Spirituality Matters 2018: June 28th - July 4th

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(June 28, 2018: Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr)
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“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “You must be ready to suffer many great afflictions for our Lord, even martyrdom itself. However, as long as divine Providence does not send you great, piercing afflictions…bear patiently the slight inconveniences, the little inconveniences and the inconsequential losses that daily come to you…All such little trials when accepted and embraced with love are highly pleasing to God’s mercy.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

When it comes to entering the Kingdom of God, talk is cheap. As we see clearly in the example of Abram, Sarai, and so many others in the selections from the Book of Genesis that we have been hearing this week, there’s a lot less lips service involved with following God’s will and a great deal more hearing – to say nothing of doing it!

How far are we willing to go this day in attempting to follow the will of God – by doing it?

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(June 28, 2018: Vigil Mass of Peter and Paul, Apostles)
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“Their message goes out through all the earth…

Tomorrow, the Church celebrates the lives and legacies of two of its greatest Apostles: Peter and Paul. Great as these men were, however, their lives illustrate the fact that you don’t have to be perfect to be a follower of Jesus.

Of Saint Peter, Francis de Sales wrote: “St. Peter was chosen to be the chief of the Apostles, although he was subject to so many imperfections that he even committed some after he had received the Holy Spirit, because, notwithstanding these defects, he was always full of courage, never allowing himself to be dismayed by his shortcomings.” (Conferences, Number IV, Page 63)

Francis expounds upon this duality of Peter’s nature in his Treatise on the Love of God. “Who would not marvel at the heart of St. Peter, so bold among armed soldiers that out of his entire master’s company he alone takes his sword in hand and strikes out with it? Yet a little afterwards among ordinary people he is so cowardly that at the mere word of a servant girl he denies and detests his master.” (Book X, Chapter 9, p, 167)

There are lessons to be gleaned from the life of St. Paul, too. Francis observed: “He fights for all people, he pours forth prayers for all people, he is passionately jealous in behalf of all people, and he is on fire for all people. Yes, he even dared more than this for ‘those according to the flesh,’ so that, if I dare to say so, he desires by charity that they may be put in his place with Jesus Christ. O perfection of courage and unbelievable spirit!” (Treatise, Book X, 16, pp. 188 – 189)

Of course, as in the case of Peter, Paul also has his shortcomings. In a letter of encouragement to a sister of the Visitation, Francis wrote: “Do not be ashamed…any more than St. Paul who confessed that there were two men in him, one rebellious to God and the other obedient to God.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 224.)

Indeed, their message – as we see so clearly in their lives and as we hear in their words – continues to go out through all the earth. And this message could not be any clearer or more relevant now than it was nearly two thousand years ago: “God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness…” (Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer: Martyrs, Roman Sacramentary)

God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness to the power and promise of his love. Weak as they were, God chose Peter and Paul in their time to be heralds of the Good News.

And yes, God chooses us in our time. The Lord chooses us as we are – imperfections, cracks, warts and all – and makes us something strong, beautiful, powerful and passionate for God…and for one another.

Let God’s message – and yours – go out through all the earth, especially to those with whom you will share your life this very day and every day.

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(June 29, 2018: Peter and Paul, Apostles)
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“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul – Apostles.

Of Saint Peter, Francis de Sales wrote: “St. Peter was chosen to be the chief of the Apostles, although he was subject to so many imperfections that he even committed some after he had received the Holy Spirit, because, notwithstanding these defects, he was always full of courage, never allowing himself to be dismayed by his shortcomings.” (Conferences, Number IV, Page 63)

Francis expounds upon this duality of Peter’s nature in his Treatise on the Love of God. “Who would not marvel at the heart of St. Peter, so bold among armed soldiers that out of all of his master’s company he alone takes his sword in hand and strikes out with it? Yet a little afterwards among ordinary people he is so cowardly that at the mere word of a servant girl he denies and detests his master.” (TLG, Book X, Chapter 9, p, 167)

Now let us turn our attention to some of what Francis de Sales said about St. Paul. “He fights for all people, he pours forth prayers for all people, he is passionately jealous in behalf of all people, and he is on fire for all people. Yes, he even dared more than this for ‘those according to the flesh,’ so that, if I dare to say so, he desires by charity that they may be put in his place with Jesus Christ. O perfection of courage and unbelievable spirit!” (Treatise, Book X, Chapter 16, pp. 188 – 189)

Of course, as in the case of Peter, Paul, too, has his shortcomings. In a letter of encouragement to a sister of the Visitation, Francis wrote: “Do not be ashamed…any more than St. Paul who confessed that there were two men in him, one rebellious to God and the other obedient to God.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 224.)

“I competed well; I have finished the race.” Paul wrote these words, but they could also be said of Peter. But note well – they both finished well. By contrast, look at their earlier track records. Peter was called “Satan” by Jesus and Peter denied Him three times. While Paul, he began his public life by persecuting the early Church as Saul. Neither man’s resumes were particularly impressive!

When it comes to being an apostle, a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ, perhaps this is the most important thing to remember – as imperfect as we are, where we’ve been isn’t nearly as important as where we are going with the grace of God and the support of one another.

All’s well that ends well!

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(June 30, 2018: First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church)
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“Only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I, to, am a man subject to authority…”

In a sermon about St. Joseph and the Holy Family, Francis de Sales observed:

“Shall we dare to say that we can very well govern ourselves, and that we have no need of the help and direction of those whom God has given to us for our guidance, not esteeming them, indeed, capable enough for us? Tell me; was the Angel in any way superior to Our Lord or to Our Lady? Had he a better intellect or more judgment? By no means! Was he more qualified for the work of guidance? Was he endowed with any special or peculiar grace? That could not be, seeing that Our Lord is both God and man, and that Our Lady, being His Mother, had, in consequence, more grace and perfection than all the Angels together; nevertheless the Angel commands and is obeyed. See what rank is observed in the Holy Family! No doubt it was the same as it is among sparrow-hawks, where the hen-bird rules and is superior to the male.”

“Who could doubt for a moment that Our Lady was much superior to St. Joseph, and that she had more discretion and qualities more fit for ruling than her spouse? Yet the Angel never addresses himself to her as regards anything that has to be done, either as to going or coming, or whatever it might be. Does it not seem to you that the Angel commits a great indiscretion in addressing himself to St. Joseph rather than to Our Lady, who is the head of the house, as possessing the treasure of the Eternal Father? Had she not just reason to be offended by this proceeding and by this mode of treatment? Doubtless she might have said to her spouse: ‘Why should I go into Egypt, since my Son has not revealed to me that I must go, still less has the Angel spoken to me on the subject?’ Yet Our Lady makes no such remark; she is not in the least offended because the Angel addresses himself to St. Joseph; she obeys quite simply, knowing that God has so ordained it. She does not ask: ‘Why?’ It is sufficient for her that He wills it so, and that it is His pleasure that we should submit without hesitation. ‘But I am more than the Angel,’ she might have said, ‘and more than St. Joseph.’ No such thought occurs to her.”

“Let it, then, be enough to know that God wishes us to obey, without occupying ourselves with considering the capability of those whom we are called upon to obey. In this way we shall bring down our minds to walk simply in the happy path of a holy and tranquil humility which will render us infinitely pleasing to God.”

This observation is a great insight that Francis de Sales offers regarding the virtue – and practice – of obedience. The essence of obedience (from the Latin meaning to listen) is not doing simply what we’re told to do, but also obedience is recognizing that each person in our lives has a unique role to play in helping us to become the people that God wants us to be. The centurion displayed the virtue of obedience less by telling Jesus to give him an order and more by his recognizing who Jesus was in his life. And, as the Gospel clearly illustrates, this obedience was an obedience with which Jesus was not only well pleased – He was almost awestruck!

How might we imitate the great example of the centurion in our attempts to be obedient, that is, to listen to the voice of Jesus today?

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