Spirituality Matters 2018: January 25th - January 31st
(January 25, 2018: Conversion of Paul, Apostle)
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St. Francis de Sales had a special place in his heart for the person whose conversion we celebrate - Paul of Tarsus. Throughout his writings Francis not only refers to Paul by name but Francis also refers to Paul by two titles reserved solely for him: “The Apostle” and “The Great Apostle.”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:
“The glorious St. Paul speaks thus. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, constancy and chastity.’ See how this divine Apostle enumerates these twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit but sets them down as only one fruit. He does not say, ‘The fruits of the Spirit are…,’ but rather ‘the fruit of the Spirit is…’ Charity is truly the sole fruit of the Holy Spirit, but this one fruit has an infinite number of excellent properties…He means that divine love gives us inward joy and consolation together with great peace of heart, which is preserved in adversity by patience. It makes us kind and gracious in helping our neighbor with a heartfelt goodness toward him. Such goodness is not whimsical; it is constant and persevering and gives us enduring courage by which we are rendered mild, pleasant and considerate to all others. We put up with their moods and imperfections. We keep perfect faith with them, as we thus testify to a simplicity accompanied with trust both in our words and in our actions. We live modestly and humbly, leaving aside all that is luxurious and in excess regarding food and drink, clothing, sleep, play, recreation and other such desires and pleasures. Above all, we discipline the inclinations and rebellions of the flesh by vigilant chastity. All this so to the end that our entire being may be given over to divine dilection both interiorly by joy, patience, long-suffering goodness and fidelity, but also exteriorly by kindness, mildness, modesty, constancy and chastity.” (Book 11, Chapter 19)
From what we see in the life of St. Paul, he obviously did more than merely speak of the fruit of the Spirit. He lived it. His life was transformed by it. He shared it as a gift with all those whose lives he touched. Like Francis de Sales, may we not only admire the example of “the glorious St. Paul,” but also let us imitate his example in our own lives. Let us do our level best to embody and share the gift of the Spirit which indeed has so many excellent properties.
(January 26, 2018: Timothy and Titus, Bishops)
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“Stir into flame the gift of God that you have…a spirit of power and love and self-control.”
In his preface to his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales himself observed:
“I foresee that many people will say that is it only members of religious communities and persons dedicated to devotion who should give special direction in piety, that such things require more leisure than a bishop in charge of a diocese as large as mine can have, and that such an undertaking is too distracting for a mind that should be employed in matters of importance. For my part, I tell you that it is primarily the duty of the bishop to lead souls to perfection, since their order is as supreme among men as that of the seraphim among angels. Hence their leisure cannot be better employed than in such work. The ancient bishops and fathers of the Church were at last as careful about their duties as we are, yet, as we see from their letters, they did not refuse to take charge of the particular conduct of souls who turned to them for assistance. In this they imitated the apostles who, while working with special and particular affection to gather all men, picked out certain extraordinary ears of grain. Who does not know that Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Onesimus, Tecla and Appia were the dear children of the great St. Paul…?”
Tempted - as very busy people may be - to perceive other people as obstacles to getting things done, Francis de Sales (no doubt inspired as he was with the example of Paul’s willingness to mentor, support and encourage his would-be protégé’s, Timothy and Titus in the work of proclaiming and living the Gospel) reminds us that the work with which each of us is charged is people – God’s people. There is no work, no ministry, and no job so important as to distract us from pursuing what really matters in this life - to lead, encourage and support one another in our quest for perfection.
Francis de Sales reminds us in another section of his Introduction, “This life is only a journey to the happy life to come. We must march on as a band of brothers and sisters, companions united in meekness, peace and love.” This march is our work. This march is our life: to journey together on the paths to perfection, i.e., to bring out the best in ourselves and in one another.
One person – one day – at a time!
(January 27, 2018: Saturday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Why are you terrified?”
It’s a great question that Jesus proposes to his disciples in today’s Gospel. For our part, we could probably list any number of things in our own lives that have scared, frightened or even terrified us in the past, that could scare, frighten or terrify us in the future or perhaps are scaring, frightening or terrifying us at this very moment. The fact of the matter is that every life comes with its share of things, situations and events that actually should terrify us!
In a letter to Angelique Arnauld, the Abbess of Port Royal, Francis de sales wrote:
“‘Oh, unhappy man that I am,’ said the great apostle, ‘who will deliver me from the body of this death?’ St. Paul felt as if an army, made up of his moods, aversions, habits and natural inclinations had conspired to bring about his spiritual death. Because they terrified him, he showed that he despised them. Because he despised them, he could not endure them without pain. His pain made him cry out this way and then answer his own cry by asserting that the grace of God through Jesus Christ will indeed defend him, but not from fear, or terror, or alarm nor from the fight; rather, from defeat and from being overcome.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, pp. 172-173)
There are things in life that scare, frighten and terrify us for good reason. Jesus is not asking us to never experience these (or other) emotions when they come upon us with good reason; rather Jesus is asking us to remember (as was the case with the disciples in today’s Gospel) that in the midst of whatever storms and surges that we may experience in life, we are never alone!
Jesus is always – and forever – with us.
(January 28, 2018: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“I should like you to be free of all anxieties.”
Sure! Where do I sign up???
We can certainly appreciate Saint Paul's prayer this Sunday that we should “be free of all anxieties”. Don't we all wish that we could be free of all anxieties? The truth is that all of us worry and fret about things. In some cases, given the challenges that life can throw at us, we should worry if we didn't worry!
Worry is a part of life. Worry challenges us to respond to something in our lives that needs attention, to respond to something that needs to be addressed or to respond to something that needs to be examined and, where possible, to be achieved, remedied or, at least, improved. Of course, we also know from experience that many of the things for which we hope also rely upon the actions of others…including God.
The problem is that worry can turn into anxiety. While worry is usually focused upon specific issues, concerns, people or events, anxiety is a free-floating emotion that can cripple our ability to deal with the challenges of life. “Anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall the soul, sin excepted,” writes St. Francis de Sales. “Anxiety arises from an inordinate desire to be freed from the evil we experience or to acquire the good for which we hope. Yet, there is nothing which so aggravates the evil or impedes the good as anxiety.”
Francis de Sales suggests that we should monitor our anxiety levels: “Consider whether your heart is under your control, or if it has escaped from your hands to entangle itself in some inordinate attachment of love, hatred, envy, avarice, fear, weariness or joy. If it has wandered, go after it and bring it back quite gently to the presence of God.”
Of course, prevention is the best cure. “When you experience the beginning of anxiety, entrust yourself to God. Decide to do nothing of what your desire urges you until the anxiety has passed away completely, unless it is something that cannot be postponed. In such a case you must restrain and control the course of your desire with a gentle and peaceful effort. Above all, act reasonably, not emotionally.”
In the midst of our worldly worries, may God preserve us from anxiety. May we center ourselves in the heart of a loving God as we embrace our daily ups, downs and everything in between. May God help us in our efforts to prevent moments of worry from becoming a way of life.
(January 29, 2018: Monday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with Him, but Jesus would not permit him…”
The story in today’s Gospel is but one of many occasions in which people – after having encountering Jesus – expressed their desire to follow Him, only to have their request denied. Whether in the case of the man possessed by many demons or in the cases of so many other people whose lives were forever changed by an encounter with Jesus, his directive to “go home” must have been a real let-down.
Especially in the case of John the Baptist!
In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal (14 October, 1604), Francis de Sales wrote:
“I have often wondered who is the most mortified of the saints I know, and after some reflection I have come to the conclusion that is was John the Baptist. He knew that our Savior came to earth in a place quite close by, perhaps only one or two days’ journey away. How his heart, touched with love of his Savior from the time he was in his mother’s womb must have longed to enjoy his presence. Yet he spends twenty-five years in the desert without coming to see Our Lord even once; and leaving the desert he stays to catechize without visiting him but waiting until Our Lord comes to seek him out. Then when he has baptized him he does not follow him but remains behind to do his appointed task…The example of this great saint overwhelms me with its grandeur.” (Conference XIV, p. 259)
It is easy to forget that after their encounter in the River Jordan during which John baptized Jesus, John remained behind while Jesus moved on. Yet, who would deny that John was, nevertheless, a follower – a disciple – of the Lord? As it turns out, there is more than one way to follow Jesus. While some announce what the Lord has done for them in unfamiliar or faraway places, others announce what the Lord has done for them right in their own homes and neighborhoods.
Just this day, whether it is in a place half-a-world away or right in your own back yard, how can you “follow” Jesus by giving witness to others for all that the Lord has done for you?
(January 30, 2018: Tuesday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Please come and lay your hands on her…If I but touch his clothes I will be cured.”
People continued to approach Jesus on behalf of the sick – and on behalf of themselves – to be healed by Jesus. The account in today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark provides an interesting detail: folks coming to Jesus for help believed that if Jesus merely touched them or if they merely touched Jesus, they would experience healing power.
It would seem that just a little bit of Jesus – even the smallest touch of Jesus – went a very, very long way.
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote: “Among sacred lovers there are some who so completely devote themselves to exercises of divine love that its holy fire devours and consumes their life…” (Book VII, Chapter 10, p. 41) Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of this love. His love for others was so intense and intentional that even the smallest sampling of it changed forever the lives of those he touched or as in the case of the woman burdened with a hemorrhage, those who touched him.
Today, how might the same be said of our love today. How can we – even in small ways – be sources of God’s healing power for others?
(January 31, 2018: John Bosco, Priest and Founder)
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In his pamphlet about the life of St. Francis de Sales entitled A True Nobleman, Philip J. Pascucci, SDB wrote:
“One of Don Bosco’s nine resolutions when he was ordained to the priesthood was: ‘The sweetness and charity of St. Francis de Sales will guide me in everything.’ Francis de Sales was by nature (his biographers tell us) sensitive, somewhat irritable and hot-tempered, but, by dint of patient striving, day after day from his early years, Francis succeeded in mastering his disposition to such an extent that he became known as the gentle, kind and meek saint. Don Bosco knew from his own experience and the experience of others that his followers would need an outstanding model of these virtues in the difficult work which they would have to accomplish among (troubled and troublesome) youth. The model he chose for his followers had to be Francis de Sales.” (Page 32)
Today, how might we follow the example of John Bosco in following the example of St. Francis de Sales? How might God be calling us this day to allow the “sweetness and charity” of St. Francis de Sales to guide us in what we think, how we feel, what we say and how we relate with, for and about one another, especially with those people whom we experience as troubled or troublesome?