all, “compassion and forgiveness.”

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

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

* * * * *

* * * * *
(March 19, 2019: Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
* * * * *

“Joseph her husband was a righteous man…”

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

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

Joseph experienced more than a little turmoil in his role as husband and father of the Holy Family. However, being the just and righteous man that he was, Joseph never took out his frustrations on his wife or on his son. Rather, he accepted life’s ups and downs as expressions of God’s will for him.

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

* * * * *
(March 20, 2019: Wednesday, Second Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“What do you wish…?”

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

Really – what mother wouldn’t be concerned?

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

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2019: March 7th - March 13th

* * * * *
(March 7, 2019: Thursday after Ash Wednesday)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 8, 2019: Friday after Ash Wednesday)
* * * * *

“This is the fasting that I wish…”

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 9, 2019: Saturday after Ash Wednesday)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

* * * * *
(March 10, 2019: First Sunday of Lent)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You shall not…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 13, 2019: Wednesday, First Week of Lent)
* * * * *

“There is something greater here…”

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

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

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

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

In the midst of our day-to-day lives there is, indeed, “something greater here.” Do we get it or not?

Spirituality Matters 2019: February 28th - March 6th

* * * * *
(February 28, 2019: Thursday, Seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

"Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 1, 2019: Friday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Let your acquaintances be many, but one in a thousand your confidant.”

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

“‘A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality, and those who fear the Lord find him.’ As you see, these divine words chiefly refer to immortality, and for this we must above all else have this faithful friend who by advice and counsel guides our actions and thus protects us from the snares and deceits of the wicked one. For us such a friend will be a treasure of wisdom in affliction, sorrow and failure. Such a friend will serve as a medicine to ease and comfort our hearts when afflicted by spiritual sickness. Such a friend will guard us from evil and make our good still better.” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 4)

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

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

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

But remember – choose your friends wisely.

* * * * *
(March 2, 2019: Saturday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these…

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

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

How might we imitate the example of children today?

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

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

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

Or do we take it for granted?

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

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

* * * * *
(March 3, 2019: Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.”

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

Francis wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 4, 2019: Monday, Eighth Week of Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“You shall not…You shall.”

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 5, 2019: Tuesday, Eighth Week of Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“With each contribution show a cheerful countenance, and pay your tithes in a spirit of joy. Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(March 6, 2019: Ash Wednesday)
* * * * *

“Do not babble like the pagans…”

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

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

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

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

Spirituality Matters 2019: February 21st - February 27th

* * * * *
(February 21, 2019: Thursday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“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.

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

“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?

* * * * *
(February 23, 2019: Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr)
* * * * *

“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.

* * * * *

* * * * *
(February 24, 2019: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…”

+ + + + + + +

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

- sung by Steve Winwood

+ + + + + + +

In today’s Gospel Jesus calls us to a “higher” love. Jesus urges us to avoid practicing or pursuing spiritual minimalism, i.e., looking to do only the bare minimum of what is required or living life by the “good enough” method – quid pro quo won’t cut it.

Jesus’ “higher love” is really at the heart of Francis’ notion of “devotion.” He wrote:

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

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

“Higher love” is its own reward.

* * * * *
(February 25, 2019: Monday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“He said to them in reply, O faithless generation, how long will I be with you?
How long will I endure you?’”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(February 26, 2019: Tuesday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time
* * * * *

“Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not; thus, will you be wise in all your ways. Accept whatever befalls you, when sorrowful, be steadfast, and in crushing misfortune be patient…”

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

# 4. Self-possession

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(February 27, 2019: Wednesday, Seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Whoever is not against us is for us."

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

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

No matter who they are…or aren’t.

Spirituality Matters 2019: February 14th - February 20th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(February 15, 2019: Friday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *
(February 16, 2019: Saturday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“My heart is moved with pity…”

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

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

As we see clearly in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ compassion is more than 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?

* * * * *
(February 17, 2019: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

"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.

* * * * *
(February 18, 2019: Monday, Sixth Week of Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“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.

* * * * *
(February 19, 2019: Tuesday, Sixth Week of Ordinary Time
* * * * *

“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!

* * * * *
(February 20, 2019: Wednesday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“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

* * * * *
(February 7, 2019: Thursday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(February 8, 2019: Friday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“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.

* * * * *
(February 9, 2019: Saturday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Consider yourself found!

* * * * *
(February 10, 2019: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“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?

* * * * *
(February 11, 2019: Our Lady of Lourdes)
* * * * *

“God saw how good it was…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(February 12, 2019: Tuesday, Fifth Week of Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“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?

* * * * *
(February 13, 2019: Wednesday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

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

In 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

* * * * *
(January 31, 2019: Don Bosco, Religious and Founder)
* * * * *

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

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

How might we follow the example of John Bosco in following the example of St. Francis de Sales today? How might God be calling us this day to allow the “sweetness and charity” of St. Francis de Sales to guide us in what we think, what we feel, what we say and what we do with and for one another?

* * * * *
(February 1, 2019: Friday, Third Week in Ordinary Week)
* * * * *

“Remember the days past when – after you had been enlightened – you endured a great contest of suffering…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *
(February 2, 2019: Presentation of the Lord)
* * * * *

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

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

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

St. Francis de Sales was captivated by the notion that God loved us so much that he came to be with us not just in any old manner but in a very specific manner - God became one of us! In the person of Jesus, God gained and experienced first-hand knowledge of what it means to sleep, to wake, to work, to rest, to dance, to cry, to mourn, to struggle, to succeed and to dream.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews clearly believed this truth He wrote that “Jesus had a full share” in blood and flesh...and “had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way.” In this way, Jesus would not only redeem us but also would understand us. This is indeed a great mystery. This is indeed a great intimacy: God so loved us that God took on our nature…God assumed our nature and likeness up close and personal!

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

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

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

Out of love!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best we can.

* * * * *
(February 4, 2019: Monday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

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

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

Especially in the case of John the Baptist!

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

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

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

* * * * *
(February 5, 2019: Memorial of Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr)
* * * * *

“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?

* * * * *
(February 6, 2019: Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs)
* * * * *

“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

* * * * *
(January 24, 2019: Francis de Sales - Bishop, Founder and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *

“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.

* * * * *
(January 25, 2019: Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle)
* * * * *

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.

* * * * *
(January 26, 2019: Timothy and Titus, Bishops)
* * * * *

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)
* * * * *

“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?

* * * * *
(January 28, 2019: Thomas Aquinas, Priest, Religious)
* * * * *

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.

* * * * *
(January 29, 2019: Tuesday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“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.

* * * * *
(January 30, 2019: Wednesday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“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?