Spirituality Matters 2017: April 27th - May 3rd
(April 27, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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“The one who is of earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things…
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say everything that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. Therefore, you must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purpose, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth’…Although we may sometime discreetly and prudently hide and disguise the truth by an equivocal statement, this must never be done except when the matter is important and God’s glory and service clearly require it. In any other such case such tricks are dangerous. As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or slippery soul. No artifice is as good and desirable as plain dealing. Worldly prudence and earthly artifice belong to the children of this world, but the children of God walk a straight path and their heart is without guile. Lying, double-dealing and dissimilation are always signs of a weak, mean mind.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)
How can I tell if I am a person “who is of earth” or “who is of heaven”? In the opinion of Francis de Sales, look no further than the kind of words that come out of your mouth.
Of what kind of things – and values – will you speak today?
(April 28, 2017: Weekday)
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“What good are these for so many?”
Overwhelmed by the size and scope of the needs of the throng gathered before them, we can understand the skepticism of Philip and the other disciples regarding Jesus announced desire to feed the “large crowd”. You can hear it in their voices. Does Jesus really know what he’s up against? Does Jesus really grasp the situation? Is Jesus – perhaps – out of touch with the enormity of the challenge – and potential disaster – lying before him? Was it possible that Jesus had been out in the sun too long?
In light of this dynamic, consider this question: was the miracle that Jesus subsequently – and convincingly – performed solely for the benefit of the “five thousand”? In addition to meeting the physical hunger of “the large crowd”, perhaps Jesus performed this miracle for the benefit of “the twelve”. The lesson? When faced with the needs of others do not discount what you bring to the table, regardless of how small or underwhelming it may appear. As overwhelming as the hungers of other people may be, we’ll never know how much – or how little – we can do for them unless we first try.
What good am I for so many? Remember to let Jesus weigh in on that question.
(April 29, 2017: Catherine of Sienna, Virgin & Doctor of the Church)
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“The eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him…”
“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me…”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:
“When I saw in St. Catherine of Siena’s life so many raptures and elevations of spirit, words of wisdom and even sermons uttered by her, I did not doubt that by the eye of contemplation she had ravished the heart of her heavenly Spouse. But I was equally edified when I saw her in her father’s kitchen, humbly turning the spit, kindling fires, dressing meat, kneading bread and doing the meanest household chores cheerfully and filled with love and affection for God. I do not have less esteem for the humble, little meditations she made during these ordinary, lowly tasks than for the ecstasies and raptures she experienced so often. Perhaps the latter were granted to her precisely because of her humility...I cite her life as an example so that you may know how important it is to direct all our actions – no matter how lowly they may be – to the service of his divine Majesty” ( IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, p. 214)
The Salesian tradition reminds us that great ways to “fear” the Lord are rare; opportunities to display our love for God in remarkable ways are few and far between. By contrast, opportunities to “fear” God in everyday, ordinary ways are legion. It is interesting to consider the possibility that it was St. Catherine’s ability to recognize – and to love – God in the midst of the mundane responsibilities and demands of everyday life that enabled her to recognize – and to love – God – in extraordinary ways!
How might we imitate St. Catherine’s example in our attempts to ‘fear’ the Lord by doing the ordinary tasks that will be part and parcel of our experience - just today?
(April 30, 2017: Third Sunday of Easter)
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“They recounted how they had come to know him in the breaking of the bread.”
“Two disciples were making their way to a village named Emmaus. In the midst of their lively exchange, Jesus approached and began to walk along with them.”
We know that during most of this seven-mile walk with Jesus, the two disciples failed to recognize the true identity of their traveling companion. It was not until they were seated at table with him - and Jesus broke and shared bread with them - that their eyes were finally opened.
What was it about such a simple act that enabled them to recognize Jesus? Undoubtedly, it reminded them of that powerful moment that directly preceded Christ's betrayal, passion and death: the Last Supper. In addition, it may have reminded them of countless experiences of table fellowship with Jesus and the other disciples: simple, personal and intimate opportunities to understand more about Jesus' - and their own - identity. The ordinary - but profound - act of breaking and sharing bread had become for them a gateway to experiencing the divine precisely in the midst of everyday, human events. On an even broader scale, it may have reminded them of the experience of communion and community that they experienced with Jesus and their fellow travelers throughout all the ups, downs and in-betweens of living, learning and loving together.
The connection of this story to the Church's eventual understanding of communion was not lost on St. Francis de Sales. In his book entitled On the Preacher and Preaching, he wrote: "It is certain that since our Lord is really within us, he gives us brightness, for he is the light. After the disciples at Emmaus had communicated, 'their eyes were opened.'" (page 26) In our celebration as we gather around the table of the Lord, we are challenged to see both how Christ is present in the Eucharist and how Christ is present in us.
Still, we need to expand our notion of communion in order to more deeply understand the meaning of this scene in the Gospel. Jesus is especially present whenever there is table fellowship; He is embodied whenever people allow themselves to be broken and shared with - and for - others. Jesus is seen whenever people focus more on what brings them together and less upon those things that would drive them apart.
When we break bread with others - literally or figuratively - the ongoing power and promise of the risen Christ is made manifest to us. When we choose to break ourselves open to nourish and feed others, we embody in our own day and age something of the same Jesus who companioned these two disciples so long ago.
Two questions to consider today might be:
- Do we recognize Jesus in our attempts to feed others?
- Do we recognize Jesus when others attempt to do the same for us?
(May 1, 2017: Joseph the Worker)
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“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord...”
In today’s Gospel the question is asked of Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” The answer is found in the antiphon to today’s Responsorial Psalm: “Follow the law of the Lord.”
What does it look like when we follow the law of the Lord? In the mind of St. Francis de Sales, the answer is: “Living a life of devotion.”
“Devotion is simply that spiritual agility and vivacity by which charity works in us or by the aid of which we work quickly and lovingly. Just as the function of charity is to enable us to observe all of God’s commandments (the law of the Lord) in general and without exception, so it is the part of devotion to enable us to observe them more quickly and diligently.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)
Devotion enables us to follow the law of the Lord. Devotion enables us “to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired.” (Ibid) Such devotion enables us to experience the blessings of life for ourselves; this same devotion enables us to be a blessing in the lives of others.
Today, might we follow the law of the Lord?
(May 2, 2017: Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?”
Jesus was constantly bombarded with requests for signs. People were constantly looking for reasons to put their faith in Jesus, but they wanted him to perform wonders and miracles in order to be convinced. During his ministry, Jesus gave people more than enough signs for believing in him. Unfortunately, those signs fell on the deaf ears, blind eyes and hard hearts of people who were basically saying to Jesus: “Sure, but what have you done for me lately?”
Aren’t we sometimes guilty of asking God for a favor, a sign or a wonder in order that we might really, really believe in him? Notwithstanding God’s proven track record of mercy and generosity in our regard, aren’t we sometimes guilty of saying to God, in effect: “Sure, but what have you done for me lately?”
What remedy can we apply to the temptation of constantly asking God for more signs in order that we might believe in him? How about asking the question, “What signs can we do in order that others may see and believe in him?” How can we live our lives in ways that help others to believe in God? Rather than asking for signs, we should be asking to be signs in other people’s lives!
What have we done for God – or others – lately?
(May 3, 2017: 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)
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. When we preach to others through the lives we attempt to live, do they find themselves a more – or less – abundant life?
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