Spirituality Matters 2017: March 23rd - March 29th

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(March 23, 2017: Thursday of the Third Week of Lent)
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Jer 7:23-28    Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9    Lk 11:14-23

“If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts…”

If you ask a group of people the question, “What is the worst thing that can happen to the human heart?” many folks will almost instinctively respond by answering, “When it breaks”.

However painful a broken heart may be, there is actually something far worse than can happen to a human heart - “When it hardens”.

The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah cites some characteristics or qualities frequently associated with hardening of the heart. These include:

  • Not paying attention or heed
  • Being disobedient
  • Turning ones back on God and others
  • Being stiff-necked
  • Not listening
  • Not answering
  • Being unfaithful
And in the case of today’s Gospel, we witness a particularly toxic variation on hardening of the heart - refusing to acknowledge the power of God at work in the lives of others and refusing to acknowledge that God can choose to work in the lives of others that often confound – and contradict – worldly wisdom.

Nobody wants a broken heart! However, a broken heart can serve as a kind of spiritual pulse. Wounded as we might be, at least having a heart capable of breaking can remind us that we are still alive! By contrast, a hardened heart ultimately leads to one thing and one thing only - death.

If you hear God’s voice today, with what kind of heart will you listen?

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(March 24, 2017: Friday of the Third Week of Lent)
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Hos 14:2-10   Ps 81:6c-8a, 8bc-9, 10-11ab, 14 and 17    Mk 12:28-34

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself…”

In today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus cites what He considered to be the greatest or “first” commandment: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Without being asked, He cites a “second” commandment as well: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The order of the “loves” listed between the two “commandments” is noteworthy: love of God comes first, love of neighbor comes second and love of self comes last. Many people quietly confide to their most trusted friends that over the span of their lives, the person that that they discovered it took the longest to love was themselves.

Are you having problems loving God? Are you having problems loving others? Maybe it’s because you’re having trouble loving yourself. “There is no commandment greater than these.” In the case of the last, perhaps there is no commandment more difficult.

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(March 25, 2017: Annunciation of the Lord)
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Is 7:10-14; 8:10    Ps 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 11    Heb 10:4-10    Lk 1:26-38

“Ask for a sign from the Lord your God…”

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance of making such a request of God? Who wouldn’t say “yes” to the opportunity for God to display His power for us and/or for someone whom we love? Yet, in today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Ahaz balks when given the opportunity of a lifetime and he takes a pass. He backs away, saying, “I will not tempt the Lord.”

What’s up with that? Perhaps Ahaz’s reluctance is rooted in his intuition that signs from the Lord often require changes in the one who asks for the sign in the first place! Under those circumstances, his circumspection makes a whole lot more sense. Remember the admonition? “Be careful what you pray for…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Devout discussions and arguments, miracles and other helps in Christ’s religion do indeed make it supremely credible and knowable, but faith alone makes it believed and known. It brings us to love the beauty of its truth and to believe the truth of its beauty by the sweetness it diffuses throughout our will and the certitude it gives to our intellect. The Jews saw our Lord’s miracles (signs) and heard his marvelous doctrines, but since they were not disposed to accept the faith, that is, since their wills were not susceptible to the sweet and gentle faith because of the bitterness and malice with which they were filled, they remained in their infidelity. They saw the force of the proof but they did not relish its sweet conclusion…” (TLG, II, Chapter 14, pp. 139 – 140)

Of course, God has been giving us signs of his love for us - regardless of whether we have asked for them or not - from the very beginning of time. Creation, itself – through which we were made in God’s image and likeness - is the first and fundamental sign of God’s love for us. As today’s Gospel reminds us, Jesus is the great reaffirmation of that first and fundamental sign of divine love, because Jesus not only redeems us, but through Jesus God also made himself in our image and likeness.

If you are so moved, feel free to ask God for a sign of his love and care. However, it is better that we be more moved to be signs of God’s love and care in the lives of one another.

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(March 26, 2017: Fourth Sunday of Lent)
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1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a    Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6    Eph 5:8-14    Jn 9:1-41

“Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”

Blindness is cured by the touch of Jesus. Expressing our faith - being sources of the touch of Jesus in the lives of others - allows others also to see and experience the healing power of Jesus.

Jesus took the initiative in curing the blindness of the young man born blind. This miracle provided others the occasion to come to a better understanding of Jesus and his mission.

The young man dialogued with the authorities concerning his cure. In doing so, he came to a better understanding of Jesus for himself and, he consequently challenged the authorities concerning their beliefs.

Francis de Sales wrote in the Introduction to the Devout Life (3,26)

“If then you are in love with God, you will often speak of him in your familiar conversations with those of your household, your friends and your neighbors…But speak always of God, as of God: reverently and devoutly; not with ostentation or affectation, but with a spirit of meekness, charity and humility…Pray secretly to God in your soul that it would please Him to make this holy dew sink deep into the heart of those who hear you.”

As the young man spoke more and more about Jesus, he broke open the mystery of what had happened to him and how much Jesus meant to him. He went from seeing Jesus as a miracle worker to recognizing him and believing him to be the Son of God (“He worshipped him”). He gradually came to know Jesus in his fullness, encountering and making that truth his own and doubtlessly changing his life forever.

During this season of Lent, the Sacrament of Reconciliation provides us with the touch of Jesus that cures our own blindness, weakness and sinfulness. Prayer and meditation provide a means to break open for ourselves the mystery of our own redemption. Reading and listening to the Word of God in Scripture and sharing it with others in Bible groups and in less formal ways gives us further insight into how we can participate in the mission of Jesus and his Church.

Openness to the gift of faith permits us to see others as God sees them, and as Samuel saw in David God's anointed one.

St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians says, “Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”

If our life style as a Christian challenges others, then we can express our beliefs with meekness and humility. We need to accept the gift of grace which we received not only as a gift but also as a responsibility. In other words, we need to help others be open to grace and be cured of their own blindness, and to come to see and experience the light that we find only in the life, death, resurrection and love of Jesus Christ.

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(March 27, 2017: Monday of Fourth Week of Lent)
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Is 65:17-21    Ps 30:2 and 4, 5-6, 11-12a and 13b    Jn 4:43-54

“The man believed what Jesus said to him...”

In today’s Gospel, a royal official – whose name we never learn – asked Jesus to save his son, who was apparently near death. Obviously, this request was going to involve some travelling on Jesus’ part (upwards to a full day, as it turned out!), insofar as the official asked Jesus to “come down” – presumably, to his home – and heal his son. Much to the surprise of the official, Jesus simply tells him – without making the trip to actually visit the boy – that his son has already been saved.

And the official “believed what Jesus said to him.” In other words, he took Jesus at his word…and headed home.

You don’t think that his heading home immediately is a big deal? Then put yourself in the official’s position. Can you imagine what was going through his mind, minutes - then hours - after beginning his long walk back home? He had lots of time to second-guess his decision to simply believe Jesus’ statement. “What was I thinking about?” “Am I crazy?” “Should I have insisted that he come with me?” “Was I stupid to believe him?” “What if my son has died by the time I get home?” “Did I let my son – and my family – down?” “Have I failed?”

Talk about faith! A faith, as it turns out, for which he and his entire family were richly rewarded.

St. Francis de Sales once wrote:

“Believe me, God who has led you up until now will continue to hold you in His blessed hand, but you must throw yourself into the arms of His providence with complete trust and forgetfulness of self. Now is the right time. Almost everyone can manage to trust God in the sweetness and peace of prosperity, but only his children can put their trust in Him when storms and tempests rage: I mean to put their trust in Him with complete self-abandonment.” (Select Salesian Subjects, 0130, p. 28)

When it comes to “complete trust and forgetfulness of self”, the standard doesn’t get much higher than the one set by the royal official in today’s Gospel.

How does our trust in God today – especially in the midst of our own “storms and tempests” – measure up?

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(March 28, 2017: Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent)
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Ez 47:1-9, 12    Ps 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9    Jn 5:1-16

"Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”

A touching story in today’s Gospel from John. Jesus encounters a man who has been disabled virtually all his life. The man hopes to be healed by being immersed in the waters of a pool believed to hold miraculous power, but insofar as somebody else always manages to get to the pool ahead of him, his hopes for healing remain unfulfilled.

It’s remarkable what Jesus does for him. He doesn’t offer to carry the man over to the pool. He doesn’t offer to immerse the man into the pool. Jesus heals the disabled man on the very spot on which he had been marooned for nearly four decades.

Simply put, Jesus didn’t make the man work for His healing. Jesus didn’t make the man work for His love. Jesus administered his healing touch freely and without condition.

How often do we make someone work for our love before we decide to share it? How often do we make someone work for our healing touch before we choose to grant it? How often do we make someone crawl before we decide to help them to walk? That’s certainly not how God acts.

And why should we?

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(March 29, 2017: Wednesday of the Fourth Week of lent)
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Is 49:8-15   Ps 145:8-9, 13cd-14, 17-18    Jn 5:17-30

“For the LORD comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted…”

Today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah paints the picture of a God who lifts up those who are weighed down. He is a God who clears a path for those burdened by the journey. He is a God who gives drink to the thirsty and food to the hungry. In short, our God goes out of His way to help those who are down and out. In a world with its share of challenges, trials and difficulty, our God is a God who always lightens our load.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must take the greatest consolation from seeing how God exercises His mercy by the many diverse favors he distributes among angels and men – in heaven, and on earth – and how He exercises His justice by an infinite variety of trials and difficulties. Hence, death, affliction sweat and toil with which life abounds are by God’s justice the consequences of sin, but they are also by God’s sweet mercy ladders upon which to ascend to heaven, means by which to increase and grace and merits whereby to obtain glory. Indeed, blessed are poverty, hunger, thirst, sorrow sickness death and persecution: they are consequences of our humanity which nevertheless are so steeped and aromatized in God’s love, goodness and mercy that theirs is a most sweet bitterness.” (TLG Bk IX, Chapter 1, p.98)

Trials and difficulties are a part of life. Fortunately for us, God seizes these same trials and difficulties as opportunities to console, support, nourish and sustain us.

Consider today – how, in the name of this merciful and generous God, do we do the same for one another?