Spirituality Matters 2017: March 16th - March 22nd
(March 16, 2017: Thursday of the Second Week of Lent)
* * * * *
“Remember that you received what was good during your lifetime…”
The parable in today’s Gospel does not require a great deal of explanation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is a warning - a stern warning. Acts have consequences; choices have ramifications; decisions have results. What goes around comes around.
However, take note of one detail in the story: the rich man who “dressed in purple and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day” is not condemned because of his good fortune, but he is condemned because of his failure to share his good fortune with someone less fortunate.
Lent is a good time for us to reflect upon all the good – all the blessings – that God continues to shower upon us. Lent is also a good time to consider how good we are – or aren’t – at sharing our goods with others.
And why not begin today?
(March 17, 2017: Friday of the Second Week of Lent)
* * * * *
“When his brothers saw that their father loved him best…they hated him…”
This is a famous story from the Book of Genesis. It is a story of family feud. It is a story of internecine jealousy. It is a story of unspeakable betrayal.
However, in the end, it is a story of God’s unpredictable providence!
Joseph is his father’s favorite. His older brothers hate him for it. Blinded by their resentment and envy, they plot to murder Joseph. At the last moment, however, Reuben has second thoughts. He proposes that they essentially leave their brother to die in the desert (hoping that he might subsequently rescue his brother). At first blush, it seemed that Reuben’s plan might work after all until a caravan of foreigners appeared. The plan is changed again. The brothers – even Rueben, by all accounts – decide to sell Joseph into slavery. This plan provides the brothers with an out - they don’t actually take Joseph’s life, but they can get Joseph out of their lives permanently.
Twenty years later Israel finds itself in the grip of a devastating famine. At the end of their respective ropes, Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt with the hope of finding food and shelter. Imagine their surprise – and shame - when they find themselves face-to-face with the brother whom they had sold into slavery, presumably unto death.
There is a great mystery here to be considered. Absent his brothers’ treachery, Joseph’s kin – and presumably, Joseph himself – might have all been consumed by the famine that swept through Israel twenty years after selling their brother into slavery. How could anyone have anticipated that an act of betrayal could turn into a tale of salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation?
What’s the moral to the story? Sometimes in life good things happen for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes in life even the most loathsome of intentions can produce an inspired turn-of-events. Simply put, God can make miracles out of the worst of circumstances.
Today, reflect on this question: are they any examples of such experiences in your own life?
(March 18, 2017: Saturday of the Second Week of Lent)
* * * * *
"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them..."
This behavior is the resentment leveled against Jesus in today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke. In response, Jesus proceeds to tell the Pharisees and scribes a parable: the parable of the prodigal son.
The word “prodigal” is defined as “rashly or wastefully extravagant”. Well, that certainly describes the younger son to a tee. After all, he demands an inheritance (to which, as the younger son, he was not entitled) and promptly blows his entire fortune – and all of his supposed friends – on irresponsible living.
The word “prodigal” is also defined as “lavish in giving”. Well, that certainly describes the father. After all, not only does he not rub his younger son’s face in his failure – or treat him like a slave - but he welcomes him back, forgives him, and restores his place and position in the family.
The word “prodigal” is also defined as “lavish in yielding”. Well, that certainly describes the older son, or more to the point, the older son’s struggle. The story ends with the father begging the older brother to let go of his resentment – to set aside his anger – toward his younger brother’s return as well as toward his father’s lavish celebration of the younger brother’s return.
Is there anything in that story to which you can really relate at this point in your life? Is there anyone in the parable with whom you can most closely empathize?
What is your answer? Why?
(March 19, 2017: Third Sunday of Lent)
* * * * *
"Is the Lord in our midst or not?"
From generation to generation, this is a timely (even a perennial) question more often than not raised in moments of crisis and confusion or in the experience of suffering, tragedy, injustice or loss. Angry, frustrated and disillusioned, the Israelites - our spiritual ancestors - posed this question to Moses in the midst of the seemingly aimless desert trek on which they had been led. Like them, we ask the same question in our own ways every day, whether due to global events like terrorism, war, famine and disease or our own personal struggles, including unemployment, illness, death and relational issues.
Moreover, it is the perfect question to reflect upon as we progress in our Lenten journey.
At least intellectually, we do believe that God is truly in our midst. Francis de Sales certainly did, but for him, this belief was not merely an intellectual assent – but also, one of his core beliefs:
“There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are God is truly present.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II, Chapter 2)
However, in our eagerness for God to spring water from the rock in times of doubt or adversity, we often forget the fact that God has been with us all along the way. In moments of crisis, those who encourage us with a kind word, a good turn or attentive an ear can reflect to us the immediacy of God's faithful, ongoing presence - a presence likewise experienced in Scripture heard, Eucharist shared and prayer raised up.
Still, despite our best intentions and attention, we sometimes panic and miss the obvious in our frantic search for the Lord, especially in times of great need. God is, as it were, “hidden in plain sight”. We forget that God is as near to us as the very air we breathe, a mistake that the Samaritan woman almost makes in her own encounter with Jesus at the well. The Lord is in her midst – in fact, he is right in front of her – but this spontaneous request for a drink from a Jewish male is so astonishing that she almost fails to recognize who is speaking with her. Happily, she realizes that it could “possibly be the Christ” and gratitude stirs her to abandon her water jar, run to town and announce to the people the Good News of her encounter with Jesus.
Whether in the desert or at the well, signs of God's presence are always in our midst and, like the woman in the Gospel, these signs are something for which we should be grateful. The gratitude we feel and express for these signs produces trust: trust in God and trust in those who are signs of God's love for us. “Just trust in the Lord,” St. Francis de Sales writes, “and He will continue to lead you safely through all things. Where you cannot walk, God will carry you in His arms.”
In gratitude for those times when we have been carried in the Lord's arms, today may we be signs of God's presence for others.
(March 20, 2017: Joseph, Husband of Mary)
* * * * *
“Joseph her husband was a righteous man…”
In a conference (The Virtues of St. Joseph) he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation, St. Francis de Sales remarked:
“Now, our glorious St. Joseph was endowed with four great virtues (constancy, perseverance, strength and valor) and practiced them marvelously well. As regards his constancy, did he not display it wonderfully when seeing Our Lady with child, and, not knowing how that could be, his mind was tossed with distress, perplexity and trouble? Yet, in spite of all, he never complained, he was never harsh or ungracious towards his holy Spouse, but remained just as gentle and respectful in his demeanor as he had ever been…” (Living Jesus, p.184)
Joseph experienced more than a little turmoil in his role as husband and father of the Holy Family. However, being the just and righteous man that he was, Joseph never took out his frustrations on his wife or on his son. Rather, he accepted life’s ups and downs as expressions of God’s will for him.
And so we pray: God grant us the grace to imitate the example of St. Joseph. Help us to take whatever comes in life without taking it out on others – especially on those we love the most.
(March 21, 2017: Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent)
* * * * *
“Let our sacrifice be in your presence today…”
This line from the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel would suggest that it is possible to sacrifice something without being in God’s presence. But - as we heard so clearly and convincingly from St. Francis de Sales this past Sunday - it is not possible to sacrifice something apart from God’s presence because there is no place in this world in which God is not truly and fully present.
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Although faith assures us of God’s presence we forget about him and behave as if God were far distant from us because we do not see him with our eyes. We really believe that God is present in all things, but because we do not reflect on this fact we act as if we did not believe it.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)
Whatever we might choose to offer and sacrifice to God today, just remember that our offerings and sacrifices are not intended to draw God’s attention to us. Rather, our offerings and sacrifices are designed to draw our attention to God!
Over and over again!
(March 22, 2017: Wednesday of the Third Week of lent)
* * * * *
“Observe them carefully…”
What is it that we should be observing carefully? As we hear in the words on the lips of Moses from the Book of Deuteronomy today, it is God’s statutes and decrees that we are to observe carefully.
When we fail to observe God’s laws carefully – regardless of how large or how little God’s laws may be, as Jesus points out in today’s Gospel from Matthew – often times it is not because we are intentionally choosing to break them as much as – once again – we have managed to forget them, and in forgetting them we manage to lose sight of them altogether.
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore do not show him the respect they do after being told or reminded of his presence. However, because they do not actually see him, they easily forget his presence and having forgotten it, they still more easily lose the respect and reverence owed to him.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)
And in the effort to underscore the importance of doing carefully any worthwhile endeavor, recall Francis de Sales’ very definition of devotion, that is, holiness:
“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to God. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also to do good carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion.” (Ibid, Part I, Chapter 1)
Today, do you want to make progress in observing carefully God’s statutes and decrees? You can start - as the Book of Deuteronomy reminds us – by not allowing them to slip from your memory! As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”