Spirituality Matters 2018: May 3rd - May 9th
(May 3, 2018: Philip and James, Apostles )
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“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)
Philip and James – as in the case of all the Apostles – preached the Good News of Jesus Christ in order that others might be saved. They spent their lives holding fast to the word of God even as they shared that word with others, to the point of shedding their blood.
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. How might we hold fast to the word preached to us by the quality of our lives lived with others, that is, to help others to have life – and have it abundantly?
(May 4, 2018: Friday, Fifth Week of Easter )
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“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities…”
In today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles, we see an exercise of what might be called “pastoral discretion”. As growing numbers of Gentiles became disciples of Jesus Christ, apparently some of the more-established Jewish converts were attempting to impose what would have been considered traditional Jewish customs on their Gentile brothers and sisters. Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas were sent to Antioch – boots on the ground – to sort these things out. In the end, they determined that “less was more”. They dispensed with the temptation to load people with burdensome obligations while at the same time establishing a minimum threshold: “Abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals and from unlawful marriage”.
In his own way, Francis de Sales practiced a less-is-more approach to pastoral discretion. In a day when many spiritual guides were (however unintentionally) burdening people who were seeking to live a devout life, with practice after practice after practice, Francis established this minimum threshold: follow the commands and counsels of God carefully, frequently and promptly – his shorthand definition of devotion.
What’s the moral to the story? Following Jesus consists less in carrying heavy burdens and more about only doing what is right – doing good things for God and others carefully, frequently and promptly!
(May 5, 2018: Saturday, Fifth Week of Easter )
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"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?
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