Spirituality Matters 2017: October 26th - November 1st
(October 26, 2017: Thursday, Twenty-ninth Week in ordinary Time)
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“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”
In a film released in 2004, Denzel Washington stars as John Creasy, a despondent former CIA operative/Force Recon Marine officer-turned-bodyguard. Creasy gets a shot at redemption when he is hired to protect the daughter of a wealthy businessman in Mexico City. When the nine-year-old girl is kidnapped and held for ransom, Washington’s character will stop at nothing to get the young girl back, even to the point (spoiler alert!) of giving his life in exchange for hers.
The name of the film is Man on Fire.
Jesus Christ clearly was a man on fire. He tells us so in today’s Gospel selection from Luke. All throughout the three years of his public ministry, Jesus demonstrated again and again to us that he would stop at nothing to proclaim the power and promise of the Kingdom of God – forgiving the sinner, healing the blind, lame and leprous, finding the lost, raising the lowly, humbling the proud and challenging the haughty. His efforts not only won him many friends, but his efforts also made him more than a few enemies. Undaunted by the challenges of his vocation, Jesus remained faithful to the work of redemption, even to the point of giving his very life for others.
Jesus wants us to be men and women on fire with the love of God and neighbor. Jesus wants us – his brothers and sisters – to be unrelenting in demonstrating in our own lives the power and promise of the Kingdom of God.
How can we get “fired up” for the sake of the Gospel - today?
(October 27, 2017: Friday, Twenty-ninth Week in ordinary Time)
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“For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.”
You can feel the frustration in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Redeemed as he was by Jesus Christ, not only did Paul fail to do many of the things that he knew that he should have done, but he also did many of the things that he knew that he shouldn’t have done. In another place Paul describes this disconnect as if having two men battling inside of him, each wrestling for dominance over the other.
In a letter to Peronne-Marie de Chatel (one of the four original members of the nascent Visitation congregation at Annecy who, notwithstanding her virtues and gifts, nevertheless experienced “discouragement, scruples and even moments of very human impatience and irritation”), Francis de Sales wrote:
“You are right when you say there are two people in you. One person is a bit touchy, resentful and ready to flare up if anyone crosses her; this is the daughter of Eve and therefore bad-tempered. The other person fully intends to belong totally to God and who, in order to be all His, wants to be simply humble and humbly gentle toward everyone…this is the daughter of the glorious Virgin Mary and therefore of good disposition. These two daughters of different mothers fight each other and the good-for-nothing one is so mean that the good one has a hard time defending herself; afterward, the poor dear thinks that she has been beaten and that the wicked one is stronger than she. Not at all! The wicked one is not stronger than you but is more brazen, perverse, unpredictable and stubborn and when you go off crying she is very happy because that’s just so much time wasted, and she is satisfied to make you lose time when she is unable to make you lose eternity.”
“Do not be ashamed of all this, my dear daughter, any more than St. Paul who confesses that there were two men in him – one rebellious toward God, and the other obedient to God. Stir up your courage. Arm yourself with the patience that we should have toward ourselves.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 164-165)
Of course, there aren’t really two people battling inside of us trying to see who will win out! Thank God for that, because most days we have more than enough in handling our singular personalities! Of course, it is discouraging when we don’t live up to God’s standards or even our own. Of course, it is frustrating to make what often times appears to be little progress in the spiritual life. Of course, there’s more good that we should do and more evil that we should avoid. Rather than drive yourself crazy, gently – and firmly – follow Francis de Sales’ advice: “Stir up your courage. Arm yourself with patience that we should have toward ourselves.”
And - of course - with one another.
(October 28, 2017: Simon and Jude, Apostles)
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“He called his disciples to himself…”
Remember the hit TV comedy series Cheers? These are the words from the show’s theme song:
Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go here everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.
In today’s Gospel we hear that even Jesus knew that “making your way in the world…takes everything you’ve got” and that “taking a break from all your worries sure can help a lot”, so he went up to the top of a mountain by himself to spend time in prayer with his Father. The next day, he calls his disciples to himself and named his Apostles. And to this day – nearly two thousand years later – everybody knows their names.
Just today, how can we make a name for ourselves in the service of God and neighbor? Today, how can we treat others in ways that makes them “glad you came”?
(October 29, 2017: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Francis de Sales authored the Treatise on the Love of God. Had he lived long enough, he also intended to write a book on the love of neighbor. What is common to both is charity - the love of God and neighbor. Charity was, and is, in the mind and heart of Francis de Sales, the virtue of virtues. We are called to love our God in a neighborly way, and we are called to love our neighbor in a God-like manner.
Needless to say, but say it we will, Francis de Sales has more than a little to share with us about the nature and practice of charity.
"Just as God created man in his image and likeness, so also God has ordained for us a love in the image and likeness of the love due to God's divinity…Why do we love God? The reason we love God is God himself…Why do we love ourselves in charity? Surely, it is because we are God's image and likeness…Since all people have this same dignity, we also love them as ourselves, that is, in their character as most holy and living images of the divinity…The same charity that produces acts of love of God produces at the same time those of love of neighbor…To love our neighbor in charity is to love God in others and others in God." (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 10, Chapter 11)
For St. Francis de Sales, the love of God and the love of neighbor are not two distinct experiences as much as they are two expressions of the same reality - two sides, as it were, of the same coin. (Recall Jesus’ command in last Sunday’s Gospel to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to render to God what is God’s.”)
“The great St. Augustine says that charity includes all the virtues and performs all their operations in us,” wrote St. Francis de Sales. “These are his words: ‘What is said about virtue being divided into four’ - he means the four cardinal virtues – ‘in my opinion it is said because of the different affections that proceed from love. Hence, I do not hesitate to define those four virtues thus: temperance is love that gives itself entirely to God. Fortitude is love that willingly bears all things for God's sake. Justice is love that serves God alone, and therefore disposes justly all that is subject to human beings. Prudence is love that chooses what is useful to unite itself to God, and rejects all that is harmful.’” (Treatise on the Love of God, Chapter XI, Chapter 8)
"The one who possesses charity has one's soul clothed with a fair wedding garment, which, like that of Joseph, is wrought over with all the various virtues. Moreover, charity has a perfection that contains the virtue of all perfections and the perfections of all virtues." (Ibid)
In charity we find the meeting place of the love of God, the love of self and the love of others. How well do we share this multi-faceted love with those we meet every day? Put another way, how faithful are we in giving what is due to the things of heaven and the things of earth?
(October 30, 2017: Monday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Even as we strive to be “children of God”, we are still imperfect people. Try as we might to do otherwise, there are still many ways in which we live according to the “flesh”. Each of us still retains our share of shadows; all of us still struggle with some elements of darkness. What are we – as children of God called to live in the light of the Spirit – to do about this dilemma? Francis de Sales certainly offers this encouragement:
“It is a great part of our perfection to support one another in our imperfections; what better way is there for us to practice love of our neighbor save in this support?” (Select Salesian Subjects, #0096, p. 22)
The presence of shadows – and even darkness – should not discourage us in our attempts to be who we are: children of God! The spirit does bear witness in our spirit, imperfect as we are.
(October 31, 2017: Tuesday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“To what can I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed…”
It seems paradoxical that Jesus would describe something as vast as the Kingdom of God in terms of one of the smallest of all seeds - the mustard seed. Still, consider how St. Francis de Sales describes eternity in a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde (Peer and Master of the Horse at the courts of both Henri IV and Louis XIII of France):
“Keep your eyes steadfastly fixed on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on; and these as they pass, themselves pass us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But meanwhile, in these passing moments there lies enclosed as in a tiny kernel the seed of all eternity; and in our humble little works of devotion there lies hidden the prize of everlasting glory, and the little pains we take to serve God lead to the repose of a bliss that can never end...” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 236)
Indeed, the Kingdom of God is a big thing. In fact, it is the biggest and the broadest of all things. As Jesus reminds us, however – and as Francis de Sales underscores – sometimes the biggest of things come in very small, ordinary and everyday packages!
(November 1, 2017: All Saints)
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“He began to teach them...”
In her book entitled Saint Francis de Sales and the Protestants (in which she examines his missionary activity in the Chablais, one of the most seminal periods in the life of the “Gentleman Saint”), author Ruth Kleinman wrote:
“Saintliness is hard to practice, but it is even more difficult to describe.” A notable exception to this dictum are the words we hear proclaimed today in the Gospel of Matthew on this Solemnity of All Saints.
Jesus describes saintliness simply and succinctly. It is about living a life of Beatitude:
- Saintly are those who mourn, i.e., those who refuse to harden their hearts when faced with the needs of others.
- Saintly are those who show mercy, i.e., those who are willing to forgo old hurts and to forgive others from their hearts.
- Saintly are those who are poor in spirit, i.e., those who experience everything as a gift and who demonstrate their gratitude through their willingness to share what they have (regardless of how ordinary or extraordinary) with others.
- Saintly are the pure of heart, i.e., those who avoid artificiality and pretense and who have the courage to be their true, authentic selves.
- Saintly are the meek, i.e., those who know that power isn’t demonstrated by taking from others but about giving to others. It’s not about doing to others but about doing for/with others.
- Saintly are the peacemakers, i.e., those who bring people together rather than drive them apart.
- Saintly are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, i.e., those for whom doing good comes with the same frequency and urgency as the need to eat and drink.
- Saintly are those persecuted for doing what is right, i.e., those who are willing to stand up for what is right regardless of the cost(s) incurred.
“There is no need of putting ourselves to the trouble of trying to find out what are the desires of God, for they are all expressed in His commandments and in the counsels of Our Lord Himself gave us in the Sermon on the Mount when He said: ‘How blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the lowly, and the other Beatitudes.’ These are all the desires of God upon which we ought to walk, following these as perfectly as we can.” (Select Salesian Subjects, #0170, p. 37)
Saintliness? To be sure, it is hard work. But with the grace of God – and the support of one another – it is doable!