Spirituality Matters 2018: September 6th - September 12th
(September 6, 2018: Thursday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“If anyone among you considers himself wise, let him become a fool, so as to become wise…”
This apparent paradox – wisdom as foolishness, foolishness as wisdom – is found in both the Old and New Testaments. Of course, it is “worldly” wisdom that is foolish, whereas divine “foolishness” is, in truth, authentic wisdom. Put another way, when our “wisdom” makes us the center of the universe, we are truly the most foolish of men. By contrast, when we are so “foolish” as to make God the center of the universe, it is only then that we can hope to become truly wise.
Francis de Sales was no stranger to this paradox. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:
“We recognize genuine goodness as we do genuine balm. If balm sinks down and stays at the bottom when dropped into water, it is rated the best and most valuable. So also, in order to know whether a person is truly wise, learned, generous and noble, we must observe whether his abilities tend to humility, modesty, and obedience for in that case they will be truly good. If they float on the surface and seek to show themselves they are so much less genuine insofar as they are showier. People’s virtues and fine qualities when conceived and nurtured by pride, show and vanity have the mere appearance of good without juice, marrow and solidity. Honors, dignities and rank are like saffron, which thrives best and grows most plentifully when trodden under foot. It is no honor to be handsome if a person prizes himself for it; if beauty is to have good grace, it should be unstudied. Learning dishonors us when it inflates our minds and degenerates into mere pedantry. Just as honor is an excellent thing when given to us freely, so, too, it becomes base when demanded, sought after and asked for.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 4, pp. 132-133)
So, ask yourself the question: “Does my wisdom inflate my mind, or does it tend to humility, modesty and obedience?” If your answer is the former, you may be far more foolish than you know. By contrast, if your answer is the latter, you may be far wiser than you ever thought possible.
(September 7, 2018: Friday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not make any judgment before the appointed time…”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales makes a direct reference to this admonition from St. Paul, when he wrote:
“‘No,’ says the Apostle, ‘judge not before the time until the Lord comes, when He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsel of hearts.’ The judgments of the children of men are rash because they are not the judges of one another, and when they pass judgments on others they usurp the office of the Lord. They are rash because the principal malice of sin depends on the intention and counsel of the heart, and to us they are the hidden things of darkness. They are rash because every man has enough on which he ought to judge himself without taking it upon him to judge his neighbor. To avoid future judgment it is equally necessary both to refrain from judging others and to judge ourselves.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 28, pp. 196-197)
Note that Paul is willing to go even a step further than St. Francis de Sales when it comes to making judgments. The former goes so far as to say, “I do not even pass judgment on myself”. In the big scheme of things, each of us has more than enough on his plate each day just trying to live our lives as best we can without spending extra time and energy (that we really don’t have) judging ourselves and others. Besides, who are we to judge? After all, as both St. Paul and St. Francis de Sales point out, it is God who is the one and only just judge.
Just today, try and remember this admonition: whether toward others or ourselves, judging is simply above our pay grade.
(September 8, 2018: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“We know that all things work for good for those who love God…” (Romans)
When Joachim and Ann welcomed their daughter Mary into the world, who could have known – or imagined – that she was destined to become the mother of the Messiah? Who could have thought that this simple, poor and unassuming maiden would be the vehicle through whom God would fulfill his promise of salvation? Who could have anticipated that her simple “yes” as the handmaid of the Lord would change the course of the world forever?
How about you? Who could have thought that God would bring you out of nothingness in order that you might experience the beauty of being someone? Who would have imagined that God would use your ordinary, everyday life to continue his ongoing creative, redemptive and inspiring action? Who could have known that your attempts to say “yes” to God’s will on a daily basis – however imperfectly – could change other peoples’ lives for the better?
God did it! God continues to do it! And God will continue to do it!
(September 9, 2018: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
Listen to what Francis de Sales has to say on this topic. ( Introduction Part III, Chapter 36)
“If we like a certain practice we despise everyone else and oppose everything that is not to our taste. If someone is poor-looking or if we have taken a dislike to that person, we find fault with everything that person does: we never stop plaguing that person, and are always looking for an opportunity to run that person down. On the contrary, if we like someone because of their good looks, there isn’t anything that person does that we aren’t willing to overlook.”
“In general, we prefer the rich to the poor…we even prefer those who are better dressed. We rigorously demand out own rights, but want others to be considerate when insisting on theirs. We maintain our rank with exactness, but we want others to be humble and accommodating when it comes to theirs. We complain very easily about our neighbor, but our neighbors must never complain about us. What we do for others always seems like such a big deal, but what others do for us seems like nothing at all.”
“In short, we have two hearts. We have a mild, gracious and courteous attitude toward ourselves and another that is hard, severe, and rigorous toward our neighbor. We have two weights: one to weigh goods to our won greatest possible advantage and another, to weigh to our neighbor’s greatest possible disadvantage.”
This is the essence of discriminating against others “in our hearts:” to live with two hearts, to live by a double standard. As James says, when we set ourselves up as judge (and jury) of our neighbor while failing to use the same standard on ourselves, we “hand down corrupt decisions.”
On the other hand, God shows no partiality. As people made in God’s image and likeness, neither should we. How can we remedy our tendency to prefer some people over others? On this matter, Francis de Sales is crystal clear and unambiguous. “Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and your neighbor in yours and you will judge justly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell and buy justly…This is the touchstone of all reason.”
Well, isn’t that reason enough to do our level best to show no partiality when it comes to the things of God, and in giving our neighbor his or her due?
(September 10, 2018: Monday, Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time )
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“It is widely reported that you are inflated with pride; should you not rather have been sorrowful?”
Sadness is something that most of us avoid at all costs. When it comes to making progress in the spiritual life, however, sadness is not necessarily always a bad thing. In fact, it can actually be a good thing! In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:
“‘Sorrow that is according to God produces penance that surely tends to salvation, whereas the sorrow that is according to the world produces death,’ says St. Paul. Sorrow, then, can be either good or evil according to its different ways of affecting us. True enough, it produces more bad effects than good for it has only two good effects, namely, compassion and contrition, whereas it has six evil effects, namely, anxiety, sloth, wrath, jealousy, envy and impatience.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 12, p. 253)
The kind of sorrow that both St. Paul and Francis de Sales are advocating is one that flows from the acknowledgment of our sins and weaknesses in ways that don’t disable us. This acknowledgement is not a ‘woe is me” sorrow that simply deprives us of the energy we need to make changes in our lives.
Is there something about your life right now of which you’re not proud? If so, don’t reach for a sorrow that simply makes you wallow in your suffering, but reach for a sorrow that helps you to do something to change the cause of your suffering.
And experience the “penance that surely leads to salvation.”
(September 11, 2018: Tuesday, Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to be able to settle a case between brothers?”
“Litigation (that is, the conduct of a lawsuit) is as old as civilized history. Evidence of trials exists in the hieroglyphic stone tablets of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, the scrolls of Rome and Greece, and even the ideographs of the Chinese dynasties. The ancient Romans allowed law to be practiced directly by the “citizen,” without the necessity of a representative—a crude practice that was abolished, coincidentally, shortly before the fall of the empire. Likewise, the third century Chinese scholar Shao Chin Tse-Tse wrote in his seminal history of the Tang Dynasty, Ten Percent Fruit Juice, “The way of Confucius required that all disputes be brought before the Emperor by representatives of noble lineage...” ( http://www.publishlawyer.com/history.htm )
And what exactly is a lawsuit?
“A lawsuit (or much less commonly a “suit in law”) is a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff - a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant's actions - demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff's complaint. If the plaintiff is successful, judgment will be given in the plaintiff's favor, and a variety of court orders may be issued to enforce a right, award damages, or impose a temporary or permanent injunction to prevent an act or compel an act. A declaratory judgment may be issued to prevent future legal disputes. Although not as common, a lawsuit may also refer to a criminal action, criminal proceeding, or criminal claim.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawsuit )
We’ve all suffered injustice at the hands of another person. We’ve all been the victim of someone else’s deceit or deception. We’ve all been cheated, betrayed or defrauded by someone else. We need to address these wrongs, and in extreme cases, we may even need to seek remedies through litigation. But setting aside the extremes cases, might it not be far better on any given day to try to resolve our claims in the court of common sense before resorting to the court of law?
Before choosing litigation, how about first trying reconciliation?
(September 12, 2018: Most Holy Name of Mary)
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“The world in its present form is passing away ...”
The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is famous for this dictum: “The only constant is change”. In a letter to Madame de Chantal, Francis de Sales penned a similar sentiment when he wrote:
“I see that all of the seasons of the year converge in your soul: at times you experience all the dryness, distraction, disgust and boredom of winter; at other times, all the dew and fragrance of the little flowers in May time; and again, the warmth of a desire to please God. All that remains is autumn, and you say that you do not see much of its fruit. Yet it often happens that in threshing the wheat and pressing the grapes we discover more than the harvest or vintage promised. You would like it to be always spring or summer; but no, dear daughter, we have to experience interior as well as exterior changes. Only in heaven will everything be springtime as to beauty, autumn as to enjoyment and summer as to love. There will be no winter there; but here below we need winter so that we may practice self-denial and the countless small but beautiful virtues that can be practiced during a barren season. Let us go on our little way; so long as we mean well and hold on to our resolve, we can only be on the right track…” (LSD, p. 148)
Whether we realize it or not, the world in its present form is always passing away, because no two days, hours or moments are precisely the same. For that matter, neither are we and/or other people with whom we are engaged in a variety of relationships on any given day. While change is not always easy for us, change is at the core of what it means to be human and change appears to be quite good for us.
Perhaps change is the only constant, after all, but with one notable exception. The love that God has for us - that never changes!