Spirituality Matters 2018: January 18th - January 24th
(January 18, 2018: Thursday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Hearing what Jesus was doing, a large number of people came to him…”
As word of Jesus’ reputation for helping those in need spread, we are told in today’s Gospel that lots of folks from lots of places travelled lots of distances to see him, to behold his face, to hear his voice, to experience his healing power and know his love.
In one of his Conferences to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales remarked:
“It is very good for us to know and feel our misery and imperfection, but we must not allow that to discourage us; rather, our awareness of our miseries should make us raise our hearts to God by a holy confidence, the foundation of which ought to be in Him…The throne of God’s mercy is our misery; therefore, the greater our misery the greater should be our confidence in God.” (Living Jesus, page 45)
Today’s Gospel challenges people in need not to avoid God but to pursue God. Awareness of our sinfulness should not drive us away from God but should draw us closer to God. Have confidence that God will help you. Have confidence that God will heal you. Have confidence that God will empower you.
Why? Because God loves you! How? In the person of his Son, Jesus.
(January 19, 2018: Friday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He sent them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons…”
This scene from the third chapter of Mark’s Gospel is a major event in the relationship between Jesus and his Apostles/Disciples: he gives them the power to preach and to drive out demons! Their apprenticeship – as it were – is over.
Well, perhaps not completely over.
In Matthew’s Gospel (17: 10 – 21) and in Luke’s Gospel (9: 37 – 45) a man asks Jesus to save his son from a demon. The interesting detail here is that the man comes to Jesus only after some of Jesus’ own disciples (names unknown or, at least, unmentioned!) failed in their attempts to drive the demon out. While some of Jesus’ followers may have been appointed to drive out demons, it would appear that having the power did not always guarantee success.
We might not think about it much, but by virtue of our creation (made as we are in God’s image and likeness) we are disciples of Jesus. We, too, are appointed to preach and to drive out demons. Oh, these demons may not resemble those described in the Scriptures, but they are nonetheless very real. They are evil spirits that plague countless people on any given day. These demons have many names, including: hatred, resentment, anxiety, sadness, jealousy, despair, loneliness, frustration, anger, envy, cynicism and hopelessness. While we (like Jesus’ first disciples) may not always be successful, we are called to do our level best to drive out these demons (or, at least, reduce their effect) through our attempts to embody the spirits of confidence, hope, joy, contentment, solidarity, gratitude, reconciliation and love in our relationships with others.
Or, perhaps, by our efforts to drive out those same demons in ourselves!
(January 20, 2018: Saturday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”
In a perfect world, being true to yourself – being the person that God wants you to be – should be its own reward. But as even Jesus discovers in today’s Gospel, being true to yourself – being the person that God wants you to be – can bring with it some unwarranted and unwelcomed resistance and rejection.
Especially from family, friends and other loved ones!
Only three pages into his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales deals with this phenomenon head-on. “The men who discouraged the Israelites from going into the Promised Land told them that it was a country that ‘devoured its inhabitants.’ In other words, they said that the air was so malignant it was impossible to live there for long and its natives such monsters that they ate men like locusts. It is in this manner that the world vilifies holy devotion as much as it can. It pictures devout persons are having discontented, gloomy, sullen faces and claims that devotion brings on depression and unbearable moods.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 2)
In short, others may tell you that any attempt to live a holy life is just plain crazy!
In St. Francis de Sales’ opinion, being the kind of person that God wants you to be is not only not crazy but it is, on the contrary, the sanest decision you could ever make. He suggests: “Devotion is true spiritual sugar for it removes discontent from the poor, anxiety from the rich, grief from the oppressed, pride from the exalted, melancholy from the solitary and exhausting from those in society. It serves with equal benefit as fire in winter and dew in summer. It knows how to enjoy prosperity and how to endure want. It makes honor and disgrace alike useful to us. It accepts pleasure and pain with a heart that is nearly always the same, and it fills us with a marvelous sweetness.” (Ibid)
Are you crazy to live a life of devotion? From Jesus’ perspective, you’d be crazy not to do so!
(January 21, 2018: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The world as we know it is passing away.”
Francis de Sales wrote:
“God preserves this great world amid constant change, wherein day turns into night, night into day, spring into summer, summer into autumn, autumn into winter and winter into spring. One day is never perfectly like another: some are cloudy, some rainy, some dry and some windy. Such variety gives great beauty to the universe.”
Every person and every generation need to come to grips with the fact that our lives are always changing. No matter how good things may have been in former times or how good they may be right now, there is always more yet to come. The security of “what is” needs to be open to the uncertainty of “what may come”.
Put another way, we need to constantly reform, refashion and renew our lives.
This change goes against our grain. It’s so easy to cling to what we know. It’s so easy to believe that we’ve learned all we need to learn. It’s so easy to think that there aren’t any more ways in which we can grow. We are tempted to say that we know, have learned and have grown enough.
On the other hand, Jesus invites us to believe in the Good News, that is, to believe in the power of God’s constant, unchanging love that calls us to learn more about God, ourselves and one another. Jesus calls us to believe that the willingness to reform our lives (with the help of the Holy Spirit) can help us to experience in the changing circumstances, events and relationships of our daily lives more of the justice, the freedom, the reconciliation and the peace that will be unchanging in heaven.
So, be willing to change. Be willing to grow. Be willing to learn. Be willing to reform. Be willing to be transformed. Believe that the power of the Reign of God can help you to become more of the person that God calls you to be. Turn away more convincingly from what is evil. Embrace more deeply what is good. In words and example, challenge and encourage one another to do the same.
While the world as we know it is passing away, Jesus promises us that the best is yet to come. Together, you and I can make the best of what is yet to come a reality in our own day by recognizing the opportunities that God provides in each and every present moment for our reformation, our transformation and our growth.
Believe in this Good News! Pass it on to others!
(January 22, 2018: Day of Prayer - Legal Protection of Unborn Children)
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In his popularization of Bishop Camus’s accounts of the life and legacy of St. Francis de Sales (in The Spirit of Love) C.F. Kelley wrote:
“St. Francis de Sales would often say to me (Camus) how much better it would be to accommodate ourselves to others rather than to want to bend everyone to our own ways and opinions. The human mind is like pulp, which takes readily any color with which it is mixed. The great thing is to take care that it not be like the chameleon, which, one after the other takes every color except white.” (Select Salesian Subjects, p. 122, 0523)
St. Francis de Sales’ preferred approach for evangelizing was to meet people where they lived. As his Catholic Controversies clearly demonstrate, however, the “Gentleman Saint” had no hesitation in pointing out instances in which he believed people were objectively wrong. While seeking to accommodate others’ ways and opinions as a strategy for winning them over, attempts at persuasion can never be made at the expense of one’s own principles or core beliefs.
The debate regarding Roe vs. Wade and its impact in the United States shows no signs of waning. In addition, debate often denigrates into wholesale divisiveness, even ad hominem attacks. With this unfortunate state of affairs surrounding what is a life or death situation in mind, Jane de Chantal’s advice to a fellow Visitandine sister is especially relevant:
“I am convinced, and experience has taught me, that nothing so wins souls as gentleness and cordiality. Follow this method, for it is the spirit of our blessed Father. Curtness in words or actions only hardens hearts and depresses them, whereas gentleness encourages them and makes them receptive…” (LSD, page 247)
Discussions about how best to legally protect unborn children appear to produce little or no consensus. Arguments for and against “legislating morality” seem to have no end. In the meantime, there is nothing to be lost – and perhaps much to be gained – by continuing to pray that “liberty and justice for all” will, in fact, be just that - for all, including unborn children.
Today, may God help us to put that prayer into action with as much poignant purpose – and gentle persuasion – as we can.
(January 23, 2018: Tuesday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Whoever does the will of God is brother, and sister and mother to me.”
What is God’s will? In more than a few places throughout the Gospels, Jesus is quite clear when He says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.
What does it mean to be merciful? Jesus is very specific in Luke 6: 36 – 38: “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful. Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Pardon and you will be pardoned. Give and it shall be given to you. Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will they pour into the folds of your garment. For the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”
To be sure (as we see in the reading from the Second Book of Samuel), making sacrifice – making offering – has its place in following the will of God. However, as the example of David clearly indicates, offering goods to God should also lead to our offering goods to others.
- Doing the will of God is not limited to what we can offer solely to God.
- Doing the will of God is also about making the sacrifices involved in not
judging and not condemning.
- Doing the will of God is also about making the sacrifices required in
pardoning and giving.
- Doing the will of God is also about making the sacrifices involved in doing our level best to recall throughout each day that “the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you”.
Do you want to be known as “brother, sister and mother” to Jesus? Do you want to be recognized as a member of Jesus’ family?
Then, do the will of God by putting into to practice this maxim from St. Francis de Sales: “The measure of love is to love without measure.”
(January 24, 2018: Francis de Sales: Bishop, Founder, Doctor of the Church)
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Prv 16: 16-2  : Ps 34: 2-3, 4 and 6, 9 and 12, 14-15 JAS 3:13-18 Mk 5: 23-28
“A patient person is better than a warrior, and those who master their tempers are stronger than one who would capture a city.”
So close, yet so far.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that that’s how Francis de Sales might have characterized his feelings regarding one of his greatest hopes that remained sadly unfulfilled - the return of Catholicism to the city of Geneva. Notwithstanding his success in the Chablais Region during the first four years of his priesthood, his pivotal prominence as Bishop of Geneva, his reputation as a man who could reach minds and soften hearts, his gift for shuttle diplomacy, and as one who “befriended many along the road to salvation,” the full restoration of his See remained frustratingly beyond his reach.
It’s easy to overlook, but Francis de Sales isn’t remembered for always having had the “Midas Touch”. It’s not like every initiative or endeavor that the “Gentleman Saint” touched turned to gold or ended with overwhelming success. Nevertheless, the Church recognizes him as a spiritual giant, precisely because of his willingness to master the city of his own temper, to curb the city of his own enthusiasm and to discipline the city of his own passion in pursuing God and the things of God by choosing to focus his energies on evangelizing those whom he could reach rather than becoming embittered about those he could not reach. True to Fr. Brisson’s assessment of the Salesian method for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, Francis de Sales met people where they were – not where they weren’t.
Not unlike Our Lord Himself!
On the Feast day of the “Bishop of Geneva” let us ask for the grace to imitate his example! May we experience the self-mastery that is even “better than a warrior” by focusing our energies and effort on everything that is within our power to do for the love of God and neighbor, and to let go of whatever is not.
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We offer for your reflection on this feast day of Francis de Sales the forward of a fifty-four page devotional booklet published in 2008 in the United Kingdom (written by a J. Barry Midgley) regarding the life and legacy of “The Gentleman Saint”.
"In some ways the Age in which St. Francis de Sales lived has similarities to our own. Then, as now, the world was experiencing dramatic change, and the mind of the Church was necessarily focused on spiritual, intellectual and institutional renewal: correcting aggressive heresy, reaffirming doctrine and practice, and preserving the ministerial priesthood that is at the heart of Catholic life. The Church continues to work for the revival of evangelization and the conversion of nations, withstanding secular assaults on faith, reversing the dilution of doctrine and protecting the accessibility of the sacrifice of the Mass. In every season, the 'Barque of Peter' navigates some stormy waters but, thankfully, there are saints like Francis de Sales whose eager and powerful intercession does not diminish with the passing of time."
"God - in His kindness - provides every season with holy men and women to encourage God's people, and the Holy Spirit breathes an impetus to refresh faith, doctrine, religious leadership and energy in the mission Christ delegated to His people. Francis de Sales is a luminous example of the local apostle who preserves and teaches the faith received by the twelve Apostles personally from Our Lord. As a bishop, his priorities were to preach the Gospel, to preside at Mass, to care for the clergy and to ensure that spiritual centers of liturgical and cultural excellence stimulated hope and the practice of devotion. Francis helped those entrusted to his care understand that prayer opens the mind and heart to God's word and to respond to his (Francis') belief that everyone plays a part in God's plan of salvation through a personal conception of His Son. Indeed, Francis de Sales truly was a fascinating figure, so balanced, courageous, sensible and devout: another 'man for all seasons.'"
"I am grateful...for a renewed appreciation of this wonderful man."
Through the example and intercession of St. Francis de Sales, may each of us - in ways fitting to the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves - strive to be "balanced, courageous, sensible and devout" in our efforts to "Live Jesus”.
To be - in word, in deed - people for all seasons…in every season!