Spirituality Matters 2017: July 13th - July 19th
(July 13, 2017: Henry, Emperor)
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“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”
In a conference to the Visitation Sisters on “Generosity,” Francis de Sales remarked:
“The humility that does not produce generosity is undoubtedly false, for after it has said, ‘I can do nothing, I am absolute nothingness,’ it suddenly gives rise to generosity of spirit that 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.’” (Living Jesus, p. 152)
Consider all the things that Jesus did for those whose lives He touched – curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers and driving out demons - all without expecting anything in return. So it’s easy to understand how His apostles might have been tempted to simply stand in awe of His power. That said, Jesus didn’t want them just to stand in awe, but Jesus also wanted them to imitate his example by doing the same works as He did – curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers and driving our demons - all without expecting anything in return.
And to experience the awe of His power by sharing it with others.
It’s tempting to simply stand in awe of God’s love for us. It’s humbling when we stop to consider how generous God has been to us purely out of the goodness of His heart without any cost on our part. What return can we possibly make? The answer - by being generous to others without cost to them.
Out of the goodness of our hearts!
(July 14, 2017: Kateri Tekakwitha)
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“Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say…”
In a letter to Jane de Chantal in 1606, Francis de Sales wrote:
“I cannot think of anything else to say to you about your apprehension of your particular troubles, nor of the fear of being unable to bear it. Did I not tell you the first time I spoke to you about your soul that you pay too much attention to what afflicts or frightens you? You must do so only in great moderation! People frequently reflect too much about their troubles and this entangles thoughts and fears and desires to the point that the soul is constricted and cannot be itself. Don’t be afraid of what God has in store for you – love God very much for He wants to do you a great deal of good. Carry on quite simply in the shelter of your resolutions and reject anticipations of your troubles as simply a cruel temptation…Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself, but if terror should seize you cry out loudly to God. He will stretch forth his hand towards you – grab it tightly and go joyfully on your way.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 124 -125)
Francis de Sales recommends that we begin every new day with what he calls a “preparation of the day.” Consider all the things you may need to accomplish today. Think about the people and situations that you may encounter today. When you finished, does anything, place or person you may face today make you worry, anxious or fearful?
Then, take hold of God’s hand and do your best to go joyfully through your day!
(July 15, 2017: Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“Do not be afraid…”
In the same letter that we considered yesterday, Francis de Sales wrote to Jane de Chantal concerning the issues of worry, anxiety and fear. We read:
“Don’t philosophize about your trouble – don’t argue with it. Quite simply, continue to walk straight on. God would not allow you to be lost while you live according to your resolutions so as not to lose him. If the whole world turns topsy-turvy, if all around is darkness and smoke and din, yet God is still with us. So, if we know that God lives in the darkness and on Mount Sinai which is full of smoke and surrounded with the roar of thunder and lightning, shall not all be well with us as long as we remain close to him? So, live wholly in God, and do not fear. Jesus in his goodness is all ours; let us be all his. Let us cling to him with courage!” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 124 -125)
This exhortation is very challenging! After all, who can say that they have never been afraid, worried or anxious? Doesn’t even the Book of Proverbs (9:10) claim that “fear (of the Lord) is the beginning of wisdom?” Some things should scare us!
Let’s look at it this way. While we may have our share of fears in life, it is critical that we try our level best to avoid becoming people who are fearful and remain people who are joyful!
(July 16, 2017: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”
Sometimes, good things take much time...and require much patience. This process is even true of the greatest of all good things, the seeds of God's love.
Each of us is the “good ground” on and in which God plants the seeds of divine life and love. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and our common vocation (lived in ways unique to God's plan for each of us) is to allow these seeds of divine life to take root in our minds and hearts and to produce an abundance of goodness within us that spills out into the lives of our brothers and sisters...all to give glory and honor to God.
As the parable from Matthew's Gospel clearly illustrates, however, not all of the seeds of God's love within us fair well. Some of these seeds are choked off by our fears and anxieties. Some of these seeds are overwhelmed by other concerns or attractions. Some of these seeds simply wither away for lack of care and attention. Still, notwithstanding these and other would-be obstacles, many of the seeds of God's love do, in fact, take root, grow and produce a harvest of love, justice, peace, truth, reconciliation and freedom.
But this growth takes time, as well as a mixture of trial and error. This fact is important for us to remember, lest we lose heart and just allow the seeds of God's love within us to go to pot altogether. The practice of patience is not only important in promoting spiritual growth in ourselves, but also in encouraging it in the lives of others. In a letter to one Madame Brulart, Francis de Sales wrote:
“As for your desire to see your dear ones make progress in the service of God and in their longing for Christian perfection, I praise this desire tremendously...But to tell you the truth, I am always afraid that in these desires there may be a trace of self-love and self-will; for example, we may indulge so much in these desires that we may not leave enough room in our hearts for the things that really matter: humility, resignation, gentleness of heart and the like. Or else the intensity of these desires may bring about anxiety or overeagerness, and in the end we do not submit ourselves to God's will as perfectly as we should.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, page 110.)
Clearly, while we must take responsibility for our growth in devotion - that is, to nourish the seeds of God's love in us and encourage the same in others - we must do it patiently and with a mind to God's will for us, lest our efforts become an exercise in self-will, self-delusion or self-absorption. Francis de Sales offers this advice:
“Pursue your aims gently and quietly...By what you say and do you must gently sow seeds that will encourage others...In this way, especially if you pray about it, too, you will do more good than you would in any other way...” (Ibid)
The seeds of God's love that fall on good ground - in us and in others - will, in the long run, yield a fruitful harvest. In the short run we must nurture them slowly, patiently and carefully (especially in the face of failure and frustration) in ways that give glory to God in heaven...and produce a harvest of justice and peace here on earth.
(July 17, 2017: Monday, Fifteen Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to
because he is a disciple - Amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
In Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Little daily acts of charity, a headache, toothache or cold, the ill humor of a husband or wife, this contempt or that scorn, the loss of a pair of gloves, a ring or a handkerchief, the little inconveniences incurred by going to bed early and getting up early to pray or attend Mass, the little feelings of self-consciousness that comes with performing good deeds in public – in short, all such little things as these when accepted and embraced with love are highly pleasing to God’s mercy. For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful people a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves constantly each day it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches only if you use them well…Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, whereas little ones are frequent.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 214 - 215)
Jesus - as it were - throws cold water on the notion that serving God is limited to doing great things for others. As Francis de Sales clearly understood, the point that Jesus makes is that serving God, more often than not, is displayed in our willingness to do little things for one another with great love.
Francis de Sales tells us that we can store up vast spiritual riches by enriching the lives of others in simple, ordinary ways.
Today, how might we store up such riches?
(July 18, 2017: Tuesday, Fifteen Week in Ordinary Time)
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“For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom,
it would have remained until this day.”
In Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Put your hand to strong things, by training yourself in prayer and meditation, receiving the Sacraments, bringing souls to love God, infusing good inspirations into their hearts and in fine, by performing big, important works according to your vocation. But never forget to practice those little, humble virtues that grow at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of your family with all the tasks that go with such things and with all the useful diligence that will not allow you to be idle.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 35, pp. 214 - 215)
The selection from today’s Gospel suggests why Jesus emphasized the importance of doing little things for other people. As illustrated in yesterday’s Gospel selection. Jesus had firsthand experience of how some of his contemporaries were left cold and unconvinced by even some of the greatest deeds that he performed. Put another way, Jesus discovered that even the greatest of deeds are powerless in the presence of hardened hearts. Mind you, the selective stubbornness of some folks did not deter Jesus from doing great things, but Jesus doubtless enjoyed great success in his ministry by performing little deeds as well - visiting people in their homes, walking and talking with people and just simply being with other people.
In our lives there may be times when our love for God and others may require us to perform “important works” associated with the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Chances are, however, that the challenge to do big things won’t present itself frequently. However, never forget that time-honored saying to which most – if not all – of us can relate.
Little things mean a lot.
(July 19, 2017: Wednesday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"The Lord is kind and merciful...”
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!” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, Chapter 29, p. 212)
Today’s responsorial psalm challenges us to remember, to recall and to reflect on all the ways that God has been kind, merciful and generous to us. Today’s responsorial psalm also provides us with a kind of examination of conscience concerning how kind, merciful and generous we are toward other people.
As we begin this new day, consider these questions:
- How often do we remember how others have been of benefit to us?
- How willing are we to pardon or forgive those who have injured us?
- How ready are we to be sources of healing for others?
- How kind and compassionate are we?
- How can we promote justice and the rights of the oppressed?