Spirituality Matters 2018: September 27th - October 3rd
(September 27, 2018: Vincent de Paul, Priest and Founder)
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Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Vincent de Paul. In his book entitled This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell wrote:
“Vincent de Paul’s…temperament was such that he could never turn away from a person in need, no matter what the need was. The list of troubles he sought to alleviate is astounding. He brought food and medicine to penniless sick people, comforted convicts condemned to row the galleys, and sheltered orphans, the elderly and soldiers incapacitated by war wounds. He opened hospitals, took in abandoned babies and taught catechism to children. He founded an order of nuns (the Daughters of Charity) to serve the poor and another for priests to teach and encourage religious devotion among the urban poor and country peasants. In time, the Vincentians’ (as they came to be called) method for educating people in the faith was adopted by many bishops for use in their own seminaries.” ( This Saint’s for You, p. 108)
There is nothing new about what St. Vincent de Paul did. After all, countless saints (both those known and many more unknown) have been doing good things for others in the name of God since the time of Jesus Christ. That said, Vincent de Paul is recognized for continuing to do well-known and well-established good things for other people in new and creative ways – specifically, through his founding of the Daughters of Charity. After all, the Daughters of Charity differed from other religious congregations of that time in that they were not cloistered, making them the first of their kind. In addition, they took a vow of charity on an annual basis, enabling them to maintain the necessary mobility and availability required for the type of ministry in which they were engaged in a revolutionary way.
In the big scheme of things, perhaps it is true that there may be nothing new under the sun. However, there are always new and creative ways of doing the things that are well established.
How might God be inviting us just this day to do something not-so-new for other people in exciting, new and novel ways?
Does this mean that we should simply drift through life without putting our hand to anything? Does this mean that we are simply created to pass through this world without trying to contribute something to it? Does this mean that any attempt at leaving some legacy in our wake is simply a waste of time? After all, the Gospel parables of the “talents” makes it quite clear that God expects to (as it were) get a return on the investment that He has made in each and every one of us.
The key to understanding what the warning in today’s reading means – as well as what it doesn’t mean – comes from knowing the definition of the word “vanity”. Vanity is defined as, “Excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements”. The key words here are “excessive” and “one’s own”.
What is the lesson for us? We should work while on this earth. We should do our level best to make the world – at least our little part of it – a better place for our having been here. What we do does matter. What we do has results, provided that we do it for God’s glory.
And not our own!
(September 28, 2018: Wenceslaus, Martyr)
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“There is an appointed time for everything…”
These words in today’s selection from the Book of Ecclesiastes should be prominently displayed on the door of every refrigerator around the world. The wisdom – and lessons – of these words are at one and the same time both simple and salient.
They remind us of how important it is to develop a sense of timing.
Consider these questions:
- How many times have you hurt someone else not because you did a bad thing but because you did a good thing at the worst possible time?
- How many times did you bite your tongue when you should have said something?
- How many times did you weep when you should have laughed?
- How many times did you hold on to something long after you should have set it aside to embrace something new?
- How many times did you give up on something precisely when you should have given it one more try?
- How many times did you spread yourself too thin when you should have been trying to keep your own act together?
Francis de Sales reminded his readers that it isn’t enough for us to do good things, that is, to practice virtues. We also need to recognize when, where and how to practice virtues in ways that fit the events, situations, circumstances and relationships in which we find ourselves in any given moment. Look at today’s Gospel. Even as Peter correctly identifies who Jesus is (a good thing), Jesus rebukes him (not such a good thing) for not intuiting that now is not yet the time to start running around and proclaiming this truth to others. Key words - not yet!
And so, we pray today: God, please give us two things: (1) the courage to do good things, and (2) the wisdom of knowing when – or when not – to do them!
(September 29, 2018: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels)
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“In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord…”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Sacred providence determined to produce all things, both natural and supernatural, for the sake of our Savior so that angels and men might serve him and thus share in his glory. For this reason, although God willed to create both angels and men with free will, free with a true freedom to choose good and evil, still, to testify that on the part of God’s goodness they were dedicated to what is good and to glory, he created all of them in the state of original justice, which is nothing other than a most sweet love which would dispose them for, turn them towards and set them on the way to eternal happiness.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 4, p.112)
St. Francis de Sales believed that we have at least two things in common with the angels: (1) God created us with freedom, and (2) gave us a freedom tending toward what “is good and to glory”. Of course, God’s plans went awry in both cases. First, there was a revolt among some of the angels (recall the story of Lucifer) who resented having to pay homage to God. With this revolt God “resolved to abandon forever that sad and wretched legion of traitors who in furious rebellion had so shamefully abandoned him”. Second, (in the persons of Adam and Eve) “man would abuse his liberty, forsake grace and thus lose glory. Yet, God did not will to deal with human nature in so rigorous a way as he had decided to deal with angelic nature…he looked with pity upon our nature and resolved to have mercy on it”. (Ibid, pp. 112 - 113)
In the Salesian tradition, what distinguishes us from the angels are the lengths to which God will go to redeem us. In the case of the rebellious angels, God simply banished them from his presence. In the case of his rebellious creatures – people like you and me – God not only does not banish us, but he also sent his only Son to redeem us.
Francis de Sales says that the problem with many people who wish to pursue a life of devotion is that they make the mistake of trying to live like angels when they should be trying to live like good men and women. Given the fact that even the angels have had their share of challenges, maybe we have more than enough on our plates just being human without trying also to be angelic.
What’s the moral of the story? Let’s do our level best to sing God’s praises in the sight of the angels, but let’s do it as humanly as possible!
(September 30, 2018: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to
Amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”
When we think of serving the Lord, we probably – however unconsciously – image doing something great, something wonderful and/or something awe-inspiring for God or for others. Maybe yes, maybe no.
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:
“You must be ready to suffer many great afflictions for our Lord, even martyrdom itself. Resolve to give God whatever you hold dearest if it should please Him to take it from you – father, mother, brother, husband, wife, child, your eyesight, perhaps even your very life itself. Prepare your heart for any and all such sacrifices as these. However, if divine Providence does not send you great, piercing afflictions and does not demand your eyesight of you, be willing to give god a few of your hairs. What I am suggesting is that we must bear patiently the slight injuries, the little inconveniences and the inconsequential losses that come your way on a daily basis. By means of such little things as these – borne with great love and affection – you will completely win God’s heart and make it all your own.”
“Little acts of charity, a headaches toothache or cold, the bad humor of a husband or wife, a shattered glass, this contempt or that scorn, loss of a pair of gloves, a ring or a handkerchief, the inconveniences associated with going to bed early and getting up early to pray or receive Holy Communion, the feeling of awkwardness one experiences in performing certain acts of devotion in public: – in short, all such trials as these – when accepted and embraced with love – are highly pleasing to God’s mercy. For a single cup of water, God has promised to his faithful a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves each and every moment, it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches if you learn how to use them well.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35)
What is the moral to the image of offering something as simple as a cup of water to somebody else because we belong to Christ? When it comes to “Living Jesus”, ordinary things add up - little things mean a lot!
(October 1, 2018: Therese of the Child Jesus, Virgin/Doctor of the Church )
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“Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”
“How offensive to God are rash judgments!” says St. Francis de Sales. “The judgments of the children of men are rash because they are not the judges of one another, and when they pass judgment on others they usurp the office of our Lord...if an action has many difference aspects, we must always think of the one which is best.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 28)
These words of de Sales would have been very good advice for the disciple John in today's Gospel when he asks Jesus to stop a man from expelling demons in His name “because he does not follow in our company”. They are in fact very similar to the advice Jesus himself gives John: “Do not try to stop him. Anyone who is not against you is with you.” John is not the only one who could profit from this advice. Many of us could too.
These words of Jesus and St. Francis de Sales remind us that all those who do the work of Jesus belong to Him, whether they are “of our company” or not. We should avoid the tendency to presume the worst of those who are not of our tribe or group. We should focus less on denominational labels and more on the actions, spirit, and attitudes of fellow followers of Christ, without in any way diminishing our faith. Most of all, these remind us that if there is any trace of prejudice or bigotry remaining in our hearts against members of other religions, we should rid ourselves of such burdens…and of such blindness.
God needs you and me - and Christians everywhere - to be His prophets. Prophets in the Biblical sense typically arise at a time when society has stopped listening to what God says. Biblical prophets speak “on behalf of God”. They do not tell others what will happen; they tell them what should happen. They don’t predict the future; they describe and diagnose the present. They tell others what God wants and what God says.
- God needs you and me to stand up and be counted on the values of the Gospel.
- God needs you and me to tell others that God wants peace, not war; life, not death; love, not hate; concern for the other, not preoccupation with self; freedom, not license; truth, not political correctness; justice for all, not discrimination.
In the words of St. Francis de Sales, God needs us to “often speak of God in familiar conversation with our...friends and neighbors.” ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter.26) And “if the world holds us to be fools,” because we are behaving like prophets, “let us hold the world to be mad.” (Ibid, Part IV, Ch.1)
(October 2, 2018: Holy Guardian Angels)
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“ Their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father …”
God not only calls us to live a holy life, but God also provides us with the means to live that life – what Francis de Sales calls “aids” – and to help us to become holy people. In a conference (“On Constancy”) given to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales remarked:
“The aids that God gives to us are intended to help us to keep steadily on our way, to prevent our falling, or, if we fall, to help us to get back up again. Oh, with what openness, cordiality, sincerity, simplicity and faithful confidence ought we to dialogue with these aids, which are given to us by God to help us in our spiritual progress. Certainly this is true in the case of our good angels. We ought to look upon them in the same way, since our good angels are called angel guardians because they are commissioned to help us by their inspirations, to defend us in perils, to reprove us when we err and to stimulate us in the pursuit of virtue. They are charged to carry our prayers before the throne of the majesty, goodness and mercy of Our Lord and to bring back to us the answers to our petitions. The graces, too, which God bestows on us, He gives through the intervention or intercession of our good angels. Now, other aids are our visible good angels, just as our holy angel guardians are our invisible ones. Other aids do visibly what our good angels do inwardly, for they warn us of our faults; they encourage us when we are weak and languid; they stimulate us in our endeavors to attain perfection; they prevent us from falling by their goods counsels, and they help us to rise up again when we have fallen over some precipice of imperfection or fault. If we are overwhelmed with weariness and disgust they help us to bear our trouble patiently, and they pray to God to give us strength so to bear it so as not to be overcome by temptation. See, then, how much we ought to value their assistance and their tender care for us …” (Conference III, pp. 41-42)
In the mind of Francis de Sales, God provide us with invisible support for our journey in this life through those “aids” known as “angel guardians”. It’s safe to say that some of the most visible ‘aids’ that God uses to provide support for our journey in this life are known by another name: ‘friends’.
Today, how can we imitate the invisible example of the angel guardians by befriending one another in very visible ways?
(October 3, 2018: Wednesday, Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“How can a man be justified before God?”
This is a profoundly powerful question raised in a handful of words taken from the Book of Job. The answer is provided with even fewer words.
There is nothing we can do to justify ourselves before God. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love. What can you possibly do to gain something which – by its very nature – is a pure and unadulterated gift?
This teaching is essence of the Salesian tradition’s understanding of humility, of littleness and of ordinariness. We stand in awe of how God transforms us from being nothing – in his eyes, at least – to being everything! We hear with Mary’s exclamation in the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
In the opinion of St. Francis de Sales, this overwhelming realization that we can do absolutely nothing to be justified before God should not result in helplessness or complacence. Rather, it should express itself in our practice of (1) gratitude, and (2) generosity. Put another way, what return can we make for all the good that God has done for us? By “paying it forward”!
So, what is our takeaway from today’s Scriptures? Stop wasting your time trying to justify yourself somehow before God. Instead, make good use of your time by sharing yourself somehow with those to whom God sends you today!