Spirituality Matters 2017: September 14th - September 20th

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(September 14, 2017: Exultation of the Holy Cross)
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Nm 21:4b-9     Ps 78:1bc-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38     Phil 2:6-11     Jn 3:13-17

“He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

In a sermon preached on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Francis de Sales remarked:

“St. Paul, the outstanding master and teacher of the newborn Church, discovered in the crucified Christ the blissful wellspring of his love, the theme of his sermons, the source of his boasting, the goal of all his ambitions in this world and the anchor of all his hopes for the world to come. I had no thought, he says, of bringing you any other knowledge than that of Jesus Christ, and of him crucified. God forbid that I should make a display of anything, except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Pulpit and Pew: A Study in Salesian Preaching)

The cross of Christ is the core of our lives. The cross of Christ is the central image of our faith. The cross of Christ is the path to our salvation.

Still, no less than five times in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus makes it very clear: if we wish to be his disciples, we must be willing to pick up not his cross, but pick up our own crosses. We are not called to carry his cross, but ours. Put another way, we imitate the power and the promise of the cross of Christ precisely by being willing to embrace the crosses — the challenges, the burdens, the setbacks — that are part and parcel of our lives.

In short, the cross that we carry is the need to be ourselves — not somebody else — and to take up all that comes with that effort.

Many of the crosses we carry are specific to the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Francis de Sales offers the following examples of the kinds of crosses that we might be asked to carry.

“To the pastors of the Church I offer a cross of care and labor, a shepherd’s toil to protect, to feed, to correct and perfect the flock. This was the cross first carried by our Lord who called himself the Good Shepherd: witness his journeys, his fatigue by Jacob’s well, his loving care for those who treated him badly.” (Ibid)

“To religious I offer the cross of solitude, celibacy and unworldliness. It is a cross that has touched the True Cross; it is a cross that was carried by Our Lady, the holiest, most innocent and completely crucified of all who ever loved the cross for Christ.” (Ibid)

“To those serving in government, I present the cross of learning, fairness and the sincerity of truth: a cross worthy of those who, St. Paul says, are in God’s service. Such a cross is ideal for crucifying merely secular values, for repressing self-interest: it encourages peace and quiet in the realm.” (Ibid)

“To workers, I offer the cross of humility and labor, a cross sanctified by our Lord himself in the carpenter’s shop. The cross of daily work is often a sure way to salvation; it may also be the best means of avoiding sin, for the devil finds work for idle hands.” (Ibid)

“For teenagers I have chosen the cross of obedience, purity and self-discipline. It will crucify the young blood of passion that is just coming to a boil: the boldness of youth still awaiting the guiding hand of prudence. It will teach them to bear the easy yoke of Christ in whatever calling in life God may place them.” (Ibid)

“For old people there is the cross of patience, gentleness and a helpful attitude towards the young. This cross demands a brave heart. They have learned that swift as a breath our lives pass away…” (Ibid)

“There is no shortage of crosses for married folk, but perhaps I could single out the cross of mutual support and faithfulness, and the cross of bringing up a family…” (Ibid)

There is but one cross of Jesus Christ. For us, however, our crosses come in many shapes, sizes and situations.

Today, what cross might Christ be asking each us of to carry?

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(September 15, 2017: Our Lady of Sorrows)
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1 Tm 1:1-2, 12-14     Ps 16:1b-2a and 5, 7-8, 11     Lk 2:33-35

“You yourself a sword will pierce…”

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

“Various sacred lovers were present at the death of the Savior. Among them, those having the greatest love had the greatest sorrow, for love was then deeply plunged into sorrow and sorrow into love. All those who were filled with loving passion for their Savior were in love with his passion and sorrow. But his sweet Mother, who loved him more than all others, was more than all others pierced through and through by the sword of sorrow. Her Son’s sorrow at that time was a piercing sword that passed through the Mother’s heart, for that Mother’s heart was fastened, joined and united to her Son in so perfect a union that nothing could wound the one without inflicting the keenest pain upon the other…” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 13, pp. 50-51)

Nobody should love sorrow. But, as we know from our own experience, sorrow is part-and-parcel of loving. If you’ve never experienced sorrow, chances are you’ve probably never experienced love, either.

What more need be said?

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(September 16, 2017: Cornelius, Pope and Cyprian, Bishop – Martyrs)
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1 Tm 1:15-17     Ps 113:1b-2, 3-4, 5 and 6-7     Lk 6:43-49

“For every tree is known by its own fruit…”

“Saint Cornelius was elected Pope in 251 during the persecutions of the Emperor Decius. His first challenge, besides the ever present threat of the Roman authorities, was to bring an end to the schism brought on by his rival, the first anti-pope Novatian. He convened a synod of bishops to confirm him as the rightful successor of Peter.”

“The great controversy that arose as a result of the Decian persecution was whether or not the Church could pardon and receive back into the Church those who had apostacized in the face of martyrdom.”

“Against both the bishops who argued that the Church could not welcome back apostates, and those who argued that they should be welcomed back but did not demand a heavy penance of the penitent, Cornelius decreed that they must be welcomed back and insisted that they perform an adequate penance.”

“In 253 Cornelius was exiled by the emperor Gallus and died of the hardships he endured in exile. He is venerated as a martyr.”

“Saint Cyprian of Carthage is second in importance only to the great Saint Augustine as a figure and Father of the African church. He was a close friend of Pope Cornelius, and supported him both against the anti-pope Novatian and in his views concerning the re-admittance of apostates into the Church.”

“Saint Cyprian was born to wealthy pagans around the year 190, and was educated in the classics and in rhetoric. He converted at the age of 56, was ordained a priest a year later, and made bishop two years after that.”

“His writings are of great importance, especially his treatise on The Unity of the Catholic Church, in which he argues that unity is grounded in the authority of the bishop, and among the bishops, in the primacy of the See of Rome.”

“During the Decian persecutions Cyprian considered it wiser to go into hiding and guide his flock covertly rather than seek the glorious crown of martyrdom, a decision that his enemies attacked him for. On September 14, 258, however, he was martyred during the persecutions of the emperor Valerian.” ( http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint.php?n=596 )

We see in both Cornelius and Cyprian two examples of how good people can produce good fruit, especially in tough times. We also see in both Cornelius and Cyprian how helpful friends can be – especially in tough times – in our individual efforts to produce good fruit ourselves day in and day out.

Today, how might we imitate them?

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(September 17, 2017: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. Should a person nourish anger against others and expect healing from the Lord?”

Have you ever been upset? Have you ever been livid? Have you ever been angry? Of course you have! Anger (with its many faces) is a fact of life……sometimes, in fact, a very volatile fact of life. Like any emotion, it cannot be denied or suppressed.

As emotions go, anger itself is not sinful any more than joy, fear or happiness would be considered sinful. However, how we deal with anger - or fail to deal with anger - determines whether our anger results in virtue, or vice - whether it ultimately results in something constructive or something destructive.

Few of us plan to grow angry. Anger is an intense response or reaction to an injury or injustice, whether actual or perceived. As such, it often catches us off guard. Herein lies the difficulty with this “pesky” emotion. Precisely because of its spontaneity and intensity, anger can quickly get the upper hand…and even more quickly…get out of hand. Anger can become, as it were, an uninvited guest that quickly becomes the master of the house. Francis de Sales observed: “Once admitted it is with difficulty driven out again. It enters as a little twig, and in less than no time it grows big and becomes a beam.” Francis de Sales counsels us: “It is better to attempt to find a way to live without anger, rather than pretend to make a moderate or discreet use of it. As long as reason rules and peaceably exercises chastisements or corrections, people can approve and receive them. However, when accompanied by anger or rage, these same chastisements or corrections are feared rather than loved.”

For her part, Jane de Chantal suggests: “Try to calm your passions and live according to sound reason and the holy will of God.” It is better to let our anger cool before making an important decision or embarking upon some action.

Most importantly, anger should not be nourished or fed. Repeatedly indulging in anger can have tragic results for us. When we brood over injuries, when we revisit old hurts and when we hold onto resentments, we cease being people who get angry and we gradually become angry people. Being addicted to anger is like our drinking poison, but expecting everyone else to die. While our anger may indeed hurt others on the outside, the poison that it produces eventually kills us from the inside.

Heed these words from the Book of Sirach: "Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. Should a person nourish anger against others and expect healing from the Lord? As a stone falls back upon the one who throws it up, so a blow struck in anger injures more than one. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then, when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven." (Sir 27: 25; 28: 2-3)

Avoid wallowing in or nourishing anger. Remember, anger is an emotion - it is not meant to become a way of life.

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(September 18, 2017: Monday, Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered…that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.”

True devotion not only does no violence to ordinary, everyday life – in fact, it also enhances it. In particular, devotion produces an abundance of tranquility. Synonyms associated with tranquility include:

  • peace
  • peacefulness
  • restfulness
  • repose
  • calm
  • calmness
  • quiet
  • quietness
  • stillness
  • composure
  • serenity
  • equanimity
  • unflappability
St. Jane de Chantal observed:

“Preserve peace of heart and tranquility. Do not disturb yourselves about anything. Never trouble yourselves whatever may happen to you or around you. Tranquility precludes haste and levity. It makes us do everything in the spirit of repose, without hurry. I say not slowly or carelessly, but quietly, as before God.”

Note the distinction – tranquility is not about doing nothing. Tranquility is about doing something – anything – in a careful, composed, calm and unflappable manner.

Today, how might we go about serving God and neighbor in tranquility?

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(September 19, 2017: Tuesday, Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the Church of God? He must also have a good reputation among outsiders…”

In his commentary on the selection from the First Letter of Timothy, William Barclay makes the following observation:

“As the early Church saw it, the responsibility of an office-bearer did not begin and end in the Church. Such a person had two other spheres of responsibility, and failure in either of these would also bound to lead to failure in the Church.”

“One’s first sphere of duty was to one’s own home. If a person did not know how to rule one’s own household, how could such a person engage upon the task of the work of the Church? A person who had not succeeded in making a Christian home could hardly be expected to succeed in making a Christian congregation. A person who had not instructed one’s own family could hardly be the right person to instruct the family of the Church.”

“The second sphere of responsibility was to the world. Such a person must be ‘well thought of by outsiders’. Such a person must be one who has gained the respect of other people in the day-to-day business of life…The Christian must first of all be a good person.”

All of us are called to do our part in caring for the “Church of God” in our own unique ways. However, there is no better way of creating a loving Church than doing our best to foster loving relationships with family, friends, relatives and neighbors – and, perhaps even most importantly, with ourselves!

Louis Brisson, OSFS echoed these thoughts when wrote:

“We are called to realize this intimate union with God in ourselves and in all those confided to our care. You see, my friends, to what we are obliged—to reestablish here below the earthly paradise. This is certainly no small task! Where shall we begin this great undertaking? With ourselves, of course.”

What’s the moral to the story? Charity – as in the case of so many things – begins at home.

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(September 20, 2017: Andrew Kim Tae-gon, Priest, and Paul Chong Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs)
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“To what shall I compare the people of this generation?”

You’re dammed if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

That’s essentially what Jesus is saying in today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke. John the Baptist was criticized for eschewing food and drink, whereas Jesus was criticized for enjoying food and drink. Try as you might to do the right thing – try as you might to be true to yourself - some days you just can’t win!

St. Francis de Sales was certainly no stranger to the dynamic of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t, especially when it comes to trying to live a life of devotion. Citing this very selection from today’s Gospel, he observed:

“We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it. It is so demanding that it can’t be satisfied. ‘John came neither eating nor drinking,’ says the Savior, and you say, ‘He has a devil.’ ‘The Son of man came eating and drinking’ and you say that he is ‘a Samaritan’ If we are ready to laugh, play cards or dance with the world in order to please it, it will be scandalized at us, and if we don’t, it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy. If we dress well, it will attribute it to some plan we have, and if neglect our attire, it will accuse us of being cheap and stingy. Good humor will be called frivolity and mortification sullenness. Thus the world looks at us with an evil eye and we can never please it. It exaggerates our imperfections and claims they are sins, turns our venial sins into mortal sins and changes our sins of weakness into sins of malice.”

“The world always thinks evil and when it can’t condemn our acts it will condemn our intentions. Whether the sheep have horns or not and whether they are white or black, the wolf won’t hesitate to eat them if he can. Whatever we do, the world will wage war on us. If we stay a long time in the confessional, it will wonder how we can so much to say; if we stay only a short time, it will say we haven’t told everything…The world holds us to be fools; let us hold it to be mad.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 2, pp. 236-237)

These brave missionaries whose lives and sacrifices we remember today made a choice. If they were going to be damned for something, they chose to be damned – in this case, be martyred – for doing the right thing. Of course, as Christians, we believe that being damned in the eyes of others resulted in their being glorified in the eyes of God.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t? Well, then, why not be damned for doing what is virtuous, right and good!

How might we follow the example of these brave missionary-martyrs in our willingness to stand up for what we believe in the face of criticism – or even hostility – from others?