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?
“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:”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?
“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!
“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?
“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?
"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?
“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?