Spirituality Matters 2018: April 26th - May 2nd
(April 26, 2018: Thursday, Fourth Week of Easter )
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“Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”
In his Conference on Three Spiritual Laws, Francis de Sales remarked:
“Never was there a time when people studied as they do now. Those great Saints (Augustine, Gregory and Hilary whose feast we are keeping today!) and many others did not study much. They could not have done so, writing as many books as they did, preaching and discharging all the other duties of their office. They had, however, such great confidence in God and in God’s grace that they neither placed their dependence nor their trust in their own skill or labor, so that all the great works which they did were done purely by means of their reliance on God’s grace and almighty power. ‘It is You, O Lord,’ they said, ‘who gives us the work and it for you that we work. It is You who will bless our labors and give us a rich harvest.’ Therefore their books and their sermons bore marvelous fruit. By contrast, we who trust in our fine words, in our eloquent language and in our knowledge labor for that which ends up in smoke. We yield no fruit other than vanity.” (Conference VII, pages 116-117)
It is healthy to remind ourselves that however much good we may manage to accomplish today, it is God “who gives us the work”. It is God who helps us to work. It is God who will bring his work in us to completion. In so doing, what we do is to give witness to the goodness of the Lord at work in us and at work among us.
Together, let us sing of the goodness of the Lord! But don’t stop there! Together, let us do – and be – the goodness of the Lord in the lives of one another!
(April 27, 2018: Friday, Fourth Week of Easter )
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“Do not let your hearts be troubled…”
We all have a deep seated fear. Using the image of musical chairs, we fear that when the music stops, there won’t be a chair for us. Jesus promises us that this situation won’t happen because he has prepared a place for each and every one of us. This promise from Jesus is a great remedy for our fear of being left out.
From a Salesian perspective, however, the “place” that Jesus promises to create for us is not found exclusively in heaven. Jesus has also created a unique place, role or niche for each of us here on this earth - a place in which we are called to be sources of his life and his love in the lives of other people.
How will that place – and the people in it – be better for the way you live your life today?
(April 28, 2018: Saturday, Fourth Week of Easter )
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"The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit…”
One of the manifestations of living life in the Spirit is happiness and joy. In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:
“The virtue of cheerfulness requires that we should contribute to holy and temperate joy and to pleasant conversation, which may serve as a consolation and recreation to our neighbor so as to not weary and annoy him with our knit brows and melancholy faces….” (Conference IV, On Cordiality, Book IV, p. 59)
In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal, written not long following their first encounter during the Lenten mission that he preached, Francis specifically cites the relationship between joy and religious liberty:
“No loss or lack can sadden one whose heart is perfectly free. I am not saying that it is impossible for such a person to lose his joy, but it will not be for long.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 71)
In a letter to a young novice who attempted to live the life of a Benedictine sister (but who subsequently left the convent) Francis de Sales underscored the importance of being joyful…or, at least, of trying to be:
“Go on joyfully and with your heart as open and widely trustful as possible; if you cannot always be joyful, at least be brave and confident.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 46)
It’s no accident that we Christians frequently refer to the term “Easter joy”. The power of the Resurrection – and the gifts of the Spirit that flow from it– should go a long way in helping us to be – among other things – joyful! Life being what it is, however, we aren’t always joyful people. When we find it difficult to be joyful, let’s do our best at least to be brave and confident.
And perhaps today, even find joy in that approach!
(April 29, 2018: Fifth Sunday of Easter)
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“Those who keep his commandments remain in him and he in them.”
The scripture passage for today is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples. In it, Jesus is communicating the most important things he wants them to remember. In a powerful and beautiful extended metaphor, Jesus speaks of himself as the vine and his disciples as the branches. He tells them that they must tie themselves closely to him. In order to be healthy, fruit-bearing branches, they must be willing to be trimmed clean of those growths that keep them from bearing fruit. Above all, they must be part of the vine. If they become separated from the vine, they will produce no fruit. They will become withered and rejected branches, good for nothing but to be burnt.
Jesus makes it clear that his disciples already have been given what they need. If they believe the words of life that Jesus has shared with them, if they make his words part of their lives, they will live in him and he will live in them. Hearing those word is only the first step. Living the word by absorbing it and making it an integral part of one’s life, must happen if one is truly to thrive as a disciple of Jesus. This state is as true for us today as it was for the disciples.
We too have been given God’s word. We too are called to live in Jesus, or to “Live Jesus”, as Francis de Sales said, as we go about our daily tasks. And what is the fruit we are supposed to produce? Our fruit is a life marked by the love of Christ and by a life lived in a way that shows our brothers and sisters that we really believe what Jesus told us. It is a life marked by patience, kindness, gentleness and humility. The second reading perhaps puts it best: “We are to believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ, and are to love one another as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him and he in them.”
The way we know that we are living in Jesus and that he is living in us is that we are keeping his commandments. We are called to love “in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it”. We can and should read the scriptures and other spiritual books. We can and should meditate on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We can and should say our prayers and make use of the sacraments of the Church. In the end, however, it is how we treat our brothers and sisters that will tell the story. If our words are not supported by our deeds, then they are empty and barren words, good for nothing.
If we talk about the forgiveness of Jesus but hang on to grudges, we are not “Living Jesus”. If we harbor resentment in our hearts, we are not “Living Jesus”. If we refuse to acknowledge addictive behavior and get help for it, we are not “Living Jesus”. If we delight in gossiping about our neighbor’s misfortunes or weaknesses, we have some pruning and trimming to do before we can bear fruit in the name of Jesus.
Today, let us dig out the pruning shears and start trimming!
(April 30, 2018: Monday, Fifth Week of Ester )
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“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me…”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:
“When I saw in St. Catherine of Siena’s life so many raptures and elevations of spirit, words of wisdom and even sermons uttered by her, I did not doubt that by the eye of contemplation she had ravished the heart of her heavenly Spouse. But I was equally edified when I saw her in her father’s kitchen, humbly turning the spit, kindling fires, dressing meat, kneading bread and doing the meanest household chores cheerfully and filled with love and affection for God. I do not have less esteem for the humble, little meditations she made during these ordinary, lowly tasks than for the ecstasies and raptures she experienced so often. Perhaps the latter were granted to her precisely because of her humility...I cite her life as an example so that you may know how important it is to direct all our actions – no matter how lowly they may be – to the service of his divine Majesty” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, p. 214)
The Salesian tradition reminds us that great ways of keeping God’s commandments are rare and that opportunities to display our love for God in remarkable ways are few and far between. By contrast, opportunities to love God and to keep his commandments in everyday, ordinary ways are legion. It is interesting to consider the possibility that it was St. Catherine’s ability to recognize and to love God in the midst of the mundane responsibilities and demands of everyday life that enabled her to recognize and to love God also in extraordinary ways!
Today how might we imitate St. Catherine’s example in our approach to the ordinary tasks that will be part and parcel of our experience?
(May 1, 2018: St. Joseph the Worker)
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“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid…”
Recall this account in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel:
“Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” (18-20)
Joseph may have had his doubts about how the providence of God was working in the life of Mary and in his own life. He may have been deeply troubled by discovering Mary’s surprise pregnancy. He may have harbored doubts – he may have harbored fears – but Joseph had faith enough to work through his troubles, doubts and fears.
St. Joseph is a powerful example of a person who gradually came to know his place in God’s plan of salvation and who had the courage to take it. He took Mary as his wife despite the mysterious circumstances surrounding her being with child. He treated Jesus as his own. When God told him to pull up stakes and flee to Egypt (of all places!) to protect his family from Herod, Joseph responded promptly without question. When God told him it was safe to bring his family back home from Egypt and settle down, Joseph responded promptly without question. In the midst of all the ups and downs, Joseph’s faith – quiet and unassuming as it may have been – was rock solid.
Like Joseph, each of us has a unique place in God’s ongoing plan of salvation. Despite our troubles, doubts or fears, will we have the courage to take our place?
(May 2, 2018: Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit…”
From the perspective of St. Francis de Sales, the fruit that first comes to mind, when hearing these words from Jesus is the most important fruit of all: charity, or the love of God. Of course, this fruit-of-fruits is manifested in a whole host of ways. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales turns once again to one of the saints that he admired the most – St. Joseph – to illustrate the point:
“The man who possesses charity has his soul clothed with a fair wedding garment which – like that of St. Joseph – is wrought over will all the various virtues. Moreover, it has a perfection which contains the virtue of all perfections and the perfection of all virtues. Hence, ‘charity is patient, is kind. Charity is not envious,’ but generous. ‘It is not pretentious,’ but prudent. ‘It is not puffed up’ with pride but is humble. ‘It is not ambitious’ or disdainful, but amiable and affable. It is not eager to exact ‘what belongs to it’ but is generous and helpful. ‘It is not provoked,’ but peaceful. It ‘thinks no evil’ but is meek. It ‘does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth’ and in the truth. ‘It suffers all things, believes all things’ that are said concerning good to it easily, without stubbornness, contention or distrust. It ‘hopes all’ good things for its neighbor without ever losing hope of procuring his salvation. ‘It endures all things,’ waiting without agitation for what is promised to it…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 8, p. 219)
How well do we remain in Jesus? How patient and kind are we? How humble, amiable and affable are we? How meek and generous are we? How truthful and hopeful are we? How patient and long-suffering are we?
Today is a new day. What kind of fruit can we bear just this day in the name of Jesus?