Spirituality Matters 2017: April 13th - April 19th
(April 13, 2017: Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper)
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“Do you realize what I have done for you?”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:
“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 can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose he made us ‘in his own image and likeness’ by creation, and by the Incarnation he has made himself in our image and likeness, after which he suffered death in order to ransom and save humankind. He did this with so great a love...” ( IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)
While we may not be “ignorant” of what God has done for us (beautifully ritualized in the upper room at the Last Supper and dramatically demonstrated on the hill of Calvary), how much time – on any given day, in any given hour – do we spend reminding ourselves of how “great a love” God has for us, of what God has done for us and continues to do?
Even to this very moment!
(April 14, 2017: Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion)
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“He learned obedience from what he suffered…”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Our Savior himself has declared, ‘By our patience you will win your souls.’ It is man’s greatest happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls. We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” ( IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)
Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered. He learned to listen to the voice of his Father by his practice of endurance, that is, through his willingness to see things through to the end. In so doing, he experienced the happiness and joy that even his suffering and death could not vanquish.
What kind of cross – be it injury, denial or discomfort – might God ask us to carry today? Are we up to the task?
(April 15, 2017: Holy Saturday – At the Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter)
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"God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good…”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind. In like manner he commands Christians – the living plants of the Church – to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to one’s position and vocation…” (Part I, Chapter 3, p. 43)
Even before God created things – including us – God intended to underscore his love for the created order by becoming one of us in the person of his Son. Francis de Sales believed that it was the Incarnation that became the motivation for Creation. Thus, Creation made possible the ultimate expression of God’s love for the universe: the Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ. Because of “The Fall”, the Incarnation took on an additional purpose: to save us from our sins.
Tonight’s readings from Scripture testify to the fidelity of God’s creative, incarnational and redeeming love. Throughout all the ups and downs of human history, one constant has remained: God’s love for us. A love to the death…a love all about life.
Today, how can we show our gratitude for so wonderful – and faithful – a love? The answer - by bringing forth the fruits of devotion! In so doing, we continue the creative, incarnational and redemptive action of the God who loved us before the creation – and redemption – of the world.
(April 16, 2017: Resurrection of the Lord)
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"The death and passion of our Lord is the sweetest and the most compelling motive that can animate our hearts in this mortal life…The children of the cross glory in this, their wondrous paradox which many do not understand: out of death, which devours all things, has come the food of our consolation. Out of death, strong above all things, has issued the all-sweet honey of our love." (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 12, Chapter 13)
The above quote from St. Francis de Sales is the central mystery of our faith. Jesus, allowing himself to be consumed with passion for righteousness and swallowed by death has in turn, conquered death once and for all with the power that is the promise of eternal life.
Christ's pathway of passion, death and resurrection was personal. It was unique. It had been fashioned by the Father from all eternity. Jesus was faithful to God's vision for him; Jesus embraced his vocation as the humble, gentle Messiah; Jesus suffered the pain of death; Jesus experienced the power of rising again.
From all eternity God has fashioned a personal path for each one of us. Each one of us has a unique role to play in the Father's never-ending revelation of divine life, divine love, divine justice, divine peace and divine reconciliation. Still, the way to resurrection is the way of the cross - the way of giving up, the way of letting go, the way of surrendering any and all things, thoughts, attitudes and actions that prevent us from embodying the passion of Christ - the passion for all that is righteous and true.
Francis de Sales offers this image in Book 9 of his Treatise on the Love of God:
"God commanded the prophet Isaiah to strip himself completely naked: this, the prophet did, and went about and preached in this way for three whole days (or, as some say, for three whole years). Then, when the time set for him by God had passed he put his clothes back on again. So, too, we must strip ourselves of all affections, little and great, and make a frequent examination of our heart to see if it is truly ready to divest itself of all its garments, as Isaiah did. Then, at the proper time we must take up again the affections suitable to the service of charity, so that we may die naked on the cross with our divine Savior and afterwards rise again with him as new people."
Be certain of one thing - the daily dying to self that is part of living a passionate life is not about dying, stripping and letting go for its own sake. No, it is all of what we may be purified in order that we might live more faithfully and effectively lives of divine passion and compassion. God does not desire that we die to self out of self-deprecation, but that we die to self in order that, paradoxically, we may actually be more of whom God calls us to be.
“Love is as strong as death to enable us to forsake all things,” wrote St. Francis de Sales. “It is as magnificent as the resurrection to adorn us with glory and honor.”
This glory and honor is not just reserved for heaven. To the extent that we die a little each day and experience the fidelity of God's love in the midst of all adversity, trials, struggles and “letting go,” we can experience something of the resurrection every day.
And what better day is there for us to begin this journey?
(April 17, 2017: Monday of the Octave of Easter)
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“Do not be afraid...”
“Terrible thing, to live in fear. Brooks Hatlen knew it. Knew it all too well. All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won't have to be afraid all the time…” (Morgan Freeman as Ellis Boyd Redding in The Shawshank Redemption.)
In a letter he wrote to Jane de Chantal on the 6th of August 1606, Francis de Sales gave the following counsel:
“St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, was afraid. As soon as he was frightened, he began to sink and to drown, leading him to cry out: ‘O Lord, save me.’ Our Lord caught hold of his hand and said to him: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Look at this holy apostle; he walks dry foot on the water, the waves and the winds could not make him sink, but fear of the wind and waves will make him perish unless his master saves him. Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself. O daughter of little faith, what do you fear? No, do not be afraid; you are walking on the sea, surrounded by wind and water, but you are with Jesus: so what is there to fear?” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 125)
What is there to fear? Great question! Perhaps that question is the first step to not being afraid. Perhaps that question is also the first step to avoid living in fear: to name what it is that you are tempted to fear.
(April 18, 2017: Tuesday of the Octave of Easter)
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“You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…”
In today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles we hear St. Peter speaking of the gift – singular – of the Holy Spirit! Generally speaking we are used to speaking of the gifts – plural – of the Holy Spirit. Sounds strange to us, but not to St. Francis de Sales! In his Treatise on the Love of God, he wrote:
“The glorious St. Paul speaks thus, ‘But the fruit of the spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, constancy and chastity.’ Theotimus, see how this divine Apostle enumerates these twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit but sets them down as only one fruit. He does not say ‘The fruits of the Spirit are charity, joy’ but ‘the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy…’ The meaning of this manner of expression is this: ‘The charity of God is poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’ Charity is truly the sole fruit of the Holy Spirit, but this one fruit has an infinite number of excellent properties…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 19, p. 251)
In the big scheme of things, it is fair to say that the fundamental gift (singular) of the Holy Spirit is love - pure and simple. As Francis de Sales reminds us, however, this single gift has an “infinite number of excellent properties.”
Today, as temples of the Holy Spirit – as dwelling places of the Spirit’s gift of love – how many of the excellent properties associated with this one gift will we exhibit in our relationships with other people?
(April 19, 2017: Wednesday of the Octave of Easter)
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“I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have, I give to you…”
This simple phrase spoken by Peter in today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles serves as a simple shorthand for the Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matthew 5: 3 – 11)
Being poor in spirit requires that we do three things. First, we need to acknowledge our poverty; we need to name that which we lack. Second, we need to acknowledge our wealth; we need to name that which we possess. Third, we need to be willing to share our possessions – be they little or great – with others. Taken together, these steps can help us to be generous people.
Peter named his poverty; he named what he lacked. However, he was just as quick to state that he willingly shared with others what he did possess. As the Acts of the Apostles clearly demonstrates, Peter was a generous person in his service to Jesus’ mission and to God’s people!
How about us? How comfortable are we with acknowledging what we don’t have? By the same token, how comfortable are we with acknowledging what we do have…and most importantly, how willing are we to share what we have with others?
Be it little, great or something in between!