Spirituality Matters 2018: October 25th - October 31st
(October 25, 2018: Thursday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”
In a film released in 2004, Denzel Washington stars as John Creasy, a despondent former CIA operative/Force Recon Marine officer-turned-bodyguard. Creasey gets a shot at redemption when he is hired to protect the daughter of a wealthy businessman in Mexico City. When the nine-year-old girl is kidnapped and held for ransom, Washington’s character will stop at nothing to get the young girl back, even to the point (spoiler alert!) of giving his life in exchange for hers.
The name of the film is Man on Fire.
Jesus Christ clearly was a man on fire. He tells us so in today’s Gospel selection from Luke. All throughout the three years of his public ministry, Jesus demonstrated again and again to us that he would stop at nothing to proclaim the power and promise of the Kingdom of God – forgiving the sinner, healing the blind, lame and leprous, finding the lost, raising the lowly, humbling the proud and challenging the haughty. His efforts not only won him many friends, but also made him more than a few enemies. Undaunted by the challenges of his vocation, Jesus remained faithful to the work of redemption, even to the point of giving his very life for others.
Earlier this week, we remembered the life and legacy of John Paul II. Like Jesus himself, John Paul II was a man on fire for the Gospel. We recall the electricity that he generated wherever he went when he was in the prime of his life and papacy - he literally traveled all around the globe in his attempts to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. We remember his surviving being shot by a would-be assassin, and how that attempt on his life began a slow and protracted period of physical decline. We witnessed his battle with Parkinson’s disease, and the death that it inevitably hastened. Yet through it all, John Paul faced his mortality with grace and confidence and with a fire – however diminished in the end – that was forever part and parcel of the person he was.
Jesus also wants us to be men and women on fire with the love of God and neighbor. Jesus also wants us – his brothers and sisters – to be unrelenting in demonstrating in our own lives the power and promise of the Kingdom of God.
Today, how might we get “fired up” for the sake of the Gospel?
(October 26, 2018: Friday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received...”
What call have we received? We are sons and daughters of God; we are brothers and sisters of Jesus; we are temples of God’s Holy Spirit.
How do we live in a manner worthy of this call? St. Paul is clear and unambiguous: “Live with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
In today’s Responsorial Psalm, we prayed the words “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face”. How do we know if we are making progress in our efforts to “live in a manner worthy of the call” we have received?
The answer is - look to see if other people see in our thoughts, our affections, our attitudes and our actions something of the face of God.
(October 27, 2018: Saturday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of God’s gift....”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“God acts in our works, and we co-operate in God’s action. God leaves for our part all the merit and profit of our services and good works; we leave God all the honor and praise thereof, acknowledging that the growth, the progress, and the end of all the good we do depends on God’s mercy, finishing what God began. O God, how merciful is God’s goodness to us in thus distributing his bounty!”
God has great expectations for us: “Life on high with Jesus Christ”. God – through his mercy, that is, through his generosity – also gives us the grace we need to strive to meet those expectations. How can we possibly show our appreciation for the “grace that was given to each of us according to the measure of God’s gift”? Perhaps St. Francis de Sales said it best. “The measure of love is to love without measure.”
God’s love in our regard is certainly without measure. To what degree can the same be said of our love for one another?
(October 28, 2018: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”
Today’s first reading reminds us of the Lord’s promise to the people of Israel that God will protect them and bring them home for He is “the Father of Israel and Ephraim is my firstborn”. God is particularly solicitous of the weak - the blind and the lame, women with children and those who cannot survive on their own.
This concern exhibited by a loving Father gives us some glimpse into the unique relationship between God and His people. St. Francis de Sales continually reminds us of God’s love for his creation. This “truth” certainly makes sense and is very consistent with the fundamental reason for our existence. After all, what child is not loved by his or her parents in a totally gratuitous fashion?
In the second reading, we are confronted with the role of the high priest, human as we all are. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews makes clear that the high priest is able to be compassionate because he, himself, is a wounded healer. Here again, we see the gratuitous nature of our relationship to our God. God gives us a vocation, no matter what our state in life. It is not ours to take, but rather to respond to his invitation.
The Gospel recounts the story of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. What a powerful example of how deeply God loves all of us, but especially those who are disadvantaged. This relationship, while gratuitous, is not passive – in fact, there is a real sense of mutuality on display here. Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus to have pity on him. Jesus, in return, restore the sight of the blind man. The blind man asks that he might be able to see and Jesus tells him that his faith has saved him.
In other words, both men contributed to an interaction that resulted in a miracle!
We ask for the faith that we need to see the fundamental relationship between God and his people. Sometimes, our own brands of blindness prevent us from seeing the unique God-given goodness in other people. Perhaps even more tragically, our blindness prevents us from seeing the unique, God-given goodness in ourselves. This inability to see the good imprisons us and others by denying the possibility of maximizing our gifts and talents for our own good and the good of our brothers and sisters.
Francis de Sales challenges us to emulate the faith of Bartimaeus. He challenges us to be confident enough in our own intrinsic self-worth that we dare to ask our Lord that we might see more of whom we – as well are others – really are, especially in the sight of God.
(October 29, 2018: Monday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Live as children of the light…”
In his Letter to the Ephesians Paul describes what it looks like when we are living as “children of the light”:
- We are kind and compassionate to others.
- We forgive others.
- We avoid even speaking of things like immorality, impurity or greed.
- We eschew obscene, silly or suggestive speech.
- We dedicate ourselves to thanksgiving and gratitude.
“It is a great part of our perfection to support one another in our imperfections; what better way is there for us to practice love of our neighbor save in this support?” (Select Salesian Subjects, #0096, p. 22)
The presence of shadows – and even darkness – should not discourage us in our attempts to be children of the light. Rather, let us “live in love” – and demonstrate that love – through our support and encouragement of one another.
(October 30, 2018: Tuesday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“To what can I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed…”
It seems paradoxical that Jesus would describe something as vast as the Kingdom of God in terms of one of the smallest of all seeds: the mustard seed. Still, consider how St. Francis de Sales describes eternity in a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde (Peer and Master of the Horse at the courts of both Henri IV and Louis XIII of France):
“Keep your eyes steadfastly fixed on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on; and these as they pass, themselves pass us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But meanwhile, in these passing moments there lies enclosed as in a tiny kernel the seed of all eternity; and in our humble little works of devotion there lies hidden the prize of everlasting glory, and the little pains we take to serve God lead to the repose of a bliss that can never end...” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 236)
Indeed, the Kingdom of God is a big thing. In fact, it is the biggest and the broadest of all things. As Jesus reminds us, however – and as Francis de Sales underscores – sometimes the biggest of things come in very small, ordinary and everyday packages!
(October 31, 2018: Wednesday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You have a Master in heaven in whom there is no partiality...”
In today’s selection from his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul outlines a sort of shorthand guide as to how people should treat one another. Children are supposed to honor their parents. Parents are supposed to raise their children without provoking or angering them. Slaves are supposed to serve their masters. Masters must not bully or abuse their slaves.
When it comes to showing respect, there is no caste system in the Kingdom of God. Regardless of how lofty or lowly our positions in this life may be, we are all expected to do “the will of God from the heart…knowing that each person will be requited from the Lord for whatever good” we do. To that end, Paul warns us that we will all be judged by how we treat other people because when it comes to honoring others, God shows no partiality and God has no favorites.
Recall this exhortation in Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life:
“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and place your neighbor in yours, and then you will act justly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell – and buy – justly. Examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor as you would like your neighbor to be toward you were you in his or her place. This is the touchstone of true reason...” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)
When it comes to honoring others – and when it comes to treating them with justice, then just don’t do it in the hope of “currying favor” with God, but do it simply because it is the right thing to do.
And start today!!!