Spirituality Matters 2018: March 15th - March 21st

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(March 15, 2018: Thursday, Fourth Week of Lent )
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“Moses, his chosen one, withstood him in the breach…”

Moses and Jesus have at least one thing in common: they were willing to go the wall for the people they cared about.

In Moses’ case, he dissuades God from punishing the Israelites out of anger for their infidelity. Moses puts his own life on the line in order to convince God to exercise mercy rather than justice. Moses is an advocate for his people.

In Jesus’ case, he continues to reach out to the poor and marginalized despite the growing hostility of the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus puts His own life on the line in order to convince his religious peers to seek mercy rather than justice. Jesus is an advocate for his people.

How about us? Today, how far are we willing to go to be an advocate for others, especially for those most in need?

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(March 16, 2018: Friday, Fourth Week of Lent )
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“Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us…”

“Obnoxious” is defined as “very annoying or objectionable; offensive or odious.” Synonyms include words like abhorrent, abominable, detestable, disagreeable, disgusting, dislikable or dislikeable, foul, hateful, horrid, insufferable, loathsome, nasty, nauseating, objectionable, obscene, odious, offensive, repellent, reprehensible, repugnant, repulsive, revolting, sickening and unpleasant.

Do you get the idea?

So, why is the just person persecuted for being just? Often times, it is simply because one person’s attempts to do the right thing may shine a spotlight on – however unintentionally – another person’s failure to do the right thing. Of course, we find the perfect example of this dynamic – you know, “no good deed goes unpunished” – in none other than the life and ministry of Jesus himself. Jesus was far less concerned about pointing out others’ wrongdoings; he was more concerned about doing what was right. But on the other hand, Jesus was more than willing to call people out on their bad behavior, but he was much more interested in showing people the path to living a good life. In other words, Jesus didn’t invest much time or energy in laying guilt trips on other people. Other people did that all by themselves. But, rather than experience the guilt as an invitation to make a change in their lives, Jesus’ enemies experienced the guilt as a reason for discrediting, opposing and – ultimately – getting rid of him.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Perish the thought, but it is possible that someone you encounter today may find you to be obnoxious. Of course, that could be because you are doing something wrong. But on the other hand, it could be because you are doing something right. That’s unfortunate, because in a perfect world doing the right thing would never be obnoxious to anyone.

Of course – last we checked, at least – this isn’t a perfect world!

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(March 17, 2018: Patrick, Bishop and Missionary )
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"Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?"

We addressed this issue yesterday, but some things bear repeating. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

The unvarnished anger, resentment and jealously of the Pharisees is on public display in today’s Gospel. Not satisfied with merely bad-mouthing Jesus, they also ridicule anyone who would have the audacity to believe – that is, to accept – Jesus’ message. Their blind, smug belief in themselves – and their disdain for the common man – render the Pharisees totally impervious to considering how God’s plan of salvation might differ from their preconceived notions of God’s plan, to say nothing of Jesus’ role in it. Even Nicodemus – one of their own – gets thrown under the bus for daring to suggest that they should reconsider their perspective or, at the very least, they should give Jesus a fair hearing.

Yesterday, we considered how others might find us obnoxious for doing what is right. Today, we might ask ourselves this question: do we ever find people who do the right thing obnoxious to us? The truth is there might be something of the Pharisees in all of us.

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(March 18, 2018: Fifth Sunday of Lent)
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“We should like to see Jesus.”

“All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me, says the Lord.”

All of us would like to see Jesus…for any number of reasons.

Where do we look for Jesus? Do we look for Jesus up in the sky? Do we look for Jesus in far away places? Do we look for Jesus in special people? Do we look for Jesus in extraordinary experiences? Do we look for Jesus in once-in-a-lifetime events?

Francis de Sales suggests that we start closer to home: “God is everywhere and in every thing. There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not very really present. God is not only in the place in which you find yourself, but God, in a very special way, dwells in the depths of your heart.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, II, 2)

If we want to see Jesus, we must first recognize him in ourselves. After all, we are created in God’s – Christ’s – the Spirit’s – image and likeness. Christ dwells in our minds, hearts, affections, attitudes and actions. Christ dwells in the midst of our daily responsibilities, successes and setbacks. Christ dwells in our spouses, children, parents, families, friends, neighbors, co-workers and classmates. Wherever we “are”, there Jesus “is”.

Lent is a season for sharpening our eyesight, for clearing our vision and for focusing our perception of a God who is with us – always and in all ways!

Lent is also a season in which we are reminded of a very special place in which we can see and experience Jesus - in the act of asking for, receiving and granting forgiveness. As much as Jesus dwells in us because we simply – and powerfully “are”, Jesus is in a very real, tangible and repeatable way present to us in the experience of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption.

And so, ask for the grace to see Jesus more clearly in yourself. Ask for the vision to see Jesus in the events, circumstances and relationships of each and every day. Ask for the wisdom to recognize Jesus in the gift of life and the beauty of creation, with all of its ups, downs and in between. Ask for the faith to know Jesus’ presence in the gift of forgiveness.

Do you want to see Jesus? Then, open your eyes! Open your ears! Open your hearts! Open your minds! Open your attitudes! Open your lives! Allow others to see in you The One for whom you look in others!


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(March 19, 2018: Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary )
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“Joseph her husband was a righteous man…”

In a conference (The Virtues of St. Joseph) he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation, St. Francis de Sales remarked:

“Now, our glorious St. Joseph was endowed with four great virtues (constancy, perseverance, strength and valor) and practiced them marvelously well. As regards his constancy, did he not display it wonderfully when seeing Our Lady with child, and, not knowing how that could be, his mind was tossed with distress, perplexity and trouble? Yet, in spite of all, he never complained, he was never harsh or ungracious towards his holy Spouse, but remained just as gentle and respectful in his demeanor as he had ever been…..” (Living Jesus, p.184)

Joseph experienced more than a little turmoil in his role as husband and father of the Holy Family. However, being the just and righteous man that he was, Joseph never took out his frustrations on his spouse or on his adopted son. Rather, he accepted life’s ups and downs as the context in which he took such wonderful care of Mary and Jesus in ways that have set the standard for fatherly care ever since.

As so today, we pray: God grant us the grace to imitate the example of St. Joseph. Help us to take whatever comes in life without taking it out on others – especially, on those we love the most.

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(March 20, 2018: Tuesday, Fifth Week of Lent)
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“We have sinned in complaining against the Lord…”

How quickly we forget.

In the first reading today from the Book of Numbers, we witness the complaining, whining and moaning of the Israelites as they continued their journey toward the Promised Land. Sure, the trek had been laborious; sure, the conditions were challenging. Sure, the food and drink was less than desirable. But despite the fact that God had liberated them from the yolk of Egyptian slavery and oppression, the Israelites’ gratitude had clearly waned. Not only had they forgotten what God had done for them, but they also appear to have presumed that the pathway to freedom would be easy.

Dr. M. Scott Peck will probably be best remembered for the opening statement in his book The Road Less Travelled. The first chapter begins with these words: “Life is difficult”. Throughout much of his book, the author maintains that a significant amount of human pain and grief is not the result of difficulties, but rather, much of the suffering and frustration that we experience is the direct result of our tendency to complain about life’s difficulties and our attempts to avoid them altogether. Such complaining and avoidance can lead to – among other maladies – a case of chronic ingratitude.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Complain as little as possible about the wrongs you suffer. Undoubtedly a person who complains commits a sin by doing so, since self-love always feels that injuries are worse than they really are…In the opinion of many – and it is true – constant complaining is a clear proof of lack of strength and generosity. (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 130)

On many levels, we can all relate to the Israelites. We’ve all experienced tough times. We’ve all gotten bad breaks. We’ve all had our share of difficulties and disappointments. We’ve all had moments when we felt that the road to happiness shouldn’t take so much time, effort and energy. We’ve all had the sense that if we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all.

But we also know from our own experience that chronic complaining is toxic. It poisons our perceptions and perspectives. Ultimately, complaining does nothing to address or reduce whatever difficulties we may be facing, be they real or imagined. In fact, chronic complaining usually has the opposite effect of making things much worse for us, as well as, for all those around us.

Today, are you – or someone you know – grappling with chronic complaining? Try applying one of the most powerful remedies of all.

The attitude called gratitude.

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(March 21, 2018: Wednesday, Fifth Week of Lent)
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“The truth will set you free…”

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

“Our free will is never as free as when it is a slave to God’s will, just as it is never as servile as when it serves our own will. It never has so much life as when it dies to self, and never so much death as when it lives to itself. We have the liberty to do good and evil, but to choose evil is not to use but to abuse this liberty. Let us renounce such wretched liberty and subject forever our free will to the rule of heavenly love. Let us become slaves to dilection, whose serfs are happier than kings. If our souls should ever will to use their liberty against our resolutions to serve God eternally and without reserve, Oh, then, for love of God, let us sacrifice our free will and make it die to itself so that it may live in God! A man who out of self-love wishes to keep his freedom in this world shall lose it in the next world, and he who shall lose it in this world for the love of God shall keep it for that same love in the next world. He who keeps his liberty in this world shall find it a serf and a slave in the other world, whereas he who makes it serve the cross in this world shall have it free in the other world. For there, when he is absorbed in enjoyment of God’s goodness, his liberty will be converted into love and love into liberty, a liberty infinitely sweet. Without effort, without pain, and without any struggle we shall unchangingly and forever love the Creator and Savior of our souls.” (Treatise 12: 10, pp- 277-278)

The Salesian tradition holds this truth about human freedom. It is not about being able to do whatever we want – that isn’t freedom, that’s license. True human freedom is about being able to do whatever it is that God wants us to do.

Today, how might this truth set you free?