Spirituality Matters 2017: December 21st - December 27th
(December 21, 2017: Thursday, Third Week of Advent)
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“Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one and come!”
Today’s selection from the Song of Songs – and the entire Song of Songs, for that matter, had a profound influence on St. Francis de Sales. In an article entitledThe Interpretation of the Song of Songs in St. Francis de Sales - How a Saint Learned the Lessons of Love, Anthony J. Ceresko, OSFS wrote:
“St. Francis de Sales represents one of the more notable examples of those who discovered in the Song’s language and imagery the appropriate medium for reflecting on the experience of love. Reading his Treatise on the Love of God, for instance, we appreciate how well he learned “lessons of love” from the Sage of the Song. We marvel at how his gentle guidance led others to drink deeply of that love as well. Francis' introduction to the Song, indeed his introduction to theology, came in 1584, when he was barely seventeen years old. His father had sent him to Paris to complete his university studies in preparation for taking a doctorate in civil and canon law at Padua, in Italy. Although his father foresaw a career in politics and public service for him, Francis harbored in his heart the desire to serve the Church as a priest. He had persuaded his father to allow him to receive tonsure when he was twelve. And in Paris, in addition to his classes in the humanities, he also attended lectures in theology.”
“The first such course he followed was the series of lectures on the Song of Songs given in 1584 by the celebrated Benedictine, Gilbert Genebrard, professor of Hebrew at the Royal College. Both the lectures and Genebrard himself made a profound impression on the youthful student. Lajeunie notes, ‘Francis found both in the sacred text and in the commentary, inspiration for his whole life, the theme for his masterpiece [the Treatise on the Love of God], and the first and best source of his optimism.’ For Genebrard, the Canticle is ‘a dramatic love story composed in bucolic style.’ The effect of Genebrard's interpretation of the Song on Francis was immediate: ‘The history of the world and its salvation was therefore a love story. And the young student was carried away by the idea.’”
“Francis gives a clue to his life-long love affair with the Song in the more than seven hundred citations of the Song listed in the ‘Index’ to the twenty-seven volumes of his collected works. Further, the three verses of the Bible that Francis most often quotes also come from the Song: 1:3 (‘Draw me and I will run in the odor of your ointments’), 8:6 (‘Love is strong as death, jealousy as firm as hell’), and 1:1 (‘Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth, for better than wine are your breasts’). John K. Ryan, the author of a popular translation of the Treatise, comments: ‘All but a few books of both the Old and New Testament are quoted by him, and in most instances, not once but many times.... But the books he uses most are the Psalms and the Canticle of Canticles. Out of the 106 verses that make up the Canticle, 63 are quoted and some of them so often as to make a total of 179 references.” ( http://web1.desales.edu/assets/salesian/PDF/Ceresko-Song.pdf )
Just a handful of days remain before we celebrate the Solemnity of Christmas - one of the greatest moments in the greatest love story of all - God’s love for us.
Today, how can we prepare to receive the God who loves us so much?
(December 22, 2017: Friday, Third Week of Advent)
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“He has looked upon his lowly servant…and has done great things for me: holy is his name.”
Mary’s great hymn – the Magnificat – is a testimony to her profound sense of humility. But her humility – her sense of being a “lowly servant” – should not be confused with self-deprecation. In truth, Mary’s humility has a lot less to do with her nothingness and a lot more to do with God’s “everything-ness”! Mary’s humility – her being overwhelmed by the generosity of God – empowers her to generously say “yes” to God’s invitation to her to become the Mother of the Messiah.
In his Conference “On Generosity,” St. Francis de Sales wrote:
“Humility which does not produce generosity is undoubtedly false, for after it has said, ‘I can do nothing, I am only absolute nothingness,’ it almost immediately gives way to generosity of spirit which says, ‘There is nothing - and there can be nothing - that I am unable to do, so long as I put all my confidence in God who can do all things.’ Buoyed up by this confidence, it courageously undertakes to do all that is commanded.” (Living Jesus, pp. 152-153)
This humility – and its corresponding spirit of generosity – describes Mary to a tee.
Today, can the same be said of us?
(December 23, 2017: Saturday, Third Week of Advent)
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“Lift up your heads and see: your redemption is near at hand…”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“God displays in a marvelous manner the incomprehensible riches of his power in the vast array of things that we see in nature, but he causes the infinite treasures of his goodness to show forth in an even more magnificent way in the unparalleled variety that we see in grace. In a holy excess of mercy, God is not content in solely with granting to his people, that is, to the human race, a general or universal redemption whereby everyone can be saved. God has diversified redemption in many ways, so that while God’s generosity shines forth in all this variety, the variety itself, in turn, adds beauty to his generosity…” TLG, II, Chapter 6, p. 116)
What a powerful statement! God’s redemption is not generic and it is not one-size-fits-all. God redeems us personally, individually and by name. In the next-to-last chapter of his Treatise, Francis remarked: “Consider how Jesus took on the task of redeeming us by his death, ‘even to death upon a cross’. The Savior’s soul knew each of us by name and surname…” (XII, Ch. 121, p. 280)
So, when we pray the words of the psalmist - your redemption - those words really mean your redemption. They do not mean someone else’s redemption - not the redemption of the person to your right or left, not the salvation of folks before or behind you.
So, lift up your head; lift up your heart! See your redemption near at hand…a redemption – a gift – that is crafted specifically for you….out of love for you, for the same God who redeems you by name created you by name.
(December 24, 2017: Fourth Sunday of Advent)
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Mary said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
In God Desires You: St. Francis de Sales on Living the Gospel, author Eunan McDonnell, SDB, tells us:
“…Jesus praises the poor in spirit. He encourages a childlike attitude towards God our Father and openness to receive in faith. What is required is a childlike simplicity that can speak the ‘yes’. This is Mary’s childlike response to the angel when she says, ‘Let what you have said be done to me’. In this manner she lives the maxim ‘ask for nothing, refuse nothing’. She is open to receive what God desires to give, his love.” (pgs. 130-131)
Simple words, but Mary’s childlike “yes” is anything but simple. This “yes” calls upon Mary, and upon each one of us with Mary as our model, to trust beyond all measure in the love and mercy of our Father. It invites each of us to know in our “heart of hearts” that God truly desires us and desires to fill us with abounding love. In our willingness to be open to this desire “being filled”, it calls us to empty ourselves and to leave behind all that takes up space in our hearts, leaving open space for God’s presence. McDonnell writes:
“What is required is true emptiness which is to be found in the anawim to which Mary belongs. A complete and utter dependence on God. An emptiness of heart that allows God to shower it with his abundance. Mary and those who imitate her emptiness, put up no barrier to the generosity of God who loves to give. Poor in spirit, she offers empty space which can be inhabited by God.” (Ibid)
In all of this utter dependence on God, we sense the living out of Advent, this time of waiting patiently with an openness to God’s word being “done to me”. Francis de Sales says of Mary; she is “the morning star which brings us gracious news of the advent of the true sun”. (Oeuvres IX:5)
Mary lives out her advent. We wait with Mary.
(December 24, 2017: Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord)
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“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…”
“Genealogy (from Greek: ?e?e?, genea, “generation”; and ?????, logos , “knowledge”) is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral traditions, historical records, genetic analysis and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members. The results are often displayed in charts or written as narratives. The pursuit of family history tends to be shaped by several motivations, including the desire to carve out a place for one’s family in the larger historical picture, a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations, and a sense of self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling.” (Wikipedia)
Today’s opening chapter from the Gospel of Matthew is Scripture’s version of Ancestry.com. Bridging the Old and New Testaments, it outlines the “genealogy of Jesus Christ”. As such, it carves out a place for Jesus within the larger picture of salvation history. As such, it strives to preserve names from past generations for future generations. As such, it tries to tell the story of Jesus’ predecessors as accurately as possible. As such, it attempts to provide as much information it can about the kinship and pedigree of those who came before Jesus.
Many of us assume that the “genealogy of Jesus Christ” ends with Jesus Christ. We assume that the story ends with the third set of fourteen generations. Nothing could be further from the truth! The “genealogy of Jesus Christ” isn’t limited to the names of his predecessors. It continues to this very day in the names of his followers. It continues in the present generation – in the lives of people like you and me.
How can we live up to our God-given pedigree? How can we give convincing witness of our divine kinship today? How can we demonstrate that we are sons and daughters of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ?
(December 24/25, 2017: Nativity of the Lord - Mass at Midnight)
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In a Christmas sermon, Francis de Sales remarked:
“What else have we to say except that the mystery of Our Lord’s Nativity is also the mystery of the Visitation? Just as the most holy Virgin was to visit her cousin Elizabeth, we, too, must go very often to visit the Divine Babe lying in the manger. There we shall learn from the sovereign Pastor of shepherds to direct, to govern and to put our flocks in order in such a way that they will be pleasing to His goodness. But as the shepherds doubtless did not go to Him without bringing Him some little lambs, we must not go there empty-handed, either. We must bring Him something. What can we bring to this Divine Shepherd more pleasing than the little lamb which is our love and which is the principal part of our spiritual flock? For love is the first. This special gift is the grace which helps us to attain what would otherwise be impossible for us: the joy and happiness of glory. Thus, in the darkness of the night Our Lord was born and appeared to us as an infant lying in a manger…” (Sermons for Advent and Christmas, p. 53)
What better gift can we bring to the manger than to place our love at the service of God and one another? Oh, come, let us adore…and experience a foretaste of the joy and happiness of glory!
(December 25, 2017: Nativity of the Lord)
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With regard to the great Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Blessed Louis Brisson wrote:
“We honor the three births of Our Lord. In the case of the first we recall the eternal birth of the Son of God in the bosom of His Father; in the second, we recall His temporal birth in the stable of Bethlehem; and in the thirds, we recall His mystical both in our hearts by means of Holy Communion and His grace. The consideration of the first birth should lead us to adore the Son of God on the throne of His glory, in the endless reaches of eternity, where equal to His Father He receives the adoration of the angels and seraphim. By contrast, in Bethlehem we adore him on the throne of poverty, which is a throne of love. He hides his grandeur because he wants us to draw near him without fear.”
“Having adored Him in Heaven – having adored Him in the crib – adore Him present within you. I ask you, cross your arms across your chest where the Savior dwells after Holy Communion and say to Him, ‘I adore You in my heart. I adore You within me. You are as truly in me as You are in Heaven; You are as truly in me as You are truly in the crib where You received the adoration of the poor shepherds. You are truly within me.’” (Cor ad Cor, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)
We recognize Jesus at the right hand of the Father. We recognize Jesus lying in a manger.
Do we recognize that same Jesus within ourselves? Do we recognize that same Jesus in others?
(December 26, 2017: Stephen, First Martyr)
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“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:
“One of the Church’s first seven deacons, Stephen was chosen and ordained by the apostles themselves to serve needy Christians and teach the faith. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that he was striking in appearance, with ‘the face of an angel…full of grace and fortitude.’ He came from a family of Jewish Greeks, and after his ordination he debated members of four of Jerusalem’s Greek synagogues. When they could not out-argue or silence this zealous young deacon, the Greek Jews hauled Stephen before the Sanhedrin (the Jews’ supreme tribunal), accusing him of blasphemy for ridiculing the Temple and the Law of Moses.”
“Asked to defend himself, Stephen launched into a long speech. He highlighted moments in Jewish history when the people of Israel had turned away from God, implying that – by not recognizing Jesus as the Messiah – they had been stubborn, proud and faithless once again. Then he exclaimed, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ It proved to be the last straw. With a roar of indignation, the men in the court rushed at Stephen, dragged him outside the city walls and stoned him to death.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 131)
Stephen had the “grace and fortitude” he needed to commend his spirit to God in a single, once-in-a-lifetime act of courage by giving his life.
Today, how can we make good use of the same “grace and fortitude” we need to commend our spirits to God in a series of ordinary, everyday acts of courage?
With one another!
(December 27, 2017: John, Evangelist)
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“The life was made visible...”
In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:
“Among the twelve apostles, Christ’s three closest friends were Peter, James the Greater and John. Within this inner circle, John was the Lord’s favorite, the one referred to as ‘the beloved disciple’ in St. John’s Gospel. By tradition, John is also believed to have been the youngest of the apostles, perhaps barely out of his teens when he followed Christ. After Jesus was arrested, John was the only one of the apostles who remained with him. He witnessed Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, followed him as he carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, stood at the foot of the cross with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and helped take Christ’s body off the cross and lay it in the tomb. Before dying, Christ rewarded his most loyal friend by placing Mary in John’s care.”
“Initially John preached in Jerusalem but then moved to Ephesus, the greatest city in the eastern Roman Empire. A tradition that dates to at least the second century says that John took Mary with him. Amid the ruins of Ephesus stands a little stone house believed to have been Mary’s home. St. John died peacefully at age ninety-four, the only one of the apostles who was not martyred. Sparing him a violent death may have been Christ’s last gift to his best friend.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 193)
John knew it. Peter and James knew it. Countless other people who encountered Jesus during his life on this earth knew it. We, too, can know it.
What a friend we have in Jesus!