Spirituality Matters 2016: October 20th - October 26th
(October 20, 2016: Paul of the Cross, Priest)
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“May you be filled with the fullness of God...”
Some things are worth repeating. In the context of the exhortation in Paul’s Letter to Ephesians, let us revisit some advice that Francis de sales offered to Jane de Chantal over 400 years ago:
“I entreat you to keep very close to Jesus Christ and your Our Lady and to your good angel in all your business, so that the multiplicity of your many affairs may not make you anxious nor their difficulties dismay you. Do things one by one as best you can, and apply your mind loyally but gently and sweetly. If God gives you good issue we shall bless him for it; if his pleasure should be otherwise, we will bless him all the same. And it will be enough for you that you did your best in complete good faith, since Our Lord and reason do not demand results in things we do, but only our faithful and whole-hearted cooperation, endeavor and diligence; for these depend on us, whereas success does not. God will bless your good intention in undertaking this journey...” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 195-196)
Insofar as we are up to our eyeballs in the details of life, it is all-too-easy to feel frequently that we have little or nothing to show for our efforts. In the midst of all the responsibilities and obligations that come from our vocations and avocations, it’s awfully easy to wonder if we really do make a difference in this world. At the end of any given day, it’s an all-too-common experience to ask ourselves what have we really accomplished?
On days like these, recall the words of St. Paul: “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations…”
Today – just today – “do things one by one as best you can”. As for the results, leave them in the hands of a God who will “grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit”.
(October 21, 2016: Friday, Twenty-ninth Week Ordinary Time)
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“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received...”
What call have we received? We are sons and daughters of God; we are brothers and sisters of Jesus; we are temples of God’s Holy Spirit.
How do we live in a manner worthy of this call? St. Paul is clear and unambiguous: “Live with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
In today’s Responsorial Psalm, we prayed the words “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face”. How do we know if we are making progress in our efforts to “live in a manner worthy of the call” we have received?
The answer is - look to see if other people see in our thoughts, our affections, our attitudes and our actions something of the face of God.
(October 22, 2016: John Paul II, Pope)
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“Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of God’s gift....”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“God acts in our works, and we co-operate in God’s action. God leaves for our part all the merit and profit of our services and good works; we leave God all the honor and praise thereof, acknowledging that the growth, the progress, and the end of all the good we do depends on God’s mercy, finishing what God began. O God, how merciful is God’s goodness to us in thus distributing his bounty!”
God has great expectations for us: “Life on high with Jesus Christ”. God – through his mercy, that is, through his generosity – also gives us the grace we need to strive to meet those expectations. How can we possibly show our appreciation for the “grace that was given to each of us according to the measure of God’s gift”? Perhaps St. Francis de Sales said it best. “The measure of love is to love without measure.”
God’s love in our regard is certainly without measure. To what degree can the same be said of our love for one another?
(October 23, 2016: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord hears the cry of the poor.”
The poor may not enjoy many things in life. However, that which they do possess – a special place in the heart and mind of God – stands head and shoulders above any earthy riches or wealth.
Scripture is clear and unambiguous: God has special concern for the plight of the poor and needy, for the want of the despairing and broken-hearted, for the anguish of the lost and forsaken, for the spirits of those who are crushed, for the life of the lonely and for the soul of the sinner.
Jesus embodies God’s love of the poor. While he reached out to people of all social, economic, ethnic and cultural classes, Jesus invested a significant amount of his time, his energy, his ministry – his love – with the impoverished, the reviled and the down-and-outs of his day. Jesus seems to have enjoyed the most success with the poor; he likewise seems to have felt most at home with them.
None of this love is lost on St. Francis de Sales. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:
“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches God gives us. Frequently give up some of your property by giving it with a generous heart to the poor. To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become...Love the poor and love poverty, for it is by such love that we become truly poor...Be glad to see them in your own home and to visit with them in theirs. Be glad to talk to them and be pleased to have them near you in church, on the street and elsewhere. Be poor when conversing with them...but be rich in assisting them by sharing some of your more abundant goods with them.” (Intro III, 15)
Three aspects of De Sales’ observations are worth noting.
First, to the extent that we reach out to the poor we come to know our own poverty, our own neediness, our own despair and our own misfortune. Francis noted: “We become like the things we love.” Our willingness to serve the poor puts us in touch with the poor in all of us.
Second, the plight of the poor is an unmistakable challenge for us to be generous: to give from our abundance and, even more demanding, to give from our own want and need.
Third, we must recognize the more subtle forms of poverty in our own homes, neighborhoods, classrooms and places of employment and not just the obvious ones on street corners, heating grates or bus stations. We must recognize the heavenly riches of which we are all in need: care, kindness, forgiveness, friendship, truth, companionship, healing, understanding, reconciliation, honesty, faith, hope...and love.
Clearly, faithfully, lovingly and convincingly the Lord always hears the cry of the poor.
(October 24, 2016: Anthony Claret, Bishop)
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“Live as children of the light…”
In his Letter to the Ephesians Paul describes what it looks like when we are living as “children of the light”:
- We are kind and compassionate to others.
- We forgive others.
- We avoid even speaking of things like immorality, impurity or greed.
- We eschew obscene, silly or suggestive speech.
- We dedicate ourselves to thanksgiving and gratitude.
“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 children of the light. Rather, let us “live in love” – and demonstrate that love – through our support and encouragement of one another.
(October 25, 2016: 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!
(October 26, 2016: Wednesday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You have a Master in heaven in whom there is no partiality...”
In today’s selection from his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul outlines a sort of shorthand guide as to how people should treat one another. Children are supposed to honor their parents. Parents are supposed to raise their children without provoking or angering them. Slaves are supposed to serve their masters. Masters must not bully or abuse their slaves.
When it comes to showing respect, there is no caste system in the Kingdom of God. Regardless of how lofty or lowly our positions in this life may be, we are all expected to do “the will of God from the heart…knowing that each person will be requited from the Lord for whatever good” we do. To that end, Paul warns us that we will all be judged by how we treat other people because when it comes to honoring others, God shows no partiality and God has no favorites.
Recall this exhortation in Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life:
“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and place your neighbor in yours, and then you will act justly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell – and buy – justly. Examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor as you would like your neighbor to be toward you were you in his or her place. This is the touchstone of true reason...” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)
When it comes to honoring others – when it comes to treating them with justice, then just don’t do it in the hope of “currying favor” with God, but do it simply because it is the right thing to do.
And start today!!!
(October 27, 2016: Thursday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Put on the armor of God...”
In a Lenten sermon (1622), Francis de Sales made the following exhortation:
“Fear nothing, I pray you, since you are encompassed with the armor of truth and of faith…This faith is accompanied by the four cardinal virtues: fortitude, prudence, justice and temperance. It uses them as an armored breastplate to put its enemies to flight, or to remain among them firm, invincible and unshaken. So great is its strength that it fears nothing, because not only is it strong, but it is aware of its strength and by whom it is supported – Truth itself. Now there is nothing stronger than truth, in which consists the valor of faith…” (Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Lent, pp. 21, 39)
Obviously, this “armor of God” is designed to protect us from exterior threats, but it can also be just as helpful in preserving us from interior threats. In a letter to Angelique Arnauld, Francis de Sales wrote:
“The great Apostle (Paul) felt as if an army – made up of his moods, versions, habits and natural inclinations – had conspired to bring about his spiritual death…asserting that the grace of God through Jesus Christ would defend him, not from fear, or terror, or from the fight, but from defeat and from being overcome…” (LSD, pp 1712 – 173)
Francis de Sales tells us that upon rising we should make a “preparation of the day” – that is, we should anticipate all the circumstances, events and people that we will encounter with the hope of knowing which virtues to employ and which vices to avoid. Don’t forget to add “putting on the armor of God” – and the cardinal virtues that come with it - to your daily “to-do” list!
(October 28, 2016: 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 you make a name for yourself in the service of God and neighbor? Today, how can you treat others in ways that makes them “glad you came”?
(October 29, 2016: Saturday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two...”
In today’s letter to the Philippians, Paul appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place. He is at one and the same time attracted to continuing to live in this world so as to continue his labor for Christ even as he longs to leave this world so as to experience Christ in his fullness. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“What does it matter to me whether God’s will is offered to me in tribulation or consolation? In each of them I neither desire nor seek anything except the divine will, which is better seen because no other beauty is present there but that of God’s most holy, eternal good pleasure. Heroic, yes, more than heroic, is the indifference of St. Paul the incomparable. ‘I am hard pressed,’ he says to the Philippians, ‘from two sides, desiring to be delivered from this body and to be with Christ – a thing far better – and yet to remain in this life for your sake.’”
“Admirable indifference of the Apostle! He sees paradise open to him; he sees a thousand labors on earth. Choice of one or the other is indifferent to him. Only God’s will can give counterweight to his heart. Paradise is no more worthy of love than the miseries of this world if God’s good pleasure lies equally in them both. For him to toil is paradise if God’s will is found in it, whereas paradise is a trial if God’s will is not found in it…” (TLG, Book IX, Chapter 4, p. 106)
In the end, Paul continued his labors of love for Christ and his children in this world until God’s will clearly indicated that it was time for Paul to rest from his labors in the next world. So, too, with us - until the day comes when God clearly indicates that the time has arrived for us to live forever with him and each other in heaven, let’s devote our time and energy to living as best as we possibly can with him and each other on this earth.
No rock and hard place there!
(October 30, 2016: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“…You have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made…your imperishable spirit is in all things!”
The author of our reading from the Book of Wisdom gives grateful thanks to God for his gentleness, patience and mercy. The Lord loves all that he has made. All creation is meant, as the reading from Thessalonians reminds us, to glorify God, its loving Creator. Indeed, all of creation bears the imperishable spirit of the One who has loved it into life.
Our offenses, our failures to give glory to God are not to be denied, nor are they to weigh us down and keep us from moving forward, from being called forth anew by God. We are meant to bear the image of the God who created us in love. In his Treatise on the Love of God, De Sales writes, “Consider the nature God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world; it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.” [Treatise 1:1]
When we fail to do so, God gently calls us back into right relationship. This call is an invitation, not a demand, and we respond to that invitation in freedom. Psalm 145 praises God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.” Since God is gentle and patient with us, so, too, we must be gentle and patient with ourselves. De Sales captures these qualities in the Introduction to the Devout Life: “When we have committed some fault if we rebuke our heart by a calm, kind remonstrance, with more compassion for it than passion against it and encourage it to make amendment, then repentance conceived in this way will sink far deeper and penetrate more effectually than fretful, angry, and stormy repentance.” [Introduction III.9] With this gentleness and patience, we reflect the love of God and, in the words of our reading from Thessalonians, we give glory to our loving Creator.
Our Gospel story puts flesh and blood on the qualities of repentance, gentleness and mercy. Jesus reaches out, looking up into the tree and calling to Zacchaeus rather than waiting for Zacchaeus to climb down and approach him. Jesus seeks the “lost” Zacchaeus and, by coming to where Zacchaeus lives, invites him back into a relationship of love. Zacchaeus repents in a true spirit of humility. He accepts the gentle invitation in freedom. Without being coerced, he offers reparation.
Gentleness, patience and mercy are qualities of God that we, as creatures who bear his image, are called to reflect. When we witness them in human relationships, we catch glimpses of our creating, redeeming and inspiring God -- alive and smiling -- here on earth.
(October 31, 2016: Halloween)
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“Trick or treat!!!”
“Trick-or-treating or guising is a customary practice for children on Halloween in many countries. Children wearing costumes travel from house to house in order to ask for treats such as candy (or, in some cultures, money) with the question ‘Trick or treat?’ The ‘trick’ is a (usually idle) threat to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given to them. In North America, trick-or-treating became an ever-growing phenomenon Halloween tradition in the years following the lifting in 1947 of nationwide sugar rationing that had occurred during WWII.”
“The tradition of going from door to door receiving food already existed in Great Britain and Ireland in the form of ‘souling’, where children and poor people would sing and say prayers for the dead in return for cakes. Guising, that is, children disguised in costumes going from door to door for food and coins also predates trick-or-treating, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895, where masqueraders - in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips - visited homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. While going from door to door in disguise has remained popular among Scots and Irish, the North American custom of saying "trick or treat" has become the norm.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trick-or-treating)
Many of us will be opening our doors countless times tonight for little ghosts, ghouls and goblins who are wearing disguises and hoping for treats. Isn’t it reassuring that when we approach God in prayer for the many good things that we seek on behalf of ourselves or others that we don’t need to be disguised – that we don’t need to wear masks – that we don’t need to pretend to be something or someone we’re not? Isn’t it wonderful that we can simply be the person we are on this earth without the need to hide our faces from a God who loves us as we are?
Of course, there’s no “trick” to expressing our gratitude to a God who loves us as we are. The best way is to “treat’ others in the same way, that is, to love them as they are!
(November 1, 2016: 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)
Sanctity? To be sure, it is hard work. But with the grace of God – and the support of one another – it is doable!
(November 2, 2016: All Souls)
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“The souls of the just are in the hands of God...”
In one of his pamphlets that was later published in a broader collection entitled The Catholic Controversy, Francis de Sales wrote:
“We maintain that we may pray for the faithful departed, and that the prayers and good works of the living greatly relieve them and are profitable to them for this reason: that all those who die in the grace of God – and consequently, in the number of the elect – do not go to Paradise at the very first moment, but many go to Purgatory…from which our prayers and good works can help and serve to deliver them.”
“We agree the blood of Our Redeemer is the true purgatory of souls, for in it are cleansed all the souls of the world. Tribulations also are a purgatory, by which our souls are rendered pure, as gold refined in the furnace. It is well known that Baptism in which our sins are washed away can be called a purgatory, as everything can be that serves to purge away our offenses. But in this context we take Purgatory for a place in which after this life the souls which leave this world before they have been perfectly cleansed from the stains they have contracted. And if one would know why this place is called simply Purgatory more than are the other means of purgation above-named, the answer will be, that it is because in that place nothing takes place but the purgation of the stains which remain at the time of departure out of this world, whereas in Baptism, Penance, tribulations and the rest, not only is the soul purged from its imperfections, but it is further enriched with many graces and perfections. And agreeing as to the blood of Our Lord, we fully acknowledge the virtue thereof, that we protest by all our prayers that the purgation of souls – whether in this world or in the other – is made solely by its application.” (CC, pp. 353-354)
Notwithstanding the effects of our prayers and good works on behalf of our dearly departed, Francis de Sales reminds us that at the end of the day it is the life and death of Jesus Christ that purifies our souls, whether in this life or in the next. To that end, whether it’s the just or the unjust, whether it’s in this world or the next, we are all in the hands of God.
Here’s hoping that we pray for our faithful departed. Here’s hoping that our faithful departed pray for us.
And isn’t it true that all of us could stand to do with some purgation of one kind or another!
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