Spirituality Matters 2017: June 29th - July 5th
(June 29, 2017: Peter and Paul, Apostles)
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Today, we celebrate the lives and legacies of two great pillars of the early Church – Peter and Paul. Of course, a closer look as these two pillars reveals that they weren’t always very strong or sturdy!
Of St. Peter, Francis de Sales wrote:
“St. Peter was chosen to be the chief of the Apostles, although he was subject to so many imperfections that he even committed some after he had received the Holy Spirit, because, notwithstanding these defects, he was always full of courage, never allowing himself to be dismayed by his shortcomings.” (Conferences, Number IV, Page 63)
Francis expounds upon this duality of Peter’s nature in his Treatise on the Love of God:
“Who would not marvel at the heart of St. Peter, so bold among armed soldiers that out of all of his master’s company he alone takes his sword in hand and strikes out with it? Yet a little afterwards among ordinary people he is so cowardly that at the mere word of a servant girl he denies and detests his master.” (Book X, Chapter 9, p, 167)
Doesn’t it seem that this “rock” upon whom Christ built his Church had more than his share of cracks!
Let’s turn our attention now to St. Paul. Francis wrote:
“He fights for all people, he pours forth prayers for all people, he is passionately jealous in behalf of all people, and he is on fire for all people. Yes, he even dared more than this for ‘those according to the flesh,’ so that, if I dare to say so, he desires by charity that they may be put in his place with Jesus Christ. O perfection of courage and unbelievable spirit!” (Treatise, Book X, Chapter 16, pp. 188 – 189)
Of course, as in the case of Peter, Paul, too, has his shortcomings. In a letter of encouragement to a sister of the Visitation, Francis wrote:
“Do not be ashamed…any more than St. Paul who confessed that there were two men in him, one rebellious to God and the other obedient to God.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 224.)
Individually and collectively, the impact that Peter and Paul have made on the early Church cannot be overestimated. Without a doubt, they have left a lasting impression. That said, their lives also give poignant and powerful testimony to how God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness to him in the lives of other people.
God chose Peter and Paul in their time to be heralds of the Good News. God chooses us too, in our time, to do the same. As in the cases of Peter and Paul, the Lord chooses us as we are – imperfections, cracks, warts and all – and makes us something strong, beautiful, powerful and passionate for God…and for one another.
Who says that you have to be a perfect person to reflect the image and likeness of God? Who says that you have to be a perfect person to preach – in both word and deed – the Good News of Jesus Christ?
(June 30, 2017: Friday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:
“The truth is that our Savior’s redemption touches our sins and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. After all, Our Savior himself tells us that there ‘is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just people who have no need of repentance.’”
“So, too, the state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence. Truly, by the watering of our Savior’s blood - made with the hyssop of the cross - we have been restored to a white incomparably better and brighter than that found in the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we emerge from the stream of salvation more pure and clean than if we had never had leprosy in the first place.”
Can God make us clean? Absolutely! Can God heal us and make us whole? Absolutely! Can God restore us to life and to love? Absolutely!
All this and so much more.
(July 1, 2017: Saturday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I will come and cure him.”
In a sermon about St. Joseph and the Holy Family, Francis de Sales observed:
“Let it, then, be enough to know that God wishes us to obey, without occupying ourselves with considering the capability of those whom we are called upon to obey. In this way we shall bring down our minds to walk simply in the happy path of a holy and tranquil humility which will render us infinitely pleasing to God.”
This is a great insight that Francis de Sales offers regarding the virtue – and practice – of obedience. The essence of obedience (from the Latin meaning to listen) is not simply doing what we’re told; obedience is recognizing that each person in our lives has a unique role in helping us to become the perdson that God wants us to be. Obedience is about listening to how God may be speaking to us today through the people with whom we live, love and labor every day,
In truth, we see the obedience of two people in today’s Gospel – Jesus and the centurion. Jesus’ obedience is demonstrated in his listening to the needs of another (in this case, the centurion describing the plight of his servant) and choosing to respond as his Father wills Him – to follow the centurion home and effect a healing. For his part, the centurion demonstrates his obedience by listening to Jesus, believing that Jesus will be true to His word, the soldier returns home, confident that Jesus will effect the healing…or perhaps, already has.
Jesus is amazed at the quality of the obedience of the centurion. He knows more than a little about the virtue of obedience, because he was soon to be obedient even unto death - death on a cross.
On a scale of 1-to-10, what is the quality of our obedience? How willing are we to listen for and to the voice of God in our lives and follow it?
(July 2, 2017: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink — he will surely not lose his reward."
In his commentary on this passage from today’s Gospel, William Barclay observed:
“We cannot all be prophets and preach and proclaim the word of God, but he who gives God’s messenger the simple gift of hospitality will receive no less a reward than the prophet himself. There is many a man who has been a great public figure; there is many a man whose voice has kindled the hearts of thousands of people; there is many a man who carried an almost intolerable burden of public service and public responsibility, all of whom would gladly have borne witness that they could never have survived the effort and the demands of their task were it not for the love and care and the sympathy and the service of someone at home, who was never in the public eye at all. When true greatness is measured up in the sight of God, it will be seen again and again that the man who greatly moved the world was entirely dependent on someone who – as far as the world was concerned – remained unknown.”
“We cannot all be shining examples of goodness. We cannot all stand out in the world’s eye as righteous. But he who helps a good man to be good receives a good man’s reward.”
“The great beauty of this passage is its stress on simple things. The Church and Christ will always need their great orators, their great shining examples of sainthood, their great teachers, those whose names are household words. But the Church and Christ will also always need those in whose homes there is hospitality, on whose hands there is all the service which makes a home and in whose hearts there is the caring that is Christian love and, as Mrs. Browning said, ‘All service ranks the same with God.’”
Barclay’s reflection is reminiscent of three observations made by St. Francis de Sales on this very consideration of the importance of little things:
“Little daily acts of charity, this headache, toothache or cold, this bad humor in a husband of wife…in short, all such little things 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.”
“Put your hands 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 your distaff or spindle – in other words, practice those little, humble virtues that grow like flowers at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of your family, with all the tasks that go worth such things and with all that useful diligence which will not you stand idle.”
“Nothing is small in the service of God.”
Today, in big ways – in little ways – how might God be calling you to live a rewarding life?
(July 3, 2017: Thomas, Apostle)
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"Unless I see the mark of the nails…I will not believe.”
In Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Do not say that so-and-so is a drunkard even though you have seen him intoxicated, or that so-and-so is an adulterer even if you saw him in his sin, or that so-and-so is incestuous because he has been guilty of a certain depraved deed. A single act is not enough to justify the name of vice...To deserve the name of a vice or a virtue, there must be some advance in an act and it must be habitual. Hence it is untrue to say that so-and-so is bad-tempered or a thief simply because we once saw him in a fit of anger or guilty of theft…We must not draw conclusions from yesterday to today, nor from today to yesterday, and still less to tomorrow.” ( IDL, Part III, Chapter 29, p. 202)
So why is it, then, that so many people continue to refer to the Apostle whose life and legacy we celebrate today as “Doubting Thomas”? Nearly two thousand years have passed since he declared to his peers what it would take for him to believe that Jesus was risen. Why should we vilify Thomas for being honest? Why should we beat up on Thomas for speaking from his heart? Jesus certainly didn’t!
Jesus didn’t scold Thomas for his declaration. Jesus didn’t refuse Thomas’ request. Quite the contrary! Jesus showed him his hands and his side, saying, in effect: “Do you want to see my wounds? Here they are! Do you want to touch my hands and side? Please do! If that’s what it’s going to take to convince you that I’m real, Thomas, then by all means please do it!” It was then that Thomas believed that the person who was standing in front of him was the same Jesus with whom he walked for three years. It was the same Jesus who had spent his ministry meeting people where they were and now he offered the same courtesy to Thomas.
Besides, Thomas’ disbelief was not habitual – it was a one-time event.
In the closing scene from the film Red Dragon, Dr. Hannibal Lector’s character opines: “Our scars have the power to remind us that the past was real.” Perhaps, only the scars left by Jesus’ humiliation, passion and death could convince Thomas that Jesus had conquered death! Perhaps that’s why Thomas had the courage to speak this truth despite the giddy euphoria of the other Apostles who had previously seen Jesus. Can you really blame Thomas for not simply taking their word for it?
Come to think of it, it is a remarkable thing that the experience of resurrection did not remove the wounds of Jesus. The lasting marks of pain, disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection, humiliation, abandonment, suffering and death were clear for all to see. Notwithstanding these wounds, however, Christ's resurrection powerfully demonstrates that pain, sadness, suffering and injustice -- as real as they are -- do not, ultimately, have the last word. While suffering was clearly a part of Jesus’ life, there was so much more to his life than just suffering.
Maybe it’s time for us to retire the moniker “Doubting Thomas” and replace it with “Honest Thomas” from this day forward! Maybe it’s also time for us to simply accept the fact that there are some things about Jesus that we can know only through our own wounds and the wounds of others.
(July 4, 2017: Tuesday, Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I walk in integrity…”
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America.
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary…to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Do you want to experience life to the full? Do you want to have life and to have life in abundance? Then serve God! Show in your own life – and in the lives of others – the power and promise that comes with giving homage to God! How can we do that? (1) Seek good by pursuing and promoting the God-given, unalienable gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with others, and (2) stop evil by confronting and containing anything that threatens these same God-given, unalienable gifts. Using the language of the Salesian tradition, we are most free when we walk with integrity, that is, when we treat ourselves and others with profound respect and reverence.
How can we walk with integrity today? How can we be truly happy today? The answer - by doing our part to continue fashioning a nation in which all people can experience the liberty that comes from serving the needs of one another.
(July 5, 2017: Wednesday, Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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The Lord hears the cry of the poor
“On the occasion of Elizabeth of Portugal’s birth in 1271, her father, Pedro III, future king of Aragon, was reconciled with his father, James, the reigning monarch. This proved to be a portent of things to come. Under the healthful influences surrounding her early years, she quickly learned self-discipline and acquired a taste for spirituality. This proved fortuitous when, at the age of 12, she was given in marriage to Denis, king of Portugal. She was able to establish for herself a pattern of life conducive to growth in God’s love, not merely through her exercises of piety, including daily Mass, but also through her exercise of charity, by which she was able to befriend and help pilgrims, strangers, the sick, the poor—in a word, all those whose neediness she noticed.”
“In the midst of her charitable work, Elizabeth remained devoted to her husband, whose infidelity to her was an open secret. He, too, was the object of many of her peace endeavors. She long sought peace for him with God, and Elizabeth’s efforts were finally rewarded when he gave up his life of sin. She repeatedly sought and effected peace between the king and their rebellious son, Alfonso, who thought that he was passed over to favor the king’s illegitimate children. Elizabeth acted as peacemaker in the struggle between Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and his cousin James, who claimed the crown. When she had retired as a Franciscan tertiary to the monastery of the Poor Clares after the death of her husband, Elizabeth was able to bring about a lasting peace between her son Alfonso, then king of Portugal, and his son-in-law, the king of Castile.”
“The work of promoting peace is anything but a calm and quiet endeavor. It takes a clear mind, a steady spirit and a brave soul to intervene between people whose emotions are so aroused that they are ready to destroy one another. This is all the more true of a woman in the early 14th century. But Elizabeth had a deep and sincere love and sympathy for humankind, almost a total lack of concern for herself and an abiding confidence in God. These were the tools of her success.” ( www.americancatholic.org)
Elizabeth of Portugal was named for her great aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Regarding St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Francis de Sales observed:
“St. Elizabeth, daughter of the king of Hungary, often visited the poor...how poor was she in the midst of all her riches and how rich was she in her poverty!” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 166)
The Lord hears the cry of the poor. The Lord also hears the cry of those who minister to the poor and who try to sow the seeds of peace.
Today, in what ways might the Lord hear our cries today?