Spirituality Matters 2019: January 24th - January 30th
(January 24, 2019: Francis de Sales - Bishop, Founder and Doctor of the Church)
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“A patient person is better than a warrior, and those who master their tempers are stronger than one who would capture a city.”
So close, yet so far.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that that’s how Francis de Sales might have characterized his feelings regarding one of his greatest hopes that remained – sadly – unfulfilled - the return of Catholicism to the city of Geneva. Notwithstanding his success in the Chablais Region during the first four years of his priesthood, his pivotal prominence as Bishop of Geneva, his reputation as a man who could reach minds and soften hearts, his gift for shuttle diplomacy, and as one who “befriended many along the road to salvation,” the full restoration of his See remained frustratingly beyond his reach.
It’s easy to overlook, but Francis de Sales isn’t remembered for having the “Midas Touch”. It’s not like every initiative or endeavor that the “Gentleman Saint” touched turned to gold or ended with overwhelming success. Nevertheless, the Church recognizes him as a spiritual giant precisely because of his willingness to master the city of his own temper, to curb the city of his own enthusiasm and to discipline the city of his own passion in pursuing God and the things of God by choosing to focus his energies on evangelizing those whom he could reach rather than becoming embittered about those he could not reach. True to Fr. Brisson’s assessment of the Salesian method for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, Francis de Sales met people where they were – not where they weren’t.
Not unlike Our Lord Himself!
On his Feast day of the “Bishop of Geneva” let us ask for the grace to imitate his example! May we experience the self-mastery that is even “better than a warrior” by focusing our energies and effort on everything that is within our power to do for the love of God and neighbor, and to let go of whatever is not.
(January 25, 2019: Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle)
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St. Francis de Sales had a special place in his heart for the person whose conversion we celebrate the feast of Paul of Tarsus. Throughout his writings Francis not only refers to Paul by name but also by two titles reserved solely for him - “The Apostle” and “The Great Apostle.”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:
“The glorious St. Paul speaks thus. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, constancy and chastity.’ See how this divine Apostle enumerates these twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit but sets them down as only one fruit. He does not say, ‘The fruits of the Spirit are…,’ but rather ‘the fruit of the Spirit is…’ Charity is truly the sole fruit of the Holy Spirit, but this one fruit has an infinite number of excellent properties….He means that divine love gives us inward joy and consolation together with great peace of heart, which is preserved in adversity by patience. It makes us kind and gracious in helping our neighbor with a heartfelt goodness toward him. Such goodness is not whimsical; it is constant and persevering and gives us enduring courage by which we are rendered mild, pleasant and considerate to all others. We put up with their moods and imperfections. We keep perfect faith with them, as we thus testify to a simplicity accompanied with trust both in our words and in our actions. We live modestly and humbly, leaving aside all that is luxurious and in excess regarding food and drink, clothing, sleep, play, recreation and other such desires and pleasures. Above all, we discipline the inclinations and rebellions of the flesh by vigilant chastity. All this so to the end that our entire being may be given over to divine dilection both interiorly by joy, patience, long-suffering goodness and fidelity, but also exteriorly by kindness, mildness, modesty, constancy and chastity.” (Book 11, Chapter 19)
From what we see in the life of St. Paul, he obviously did more than merely speak of the fruit of the Spirit. He lived it. His life was transformed by it. He shared it as a gift with all those whose lives he touched. Like Francis de Sales, may we, too, not only admire the example of “the glorious St. Paul,” but also let us imitate his example in our own lives. Let us do our level best to embody and share the gift of the Spirit which indeed has so many excellent properties.
(January 26, 2019: Timothy and Titus, Bishops)
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In his preface to his Introduction to the Devout Life, the Bishop of Geneva observed:
“I foresee that many people will say that is it only members of religious communities and persons dedicated to devotion who should give special direction in piety, that such things require more leisure than a bishop in charge of a diocese as large as mine can have, and that such an undertaking is too distracting for a mind that should be employed in matters of importance. For my part, I tell you that it is primarily the duty of the bishop to lead souls to perfection, since their order is as supreme among men as that of the seraphim among angels. Hence their leisure cannot be better employed than in such work. The ancient bishops and fathers of the Church were at least as careful about their duties as we are, yet, as we see from their letters, they did not refuse to take charge of the particular conduct of souls who turned to them for assistance. In this they imitated the apostles who, while working with special and particular affection to gather all men, picked out certain extraordinary ears of grain. Who does not know that Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Onesimus, Tecla and Appia were the dear children of the great St. Paul…?”
Tempted as very busy people may be to perceive other folks as obstacles to getting things done, Francis de Sales (no doubt inspired as he was with the example of Paul’s willingness to mentor, support and encourage would-be protégé’s like Timothy and Titus in the work of proclaiming and living the Gospel) reminds us that the work with which each of us is charged is people – God’s people. There is no work, no ministry, and no job so important as to distract us from pursuing what really matters in this life: to lead, encourage and support one another in our quest for perfection. After all, as Francis de Sales reminds us in another section of his Introduction, “This life is only a journey to the happy life to come. We must march on as a band of brothers and sisters, companions united in meekness, peace and love.”
This is our work. This is our life - to journey together on the paths to perfection, i.e., to bring out the best in ourselves and in one another.
One day – one person – at a time.
(January 27, 2019: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it…”
It has been said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, however, if some of the parts are missing, then it is true to say that whole is diminished.
In today’s second reading St. Paul goes to great lengths to illustrate that each of us is a unique part of the Body of Christ. Each of us plays a unique role in God’s ongoing plan of salvation and sanctification. To that end, Paul challenges us to avoid the temptation to believe that some parts are more important than others because when it comes to the Body of Christ, every part – regardless of how obvious or obscure – has its rightful place.
In the mind of St. Francis de Sales, one of the most practical dimensions of Paul’s exhortation regarding the Body of Christ – and our parts in it - is experienced in the practice of virtue. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, the “Gentleman Saint” wrote:
“Every state (and stage) of life must practice particular virtues. A bishop’s virtues are of one kind, a prince’s another, a soldier’s a third kind and those of a married woman are different from a widow’s. All people should possess all the virtues, yet they must exercise them in different measures. Each person must practice in a unique manner the virtues needed by the kind of life to which he or she is called…Among virtues associated to our particulars duties and responsibilities we must prefer the more excellent to the more obvious…we must choose the best virtues, not the most popular; the noblest, not the most obvious; those that are actually the best, not the most spectacular.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 1, p. 122)
Regardless of how spectacular or sublime, we are all parts of Christ’s one rich and varied Body.
How might we do our part in building up that Body today?
(January 28, 2019: Thomas Aquinas, Priest, Religious)
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In a Conference to the Sisters of the Visitation (“On Private Judgment”), Francis de Sales made reference to Saint Thomas Aquinas whose feast day we celebrate.
“The great St. Thomas, who had one of the loftiest minds possible, when he formed any opinion supported it with the weightiest arguments that he could bring forward. Nevertheless, if he encountered anyone who did not approve of what he had decided to be right, or had contradicted it, he neither disputed with them nor was offended by their action, but took all in good part. He thereby showed that he had no love for his own opinion, even though he could not abandon it. He left the matter alone to be approved or disapproved by others as they pleased. Having done his duty, he troubled himself no more about the subject.” (Conference XIV, p. 259)
Thomas Aquinas is universally recognized as one of the brightest intellectual lights of his age (AD 1225 – 1274). But perhaps his greatest genius, to which St. Francis de Sales alludes, was his recognition that being bright doesn’t always mean to be right. While there is little doubt that he could make an argument for his position on any particular topic, Thomas was grounded enough not to have to win every argument. His brilliance was only matched by his humility in allowing others to draw their own conclusions after having done his level best to state his case. As the saying goes, after giving it his best shot, Thomas would allow the chips to fall where they may.
Each of us is entitled to our opinion; that’s a part of our humanity. However, we are all familiar with another part of our humanity that is the source of much conflict and distress - the need to always be right and the need for others to always agree with us.
Let’s do our level best this day to avoid the temptation to force other people to make our opinions their own. In the Salesian tradition it is better to devote our efforts to trying to win people over rather than trying to knock people down.
(January 29, 2019: Tuesday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
The Letter to the Hebrews states that it is “impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. For this reason, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire…but to do your will.’”
And what is God’s will? In more than a few places throughout the Gospels, Jesus is quite clear when He says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” And what does it mean to be merciful? Jesus is very specific in Luke 6: 36 – 38, where we hear: “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful. Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Pardon and you will be pardoned. Give and it shall be given to you. Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will they pour into the folds of your garment. For the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”
Doing the will of God, then, is far less a function of what we might give up to God in the form of special or occasional sacrifices and more concerned about what we can give to one another. Doing the will of God is all about not judging and not condemning. Doing the will of God is all about pardoning and giving. Doing the will of God is all about doing our level best to recall often throughout each day that “the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”
Do you want to be “brother, sister and mother” to Jesus? Do you want to be recognized as a member of Jesus’ family? Try putting into to practice this maxim from St. Francis de Sales: “The measure of love is to love without measure.”
And today embrace all the sacrifices – great and small – that will surely come with your efforts.
(January 30, 2019: Wednesday, Third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Their sins and their evildoing I will remember no more…”
There are an infinite number of ways in which God demonstrates his power to us. In the Letter to the Hebrews we hear of one of the most remarkable – and generous – displays of God’s power: “Their sins and evildoing I will remember no more.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but while God may have a long - if not infinite - memory, God does not hold grudges.
We are children of God. We are made in God’s image and likeness. Like God, today are we willing to have long memories without holding grudges?