Spirituality Matters 2019: October 24th - October 30th

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(October 24, 2019: Anthony Mary Claret, Bishop)
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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.

Like Jesus himself, Anthony Claret was a man on fire. “He was born in Salient in Catalonia, Spain, in 1807, the son of a weaver. He took up weaving but then eventually decided to study for the priesthood. He desired to be a Jesuit, but ill health prevented this from happening. Undeterred, he was ordained as a secular priest. In 1849, he founded the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (known today as the Claretians) and the Apostolic Training Institute of the Immaculate Conception (known today as the Claretian nuns). From 1850 to 1857, Anthony served as the archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. He returned to Spain to serve the court of Queen Isabella II as confessor and went into exile with her in 1868. In 1869 and 1870, Anthony participated in the First Vatican Council. Throughout his ministry in both Cuba and Spain, Anthony found himself at odds with secular forces and endured many trials for the sake of the Gospel. In 1869 and 1870, Anthony participated in the First Vatican Council. He died in the Cistercian monastery of Fontfroide in southern France on October 24, 1870.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=1452)

Jesus wants us to be men and women on fire with the love of God and neighbor. Jesus wants us – his brothers and sisters – to be unrelenting in demonstrating in our own lives the power and promise of the Kingdom of God.

How can we get ‘fired up’ for the sake of the Gospel today?

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(October 25, 2019: Friday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.”

You can feel the frustration in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Redeemed as he was by Jesus Christ, not only did Paul fail to do many of the things that he knew that he should have done, but also, he did many of the things that he knew that he shouldn’t have done. In another place Paul describes this disconnect as if having two men battling inside of him, each wrestling for dominance over the other.

In a letter to Peronne-Marie de Chatel (one of the four original members of the nascent Visitation congregation at Annecy who, notwithstanding her virtues and gifts, nevertheless experienced “discouragement, scruples and even moments of very human impatience and irritation,”), Francis de Sales wrote:

“You are right when you say there are two people in you. One person is a bit touchy, resentful and ready to flare up if anyone crosses her; this is the daughter of Eve and therefore bad-tempered. The other person fully intends to belong totally to God and who, in order to be all His, wants to be simply humble and humbly gentle toward everyone…this is the daughter of the glorious Virgin Mary and therefore of good disposition. These two daughters of different mothers fight each other and the good-for-nothing one is so mean that the good one has a hard time defending herself; afterward, the poor dear thinks that she has been beaten and that the wicked one is stronger than she. Not at all! The wicked one is not stronger than you but is more brazen, perverse, unpredictable and stubborn and when you go off crying she is very happy because that’s just so much time wasted, and she is satisfied to make you lose time when she is unable to make you lose eternity.” “Do not be ashamed of all this, my dear daughter, any more than St. Paul who confesses that there were two men in him – one rebellious toward God, and the other obedient to God. Stir up your courage. Arm yourself with the patience that we should have toward ourselves.” (LSD, p. 164-165) Of course, there aren’t really two people battling inside of us trying to see who will win out! Thank God for that, because most days we have more than enough to handle with our singular personalities! Of course, it is discouraging when we don’t live up to God’s standards or our own. Of course, it is frustrating to make what often times appears to be little progress in the spiritual life. Of course, there’s more good that we should do and more evil that we should avoid. Rather than drive yourself crazy, gently – and firmly – follow Francis de Sales’ advice: “Stir up your courage. Arm yourself with patience that we should have toward ourselves.”

And - of course - with one another.

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(October 26, 2019: Saturday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The concern of the spirit is life…”

In a scene from the film Schindler’s List, Itzhak Stern (played by Sir Ben Kingsley) says the following about the names of the Jews whose safety the German industrialist is attempting to buy: “The list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.”

“Stern makes this pronouncement as he and Schindler complete Schindler’s list. The two men have been working all night, adding as many names as possible—everyone Schindler can afford to buy. The list stands on its own as unadulterated good, unaffected by the mystery behind Schindler’s motives and any other mitigating factor. It represents the life of the Jewish race. Stern is perhaps stating the obvious when he says this, but symbolically, the list is the essence of life itself and, obviously, stands in stark contrast to the Nazi lists of death.”

“In the second half of the quotation, Stern mentions more than the life the list represents. He mentions the ‘gulf’ that surrounds the list. The gulf is the millions of Jews who will not be saved, but rather are left in a real-life purgatory - held prisoner - awaiting either freedom or death. The goodness of the list does not cancel out the evil that befalls the victims of the Holocaust, but even a small goodness is total goodness. Acknowledging all those who cannot be saved intensifies the impact of the good of the list, impressing upon the viewer the power of Schindler’s deed.” (http://www.sparknotes.com/film/schindlerslist/quotes.html)

In the end, Oskar Schindler saved over 1,100 Jews from almost certain death at the hands of the Nazi killing machine. By contrast, contemporary estimates indicate that perhaps as many as 10 million less-fortunate Jews perished in the conflagration.

It is a powerful demonstration of how - to paraphrase the words of St. Paul – the spirit’s concern for life is not a numbers game. All life is sacred; every life matters and is worthy of being saved. (Hence another quote from the lips of Itzhak Stern: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”)

We can eschew the darkness of death, but it is far wiser - as we see so clearly in the life of Jesus – to do what we can to establish and grow the light of life. By dedicating ourselves to that same concern – for life – may we one day find our names written on another list.

In the Book of Life!

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(October 27, 2019: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord hears the cry of the poor.”

The poor may not enjoy many things in life. However, that which they do possess – a special place in the heart and mind of God – stands head and shoulders above any earthy riches or wealth.

Scripture is clear and unambiguous: God has special concern for the plight of the poor and needy, for the want of the despairing and broken-hearted, for the anguish of the lost and forsaken, for the spirits of those who are crushed, for the life of the lonely, for the soul of the sinner.

Jesus embodies God’s love of the poor. While he reached out to people of all social, economic, ethnic and cultural classes, Jesus invested a significant amount of his time, his energy, his ministry – his love – with the impoverished, the reviled and the down-and-outs of his day. Jesus seems to have enjoyed the most success with the poor; he likewise seems to have felt most at home with them.

None of this love is lost on St. Francis de Sales. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:

“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches God gives us. Frequently give up some of your property by giving it with a generous heart to the poor. To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become...Love the poor and love poverty, for it is by such love that we become truly poor...Be glad to see them in your own home and to visit with them in theirs. Be glad to talk to them and be pleased to have them near you in church, on the street and elsewhere. Be poor when conversing with them...but be rich in assisting them by sharing some of your more abundant goods with them.” (Intro III, 15)

Three aspects of De Sales’ observations are worth noting. First, to the extent that we reach out to the poor we come to know our own poverty, our own neediness, our own despair and our own misfortune. Francis noted: “We become like the things we love.” Our willingness to serve the poor puts us in touch with the poor in all of us.

Second, the plight of the poor is an unmistakable challenge for us to be generous: to give from our abundance and, even more demanding, to give from our own want and need.

Third, we must recognize the more subtle forms of poverty in our own homes, neighborhoods, classrooms and places of employment and not just the obvious ones on street corners, heating grates, or bus stations. We must recognize the heavenly riches of which we are all in need: care, kindness, forgiveness, friendship, truth, companionship, healing, understanding, reconciliation, honesty, faith, hope...and love.

Clearly, faithfully, lovingly, convincingly the Lord always hears the cry of the poor.

Do we?

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(October 28, 2019: Simon and Jude, Apostles)
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“He called his disciples to himself…”

Remember the hit TV comedy series Cheers? These are the words from the show’s theme song:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got. 
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. 
Wouldn't you like to get away? 
Sometimes you want to go here everybody knows your name, 
and they're always glad you came. 
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name. 
You wanna go where people know, people are all the same, 
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

In today’s Gospel we hear that even Jesus knew that “making your way in the world…takes everything you’ve got” and that “taking a break from all your worries sure can help a lot”, so he went up to the top of a mountain by himself to spend time in prayer with his Father. The next day, he calls his disciples to himself and named his Apostles. And to this day – nearly two thousand years later – everybody knows their names.

Just today, how can we make a name for ourselves in the service of God and neighbor? Today, how can we treat others in ways that makes them “glad you came?”

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(October 29, 2019: 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!

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(October 30, 2019: Wednesday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“We know that all things work for good for those who love God…”

We may take these words from Paul’s letter to the Romans on faith, but there are many times in our lives when – despite our best efforts to love God and, for that matter, our neighbor also – things not only don’t work for good, but also things don’t work out in ways that we would like.

At least, not on the surface, or not in the short run.

In a letter to her second daughter Francoise, St. Jane de Chantal wrote:

“If you can look beyond the ordinary and shifting events of life and consider the infinite blessings and consolations of eternity, you would find comfort in the midst of any and all reversals of fortune…Oh, when will we learn to be more attentive to the truths of our faith? When will we savor the tenderness of the Divine Will in all the events of our life, seeing in them only His good pleasure and His unchanging, mysterious love which is always concerned with our good, as much in prosperity as in adversity? Let us surrender ourselves lovingly to the will of our heavenly Father and cooperate with His plan to unite us ultimately to Himself. Courage! May you find strength in these thoughts.” (Stopp, Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 216)

We know – or, at least, we deeply want to believe – that indeed “all things work for good for those who love God.”

Today, may we find consolation and encouragement from the words of St. Jane de Chantal (who knew more than her fair share of suffering, setback and loss) that all things do work out for good in the long haul even when it seems – in the short run, at least – that they don’t.

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Spirituality Matters 2019: October 17 - October 23rd

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(October 17, 2019: Ignatius of Antioch)
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“What occasion is there then for boasting?”

As implied in today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke, apparently each and every day - at least, as far as the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and scholars of the law were concerned - was filled with countless opportunities for them boast about their position, privilege, power, and prestige. In stark contrast, Jesus makes it quite clear that – as far as he was concerned – not only did they have nothing about which to brag, but they also had many things about which they should have been ashamed.

Merriam-Webster defines “boast” as:

  1. a statement in which you express too much pride in yourself or in something you have, have done, or are connected to in some way;

  2. a reason to be proud: something impressive that someone or something has or has done.

Boasting about oneself is essentially a manifestation of forgetting one’s ‘place’ in this world. Clearly, the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and scholars of the law had forgotten their ‘place’. Instead of laboring for the good of others on behalf of God, these religious/legal movers and shakers essentially tried to take the ‘place’ of God, making everything all about them to the detriment of everyone else. They were so full of themselves that – tragically – there was little, or no room left within in and among them for God, even in the very person of His Son, Jesus!

St. Paul makes it clear that if we should boast at all, it can’t be about us – it must be about “something impressive that someone (else)…has done.” Christian boasting is never about us; it’s always about God!

So, what are the occasions for boasting, then? When we seriously stop and consider everything that God does for us as a whole – and what God does for us personally – a day shouldn’t go by without our boasting about how great, glorious and generous God is!

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(October 18, 2019: Luke, Evangelist)
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“The Lord stood by me and gave me strength...”

Our first reading from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy reminds us that being either an apostle, a disciple or an evangelist, brings its share of troubles.

Including being betrayed!

Paul cites at least three occasions on which he felt that he was – as we say so often these days – thrown under the bus. First, Demas deserted him; second, Alexander the coppersmith did him great harm; and third, no one showed up on Paul’s behalf when he attempted to defend himself in court. While he attributes his ability to get through this rough patch in his life to the Lord standing by him to give him strength, it certainly didn’t hurt that at least one person other than the Lord – St. Luke – remained faithful to Paul throughout his ordeals.

St. Francis de Sales wrote about the pain that comes from being betrayed by those closest to us. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:

“To be despised, criticized or accused by evil men is a slight thing to a courageous man, but to be criticized, denounced and treated badly by good men - by our own friends and relations – is the test of virtue. Just as the pain of a bee is much more painful than that of a fly, so the wrongs we suffer from good men and the attacks they make are far harder to bear than those we suffer from others. Yet it often happens that good people – all with good intentions – because of conflicting ideas stir up great persecutions and attacks on one another.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, pp. 128 – 129)

Paul found it very difficult to swallow betrayals at the hands of those with whom he lived and worked without becoming embittered about it. However, it seems that Paul was able to work through these betrayals because of the loyalty of two people in his life: the Lord and Luke.

Like Luke, how might we help another person work through the experience of betrayal? How might we – through our willingness to practice fidelity – give them the strength to overcome their pain and discouragement?

By standing with them today!

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(October 19, 2019: John de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues and Companions, Martyrs)
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“Do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say…”

Today the Church reflects upon the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesuit Martyrs of North America. [Warning: this account if not for the faint of heart.] (http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1173)

“Isaac Jogues (1607-1646) and his companions were the first martyrs of the North American continent officially recognized by the Church. As a young Jesuit, Isaac Jogues, a man of learning and culture, taught literature in France. He gave up that career to work among the Huron Indians in the New World, and in 1636 he and his companions - under the leadership of John de Brébeuf - arrived in Quebec. The Hurons were constantly warring with the Iroquois, and in a few years Father Jogues was captured by the Iroquois and imprisoned for thirteen months. An unexpected chance for escape came to Isaac Jogues through the Dutch, and he returned to France, bearing the marks of his sufferings. Several fingers had been cut, chewed or burnt off. Pope Urban VIII gave him permission to offer Mass with his mutilated hands: ‘It would be shameful that a martyr of Christ be not allowed to drink the Blood of Christ.’ Welcomed home as a hero, Father Jogues might have sat back, thanked God for his safe return and died peacefully in his homeland. But his zeal led him back once more to the fulfillment of his dreams. In a few months he sailed for his missions among the Hurons. In 1646 he and Jean de Lalande, who had offered his services to the missioners, set out for Iroquois country in the belief that a recently signed peace treaty would be observed. They were captured by a Mohawk war party, and on October 18 Father Jogues was tomahawked and beheaded. Jean de Lalande was killed the next day at Ossernenon, a village near Albany, New York.”

“The first of the Jesuit missionaries to be martyred was René Goupil who, with Lalande, had offered his services as an oblate. He was tortured along with Isaac Jogues in 1642 and was tomahawked for having made the Sign of the Cross on the brow of some children.”

“Jean de Brébeuf (1593-1649): Jean de Brébeuf was a French Jesuit who came to Canada at the age of 32 and labored there for 24 years. He went back to France when the English captured Quebec (1629) and expelled the Jesuits but returned to his missions four years later. Although medicine men blamed the Jesuits for a smallpox epidemic among the Hurons, Jean remained with them. He composed catechisms and a dictionary in Huron and saw seven thousand converted before his death. He was captured by the Iroquois and died after four hours of extreme torture at Sainte Marie, near Georgian Bay, Canada.”

“Father Anthony Daniel, working among Hurons who were gradually becoming Christian, was killed by Iroquois on July 4, 1648. His body was thrown into his chapel, which was set on fire. Gabriel Lalemant had taken a fourth vow—to sacrifice his life to the Indians. He was horribly tortured to death along with Father Brébeuf. Father Charles Garnier was shot to death as he baptized children and catechumens during an Iroquois attack. Father Noel Chabanel was killed before he could answer his recall to France. He had found it exceedingly hard to adapt to mission life. He could not learn the language, the food and life of the Indians revolted him, plus he suffered spiritual dryness during his whole stay in Canada. Yet he made a vow to remain until death in his mission.”

“These eight Jesuit martyrs of North America were canonized in 1930.”

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It’s hard for us to imagine how deeply these Jesuit missionaries may have feared for their lives individually and/or collectively at the moment of truth at the hands of those who murdered them. In many cases they didn’t merely suffer death - they suffered horrific deaths. But one thing we know for certain: nothing would deter them from doing what they thought was right and good. When they were lost for words – or when the words they spoke had lost their effect – they spoke most powerfully and poignantly by giving their lives for the Gospel.

How deep is our trust that the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say – or for that matter, what not to say – at any given moment?

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(October 20, 2019: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Jesus told his disciples a parable on the necessity of praying always without losing heart…”

In a perfect world, we would always be mindful of the presence of the God who created us, who redeemed us and who inspires us. In a perfect world, we would always recognize – and always manage to seize – the countless opportunities God presents to us to do what is right, what is good, what is creative, what is forgiving and what is loving. In a perfect world, we would always be energetic and enthusiastic about living each day, each hour and each moment as a gift from God. In a perfect world, nothing would ever distract from the things in life that really matter.

Our world, of course, is anything but perfect. We, for that matter, are anything but perfect.

Sometimes, we forget the presence of God. Sometimes, we miss the chances God gives us to do what is right, good and loving. Sometimes, we take the gift of life – and each moment of it – for granted. Sometimes we are consumed by trivial, even petty, concerns. Sometimes, we just don’t have the energy.

Simply put, there are times when we lose heart.

Prayer reminds us of God’s enduring presence. Prayer helps us to see the countless occasions we have each day to grow in virtue and to turn away from sin. Prayer enables us to gratefully embrace the gift of each new day as it comes. Prayer is what keeps us connected to God; prayer is what keeps us connected to the divine in ourselves; prayer is what keeps us connected to the divine in one another. Prayer is less about something we do and more about an attitude – and vision – that we develop and deepen.

Francis de Sales described prayer thus: “The essence of prayer is not to be found in always being on our knees but in keeping our wills clearly united to God’s will in all events.” (On Living Jesus, p. 295) In another place, he observed: “Prayer is the holy water that makes the plants of our good desires grow green and flourish; it cleanses our souls of their imperfections; it quenches the thirst of passion in our hearts.” (Ibid, p. 309)

Prayer gives us the humility to acknowledge where we’ve been; prayer gives us the gentleness to accept where we are; prayer gives us the courage to consider where we need to go. In the midst of our very busy, frequently demanding, sometimes frustrating and occasionally overwhelming lives, prayer helps us to stay connected with the people and things in life that really matter. When we “...give our hearts to God a thousand times a day” (Ibid, p. 298), we know how to be truly happy, healthy and holy.

Prayer gives us the presence of mind...to be people of heart.

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(October 21, 2019: Monday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Take care to guard against all greed…”

Greed is defined as “an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.”

What’s important to note is that greed is not equated with merely possessing material wealth; greed is about having an “excessive” or inordinate desire to possess material wealth. It isn’t about the amount of the wealth; it’s about the size – and intensity - of the desire for that wealth.

Francis de Sales certainly understood this distinction. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:

“I willingly grant that you may take care to increase your wealth and resources, provided this is done not only justly but properly and charitably. However, if you are strongly attached to the goods you possess, too solicitous about them, set your heart on them, always have them in your thoughts and fear losing them with a strong, anxious fear, then, believe me, you are suffering from a kind of fever. If you find your heart very desolated and afflicted at the loss of property, believe me, you love it too much…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 163)

The Gospel parable is a classic example of what Francis de Sales described. The rich man isn’t condemned because he is rich; the rich man is condemned because apparently it never crossed his mind to share his good fortune – his rich harvest – with others. Rather than give away that which he couldn’t immediately make room for, he choose to make even more room in order to keep it all for himself.

Note the distinction that Jesus makes, however. “Guard against all greed.” Greed isn’t limited to material possessions. Many of the things to which we cling – many of the things about which we have inordinate desires to keep for ourselves - aren’t material at all: our time, our opinions, our plans, our preferences, our comforts, our routines, our ways of seeing things and our ways of doing things are just a sampling of the many things to which we excessively cling.

What kinds of greed – in any form, in all forms - might we need to be careful to guard against today?

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(October 22, 2019: Tuesday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more…”

It has been said that the only irrefutable dogma of the Catholic Church is the teaching on Original Sin. One only needs to read the daily newspaper to recognize countless and unrelenting proofs of the existence of Original Sin in particular, and overall sin in general. It is all the more humbling when we recognize proofs of the existence of that same sinfulness in our own lives: our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions. We don’t need to take the reality of sin on faith - we see and experience it every day!

And yet, as many proofs as there are for the reality of sin, Francis de Sales suggests that there are even more proofs of God’s mercy! In his Treatise on the Love of God, Frances de Sales wrote:

“God’s providence has left in us great marks of his severity, even amid the very grace of his mercy. Examples include the fact that we must die, that there is disease, that we must toil and the fact that we rebel against what we know is good. God’s favor floats over all this and finds joy in turning all our miseries to the greater profit of those who love him. From toil God makes patience spring forth, from death comes contempt for passing riches and from our interior struggles emerge a thousand victories. Just as the rainbow touches the thorn aspalathus and makes it smell sweeter than the lily, so our Savior’s redemption touches our miseries and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. The angels, says our Savior, have ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance. So, too, the state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence.”

“Truly, by the watering of our Savior’s blood – made with the hyssop of the cross – we have been restored to a white incomparably better than that possessed by the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we come out of the stream of salvation more pure and clean than if we had never had leprosy. This is to the end that God’s majesty, as he had ordained for us as well, should not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good, in order that his mercy – like a sacred oil – should keep itself ‘above judgment’ and ‘his mercies be above all his works.’” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 6, pp. 115 – 166)

There’s no doubt about it - sin is real. However, let there be even less doubt that God’s mercy, generosity and love is far more real – and powerful – than sin.

With God’s help – and with the support of others - how might we overcome evil with good today?

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(October 23, 2019: John of Capistrano, Priest)
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“You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come…”

We all know the expression, “Hindsight is 20-20.” As we know from our own experience, often times it is much easier to recognize the truth about something hours, days, weeks and perhaps even years after the fact. While hindsight is better than having no sight at all, there are certain limitations associated with recognizing how God has been active in one’s life only after further reflection.

This pattern gets played out time and time again in numerous accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. People didn’t seem to recognize that the Son of Man was standing right in front of them. Put another way, insofar as they were not prepared to recognize who Jesus was before he appeared, they failed to recognize him when he actually arrived!

The aim of the Spiritual Directory – the goal of the Direction of Intention – is to help us to acquire foresight when it comes to recognizing the activity and presence of God in our lives. Living in each and every present moment challenges us to anticipate the variety of ways in which God may visit, speak to or inspire us just this day and to recognize God’s divine activity and presence as it actually occurs in each and every present moment - and not merely after the fact.

In the movie Field of Dreams, Doctor “Moonlight” Graham (played by actor Burt Lancaster) says to Ray Kinsella, “You know, we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening. Back then I thought, 'Well, there'll be other days.' I didn't realize that that was the only day.”

May God give us the awareness that we need to be prepared for the most significant moments - and each and every moment - in our lives, each and every day. But then, when you consider that we have only a limited number of moments allotted to us on this earth, shouldn’t every moment be a significant moment?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: October 10th - October 16th

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(October 10, 2019: Thursday, Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
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“He will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence...”

There’s an old adage which basically goes like this: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Mind you, the adage doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always get what you want. Likewise, the adage doesn’t guarantee that if you do get want you want that you’ll get it when you want to get it or how you want it. On the other hand, if you don’t ask the question that pretty much guarantees that – under normal circumstances – you’ll never get what you want under any circumstances!

That’s one way of “reading” today’s Gospel parable. By all means ask; by all means seek; by all means knock. But don’t think that whatever you receive – whenever you receive it – however you receive it – necessarily results from the first question, the initial seeking or a single knock. In God’s way of telling time, we may need to ask, seek or knock many times.

In some cases, maybe even over a lifetime.

However, it is important to take note of a distinction that Jesus makes in today’s Gospel. While God promises to provide whatever we need because of our persistence, God makes no such promise when it comes to providing whatever we want.

Do you want to ask God for something? Then how about making this prayer - O God, give me the gratitude that comes from wanting what I already have, rather than always getting what I want.

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(October 11, 2019: Friday, Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
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“When an unclean spirit goes out of someone…it brings back seven others more wicked than itself.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus drives out a demon. In addition, he speaks about demons that would attempt to divide a kingdom against itself. Francis de Sales knew a few things about demons. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote extensively about this same demon upon which we touched previously this week: anxiety.

“Anxiety is not a simple temptation but a source from which and by which many temptations arise…When a soul perceives that it has suffered a certain evil, it is displeased at having it and hence sadness follows. The soul immediately desires to be free of it and to have some means of getting rid of it. Thus far the soul is right, for everyone naturally desires to embrace what is good and to dispose of anything evil…Now if it does not immediately succeed in the way it wants it grows very anxious and impatient. Instead of removing the evil, it increases it and this involves the soul in greater anguish and distress together with such loss of strength and courage that it imagines the evil to be incurable. You see, then, that sadness, which is justified in the beginning, produces anxiety, and anxiety in turn produces increase in sadness. All this is extremely dangerous.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, p. 251)

Anxiety never roams alone. It brings with it a whole host of other unclean spirits that can divide the kingdom of our heart against itself. Whatever difficulties or challenges you may face, don’t let things get worse by allowing anxiety and its cohorts to make a home in your heart.

Simply – but firmly – show them the door.

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(October 12, 2019: Blessed Louis Brisson, Priest/Founder and Religious)
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A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name

that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God, the Father.

Word of the Lord. Responsorial Psalm

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

Blessed those whose way is blameless,
who walk by the law of the LORD.     
Blessed those who keep his testimonies,   
who seek him with all their heart.

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

You have given them the command
to observe your precepts with care.
May my ways be firm
in the observance of your statutes!

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

I delight in your commandments,
which I dearly love.
I lift up my hands to your commandments;
I study your statutes, which I love.

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to John

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me
that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes,
so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so, neither can you unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire, and they will be burned.”

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you

and your joy may be complete.”

Gospel of the Lord.

*****

In her book, Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition, Wendy Wright quotes Fr. Brisson regarding the challenge to “Reprint the Gospel” in all aspects our lives. We read:

“It is not enough to read the Gospel in order to understand it. We must live it. The Gospel is the true story of the Word of God living among men. We must produce a New Edition of this Gospel among men by prayer, work, preaching and sacrifice…” “First, we reprint the Gospel by prayer, through which we give ourselves to God in every way without reserve.” “Second, we reprint the Gospel by means of work. We must reprint the Gospel and reprint it page by page without omitting anything…In our lives there is always some manual labor. There is a library to keep in order, a helping hand to be given. A little gardening to be done, a little tidying up or arranging to be done…God has attached great graces to manual labor.” “The third way for us to reprint the Gospel is by preaching. All of us should preach. Those who work with their hands as well as those who are occupied with exterior works, those who conduct classes and those who teach by example, those who direct souls as well as those assigned to the ministry of the pulpit – all of us should preach. We should preach in practical ways. We should teach our neighbors, if not by our words, at least by our actions.” “The fourth thing in the Gospel is sacrifice. The Word made Flesh prayed in order to teach us how to pray. He worked. He preached. Finally, He suffered. These are the four conditions necessary to reprint the Gospel…” (pp. 145-146

There are any number of ways in which God may ask us to reprint the Gospel: in prayer, work, preaching and sacrifice. Are you ready? Are you willing?

How can we reprint the Gospel today?

*****
(October 13, 2019: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.”

Let's admit it: when something good happens to us we feel that somehow, we deserve it. The nine “lepers” in today's Gospel likely felt the same way - they asked Jesus for mercy, which in the Middle Eastern culture meant, “Do what you can for us.” They received from Jesus what they knew - by his reputation, at least - he could do for them. However, let's look at this Gospel in context of what came before and after this event.

Last week, Jesus told us that when we do what is expected of us, we have done no more than our duty. The author even goes so far as to have Jesus say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.” This statement seems to be in stark contrast to this week's Gospel that exhorts us to be grateful when someone else does “what they are obligated to do.” One might say culturally, therefore, that since Jesus could, he should. Next week's Gospel proclaims the “need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

In last week’s Gospel, the apostles asked for “an increase of faith.” Next week, Jesus will seem quite disturbed about people's faith when He says, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

A common western notion of illness is that it is more of an impediment that prevents us from being active and engaged in life. In the Mediterranean culture, “Illness removes a person from status and disturbs kinship patterns. People who suffer from the skin problem called ‘leprosy’ are excluded from the worshiping community. This human experience was much more depressing than the skin lesions.” (John Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible). Jesus made all ten “clean”, but “one of them...saw that he was healed”. His skin condition was not only gone; but more importantly to the Middle Eastern man, he was reunited to the community.

Francis de Sales discusses the “inspirations” toward faith in Book II of his Treatise on the Love of God: “The inspiration (that) comes like a sacred wind to impel us into the air of holy love; it takes hold of our will and moves it by a sentiment of heavenly delight. All this...is done in us but without us, for it is God's favor that prepares us in this way. That very inspiration and favor which has caught hold of us mingles its action with our consent, animates our feeble movements by its own strength and enlivens our frail cooperation by the might of its operation. Thus will it aid us, lead us on, and accompany us from love to love until we attain to the act of most holy faith required for our conversion.”

Did this happen to the man who came back? What does the Gospel say? It says, “He turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.” Was he merely grateful for being freed from a skin disease, as the others were cleansed? No, his his heartfelt gratitude seems to go much deeper - in addition to getting his life back he was given the “inspiration” toward faith. He consented to that inspiration and in doing so was full of praise for Jesus! Then Jesus said to the man, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has been your salvation.”

How strong is our faith? Regardless of our answer, today consider how grateful are we for a God who always loves us, regardless of the strength – or weakness – of that faith?

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(October 14, 2019: Callistus I, Pope and Martyr)
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“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Callistus. In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell observes:

“By all appearances Callistus didn’t have a prayer of ever becoming a saint. The slave of a Roman Christian, Callistus displayed a talent with numbers. When his master established a kind of bank for fellow Christians, Callistus was charged with managing the accounts. It soon became apparent that Callistus would not measure up to expectations: he made bad investments and pilfered other monies outright. Angry and humiliated, the master sent Callistus to work turning the stone wheel at a gristmill.” ”

“Meanwhile, anxious depositors in the bank – hoping to recover even a portion of their lost savings – convinced the bank owner to release Callistus if the unscrupulous slave vowed to recover the funds he’d invested with Jewish merchants. Rising to the challenge, one Saturday morning Callistus interrupted the Sabbath service at Rome’s synagogue and demanded that the merchants repay the money. Not surprisingly, an uproar ensued, Callistus was attacked and the brawl spilled out into the streets. Callistus was subsequently arrested and then shipped off to work in the mines on Sardinia. But soon he was back in Rome, released in a general amnesty for Christian prisoners; one can imagine the groans of dismay among the city’s Christians and Jews alike when Callistus returned once again like the proverbial bad penny!”

“Aware of the controversy surrounding this slave, Pope Victor interceded on Callistus’ behalf. He offered Callistus a stipend and set him up in a small house outside the city’s walls, away from controversy. During this time - perhaps under the pope’s influence - the pagan slave’s conversion began. The pope gave the new convert a job supervising a number of catacombs; hence, Callistus’ position as the patron saint of cemetery workers. Later ordained a priest, Callistus served as an advisor to Pope Zephyrinus. But greater things were yet to come: Callistus himself was eventually elected pope! Following a brief five-year pontificate, he died a martyr, beaten to death in the street by a pagan mob.”

Who knows the mind of God? Who can predict God’s ways? A pagan slave who was considered by just about everyone as being nothing, but Callistus died as a slave of Christ – and as pope, no less!

Like Callistus, we are called to be holy. Like Callistus, we need conversion. How might we imitate the example of his remarkable life within the context of the often-times unpredictable twists and turns of our lives just today?

*****
(October 15, 2019: Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church)
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“As to what is within...behold, everything will be clean for you.”

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Teresa of Avila. In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell observes:

“Every day – all day long – God pours his grace upon the world. Those who accept it – who cooperate with God’s will – draw closer to the Lord, as in the case of St. Teresa of Avila, the patron of souls in need of divine grace. The easygoing life of the Carmelite convent she entered was not conducive to the contemplative life. So, she began planning a new branch of the Carmelites, one that would bring nuns (and friars) back to the order’s original commitment to a life of austerity and deep prayer…St. Teresa’s legacy is her collection of spiritual writings, She was the first Catholic woman to write systematically about prayer and the interior life. In 1970, upon naming her a Doctor of the Church, Pope Paul VI praised Teresa as ‘a teacher of remarkable depth.’”

Insofar as Teresa died in 1582, her writings were well known by the ‘Gentleman Saint.’ In a letter to Madame de Chantal (1605), Francis de Sales wrote:

“The practice of the presence of God taught by Mother Teresa in chapters 29 and 30 of The Way of Perfection is excellent, and I think it amounts to the same as I explained to you when I wrote that God was in our spirit as though he were the heart of our spirit and in our heart as the spirit which breathes life into it, and that David called God: the God of his heart. Use this boldly and often for it is most useful. May God be the soul and spirit of our heart forever….” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 160 – 161)

We are all in need of God’s grace. We are all in need of recognizing – and experiencing – the divine activity within us that makes everything clean and good for us: the God whose spirit breathes life into us, the God who is the heart of our spirit and the God who is the God of our hearts.

What we are on the outside must be deeply rooted with who we are on the inside. Today, what better way to accept – and cooperate – with that divine presence within us than by sharing that same presence with those outside of us and around us?

*****
(October 16, 2019: Margaret Mary Alacoque, Virgin/Religious/Mystic)
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“There is no partiality with God…”

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell observes:

“At the age of nine, Margaret Mary Alacoque contracted polio. She spent the next six years confined to her bed as an invalid. When she was fifteen it is said that she had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary: upon emerging from her ecstasy, she discovered that she had been healed of her infirmities. During those six years Margaret Mary had developed a rather deep prayer life. When she subsequently joined the Sisters of the Visitation at Paray le Monial, she found the form of meditation prescribed for the novices rudimentary to the point of being tedious. Notwithstanding this source of frustration, Margaret Mary persevered and professed final vows.”

“In 1675 she had a vision of Christ while praying in the monastery chapel. He told Margaret Mary that he wanted her to be his messenger, spreading throughout the world devotion to his Sacred heart that, he told Margaret Mary, was ‘burning with divine love’ for the human family. Christ asked that the Church institute a new feast day in honor of his Sacred Heart and that, for love of him, Catholics should attend Mass and receive Communion on the First Friday of each month. He promised to save all faithful Catholics who honored him by displaying an image of his sacred heart in their homes or going to Mass and Communion every First Friday of the month for nine successive months.”

“Margaret Mary Alacoque encountered a great deal of skepticism when she began to tell the other sisters in the monastery about her visions. The nuns accused her of lying and questioned her sanity, while the local clergy dismissed her visions, saying that the Sacred Heart devotion went too far in humanizing Christ and thus diminished his divinity. The Jesuits, however – and the monastery’s chaplain Father Claude de la Colombiere, SJ – argued successfully that Margaret Mary’s revelations put fresh emphasis on the perfectly orthodox principle of confidence in God’s infinite love. Today veneration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a mainstay in Catholic devotional life.”

God not only shows no partiality, but God also shows no predictability! After all, who could have imagined that God would choose a cloistered, contemplative nun living a life hidden in Christ to promote a world-wide devotion to the Sacred Heart of His Son? And yet, that is exactly what God did!

How might this same impartial and unpredictable God be asking you to promote devotion to that same Sacred Heart today?

*****


Spirituality Matters 2019: October 3rd - October 9th

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(October 3, 2019: Cosmas and Damien, Martyrs)
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“He sent them ahead of him in pairs…”

Just two chapters into the Book of Genesis (2:18), we read, “It is not good for (the) man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him…”

Each and every one of us a unique expression and manifestation of the God in whose image and likeness we have been created. We are responsible for being ourselves – no one else can do it for us. We cannot ‘outsource” it to others. But even the God who created us, while One, is Three: Father, Son and Spirit. Within the Godhead there is something of both individuality and community at work at the same time.

While Francis de Sales challenges each one of us to “be who you are and to be that (perfectly) well,” we should not – we cannot – do that in a vacuum. We need community; we need one another. As John Donne so wisely observed, “No man is an island.” There are aspects and dimensions of our individuality that can only be recognized, claimed and developed within the context of being our individual selves in the context of relationships with others.

In today’s Gospel Jesus bemoans the fact that while the “harvest is abundant, the laborers are few.” From a cost-benefit analysis, Jesus could have covered a lot more ground by sending each member of his advance party out individually and alone. However, he deliberately chose to send them out in pairs. Jesus seems to be suggesting that companionship – kinship – is not a luxury associated with continuing to carry the Good News of Jesus Christ to others. It is essential.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, (III, 8, 146-147) Francis wrote: “We must march on as a band of brothers (and sisters), companions united in meekness, peace and love.”

What’s the bottom line? If you are serious about “Living Jesus” – if you are serious about being who you are and being that (perfectly) well – don’t even think of doing it alone.

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(October 4, 2019: Francis of Assisi)
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Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Francis of Assisi. In his book entitled This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell wrote:

“It is the rare Christian who does not get all syrupy about St. Francis of Assisi’s love or animals. Blame it on all those garden statues of Francis with a bunny curled up at his feet and little birds chirping on his shoulder. In real life, Francis’ view of animals was theological rather than sentimental. Animals form part of God’s creation, and, as the Book of Genesis tells us, everything in creation is good. No doubt Francis loved bunnies and birds, but he also loved spiders and snakes – and that is the challenge. Francis saw the world as an immense God-ordered system in which everything plays the role assigned to it by the Creator, and therefore every creature, whether it’s cute and cuddly or not, has value.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 31)

“One story in particular spotlights Francis’ belief in restoring the balance between man and beast. The town of Gubbio was plagued by a ferocious wolf that had carried off lambs, calve and other livestock – it had even killed small children. Afraid that the wolf would attack them, the people refused to travel outside the city walls. Declaring he was not afraid, Francis went outside the town in search of the wolf and hadn’t gone very far when he found the creature. ‘Brother Wolf,’ said Francis, ‘you have been stealing livestock that does not belong to you and frightening your neighbors. In the name of the Lord of Heaven, I command you to stop.’ The wolf drooped its head and lay on the ground at Francis’ feet. The Saint then turned to the townspeople, saying, ‘Brother Wolf will not trouble you or your animals, but in return you must feed him every day.’ The people of Gubbio agreed, and every day the wolf came to town for a meal. He became the town’s unofficial pet, and when he died the heartbroken townspeople had a sculpture of him carved and placed over the door of one of the town’s churches, where it remains to this day.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 31-32)

In the case of Francis of Assisi, Jesus sent him out - literally - as a lamb to confront a wolf. As we know from our own day-to-day experiences, there are many things in life with which we must deal - some of them “cute and cuddly,” others potentially life-threatening.

As so we pray - God, help us to follow the example of Francis of Assisi (for whom St. Francis de Sales was named). May we have the confidence to combat things we experience as fearsome or ferocious with patience, gentleness and love.

*****
(October 5, 2019: Saturday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Fear not, my people!”

On March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his now-famous remark within the context of his first inaugural address as president of the United States of America:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Notwithstanding FDR’s assertion, one could have easily argued that there was indeed more to fear than fear itself. America was in the grip of a catastrophic economic freefall. Unemployment stood at twenty-five percent! Countless numbers of individuals and families lost their life-savings overnight. Struggling farmers had no markets in which to sell their yield. Suicides were common; despondency was rampant; hope seemed vanquished.

And the winds of war that would eventually fan themselves into the Second World War had yet to come!

On the 6th of August 1606, Francis de Sales wrote the following words to St. Jane de Chantal:

“Dear St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, was afraid. As soon as he was afraid, he began to sink and to drown, crying our, ‘O Lord, save me.’ Our Lord caught hold of his hand and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Look at this holy apostle; he walks dry foot on the water the waves and winds could not make him sink; but fear of the wind and the waves will make him perish unless his master saves him. Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 125)

During the course of our lives we are sometimes buffeted by winds and waves of all kinds. Some may barely rock the boat; others may threaten our very lives or livelihood! Be it in the face of threats great or small, may God give us the strength to not allow our fear – however appropriate or prudent – to become a greater threat than the threats themselves.

*****
(October 6, 2019: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
*****

"Stir into flame the gift of God. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control."

“I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me.”*

In the wake of the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, these ancient words of the prophet Habakkuk feel as if they were written specifically for us. We have seen the face of evil. We have witnessed wholesale acts of hatred and violence. There is catastrophic debris - human, material, emotional, spiritual - through which we are still sifting twelve years after the event, even as we struggle to find ways to combat terrorism around the world and address the underlying issues that, in part, give birth to terrorism and religious fanaticism.

What are we to do?

We must recognize the threat not only to our nation, but also to peoples of all races, faiths and cultures who pursue peace, justice, freedom and reconciliation. We must take steps to rid our world of those who would promote their own grievances or agendas at the expense of human life.

These events are likewise a wake-up call on an even deeper, more fundamental level. We are challenged to see more clearly the less obvious, subtler face of violence and destruction in our own lives and in the lives of our families, friends, relatives, classmates and colleagues. We must confront resentment, abuse, addiction, hatred, bigotry, gossip and other attitudes/actions that tear at our minds, hearts, attitudes and actions. We must confront all forms of sin and evil that tear at the very fabric; of who we are as sons and daughters of God, who we are as community, who we are as church, who we are as country, and who we are as citizens of the world.

We must identify, confront and conquer anything that would seek to terrorize our God-given dignity and destiny. We need to stir up the flame of righteous indignation in ourselves and in one another. But while this inflaming of our spirit must make us powerful, it must also make us loving and self-disciplined. We cannot allow our methods for confronting violence and hatred to become themselves a continuation of the circle of violence and destruction. We must respond, not react; we must be wise, not rash; we must be prudent, not indiscriminate. Above all, the pain that we - and others - may experience in the fight to confront hatred in all its forms must be motivated by and lead to a deeper, broader and more inclusive vision of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation for ourselves and for all people.

Above all, the spirit that must be ignited and set ablaze inside and among us must not be rooted in fear. Francis de Sales reminds us, now more than ever, that we must “do all through love and nothing through fear”.

And so, we pray – O God, increase and inflame your spirit within us. As we confront the many faces of terrorism (both the obvious and obscure) make us - keep us - powerful, self-disciplined and – above all - loving.

*****
(October 7, 2019: Our Lady of the Rosary)
*****

“What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

Jesus raises a great question in today’s Gospel. And the person to whom he directs it – a “scholar of the law” – would appreciate the power of the question. Any student of the law – and in particular, anyone who practices law – knows that it isn’t enough just to know the letter of the law, but it’s also important to know how to “read” – that is, to interpret – the law so as to know how best to apply it.

This dilemma brings us to the best – albeit, if not the most concise – answer to that question - the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Talk about a study in contrast! Two so-called experts in the letter of the law – the priest and the Levite - failed miserably because they did not offer any assistance to the man who fell victim to robbers. And the other hand,the Samaritan – a man who may have known very little if any law – followed the law of compassion and common sense by tending to the needs of this unfortunate stranger by being a good neighbor.

Of course, the most important law for those who follow Jesus is the Gospel, that is, the Law of Love, a love so clearly embodied by Jesus as well as by his mother, Mary. It’s important for us to have a working knowledge of that Law; it’s important for us to know how to “read” or interpret that Law. More important, however, than knowing or interpreting it is our willingness to put the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Law of Love – into practice.

In what ways can we be Good Samaritans - that is, good, just and -compassionate neighbors - today?

*****
(October 8, 2019: Tuesday, Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
*****

“You are anxious and worried about many things…”

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

“Anxiety is not a simple temptation but a source from which and by which many temptations arise. With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul. Just as sedition and internal disorders bring total ruin on a State and leave it helpless to resist a foreign invader, so also, if our heart is inwardly troubled and disturbed it loses both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues it had acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy. He then uses his utmost efforts to fish, as they say, in troubled waters." (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, pp. 251-252)

Martha was obviously overwhelmed by her desire to do right by Jesus when it came to the practice of hospitality. Apparently more obvious to Jesus, however, was the fact that Martha was “anxious and worried about many things.” This issue of wanting to be the perfect host and whining about needing help with the serving seems to have been the tip of the iceberg.

We should want to put our best foot forward when entertaining guests. We should want to give worthwhile things our best effort. We should want to do things well. We should want to get it right the first time.

And when we don’t? Deal with it, learn from it and move beyond it without being all worked up and anxious about it. Anxiety not only ruins good things; anxiety makes bad things even worse.

*****
(October 9, 2019: Denis, Bishop and Martyr; John Leonardi, Priest)
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“Lord, teach us to pray…”

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. Of course, a more fundamental question might have been, “Teach us why we should pray.”

In a letter written to a young woman who was – you guessed it – experiencing difficulty when praying, Francis de Sales wrote:

“First, we pray to give God the honor and homage we owe Him. This can be done without His speaking to us or we to Him, for this duty is paid by remembering that He is God and we are His creatures and by remaining prostrate in spirit before him, awaiting His commands.

“Second, we pray in order to speak with God and to hear Him speak to us by inspirations and movements in the interior of our soul. Generally this is done with a very delicious pleasure, because it is a great good for us to speak to so great a Lord. When He answers He spreads abroad a thousand precious balms and unguents which give great sweetness to the soul.”

“So, one of these two goods can never fail you in prayer. If we speak to our Lord, let us speak, let us praise Him, beseech Him and listen to Him. If we cannot use our voice, still let us stay in the room and do reverence to Him. He will see us there. He will accept our patience and will favor our silence. At other times we shall be quite amazed to be taken by the hand and he will converse with us, and will make a hundred turns with us in the walks of His garden of prayer. And if He should never do these things, let us be content with our duty of being in His suite and with the great grace and too great honor He does us in accepting our presence…” (Thy Will be Done, pp. 26-27)

So, why should we pray? Well, either (1) to remind ourselves of who God is in our lives, or (2) to remind ourselves who God wants us to be in relationship with Him and each other. Regardless of how many, how few or if any words we may use in the process of praying, may God give us the grace to (1) do what we pray and (2) pray what we do.

*****

Spirituality Matters 2019: September 26th - October 2nd

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(September 26, 2019: Cosmas and Damien, Martyrs)
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“Consider your ways!”

“Not much in the way of detail is known about the lives of Cosmas and Damien beyond the fact that they suffered martyrdom in Syria during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian.”

“A church erected on the site of their burial place was enlarged by the emperor Justinian. Devotion to the two saints spread rapidly in both East and West. A famous basilica was erected in their honor in Constantinople. Their names were placed in the canon of the Mass (Eucharistic Prayer I) probably sometime during the sixth century.”

“Legend says that they were twin brothers born in Arabia, who became skilled doctors. They were among those who are venerated in the East as the ‘moneyless ones’ because apparently they did not charge a fee for their services. During a time of religious persecution, it would have been almost impossible that such prominent persons would escape unnoticed - they were arrested and subsequently beheaded because of their faith.”

Little – if any – of the details of their lives remains. Yet, to this very day these two men – Cosmas and Damien – are remembered for their selflessness, generosity and courage.

When others consider our ways, for what will we be remembered?

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(September 27, 2019: Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest and Founder)
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“Take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD, and work!”

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 time immemorial. That said, Vincent de Paul is recognized for having the courage to do well-known and well-established good things for God’s people in new and creative ways that fit the needs of the times.

Today, how might God be asking us to take courage as we continue the work of the lord?

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(September 28, 2019: Saturday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Pay attention to what I am telling you.”

Some things in life are more important than others. With the hope of trying to impress upon another person that what we are about to say is of greater importance than other things, more often than not, we will preface our advice with words like ‘listen up,’ ‘pay attention’ or ‘this is really important.’

While we’d like to think that everything that Jesus said is of equal importance, Jesus clearly wanted to impress his disciples with the inevitability of his showdown with the religious leaders of his time. And while we know that Jesus raised this issue more than a few times in the Gospels, the disciples seem to have had difficulty in grasping the importance of this prediction.

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

“The more pleasant and excellent are the objects our senses encounter, the more ardently and avidly do they enjoy them. The more beautiful, the more delightful to our sight, and the more effectively lighted they are, the more eagerly and attentively do our eyes look to them. The sweeter and more pleasant a voice or music is, the more completely is the ear’s attention drawn to it. This force is more or less strong in accordance with the greater or lesser excellence of the object, provided that it is proportionate to the capacity of the sense desiring to enjoy it. For example, although the eye finds great pleasure in light, it cannot bear extremely strong light, nor can it look steadily at the sun. No matter how beautiful music may be, if it is too loud and too close to us, it strikes harshly on the ear and disturbs it.” (TLG, Book III, Chapter 9, p. 186)

There are so many things that Jesus wants us to learn about the ways of living in God’s love. How well will we pay attention to what God may be telling us about those ways today?

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(September 29, 2019: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Compete well for the faith.”

Both the reading from the prophet Amos and the parable from the Gospel of Luke warn us against being complacent, which is defined as being “contented to a fault; self-satisfied and unconcerned.” The first and third readings suggest that those who are complacent are those most in danger of experiencing personal disaster.

Few people decide to become “contented to a fault” all at once. It usually occurs slowly and subtly. We allow good times and experiences to lull us into a false sense of security. We begin to believe that we are somehow above the trials and tribulations of other people. We get the feeling that we have somehow ‘arrived’ even though life's journey - with its responsibilities, demands and challenges - is far from over.

St. Paul certainly recognized the temptation to become “contented to a fault.” What is his remedy? Compete well for the faith. Seek after integrity, piety, faith, love, steadfastness and a gentle spirit.”

Integrity - a steadfast adherence to a moral or ethical code

Piety - a religious devotion and reverence to God and to others

Faith - a confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea or a thing

Love - a deep, tender, ineffable emotion of affection and solicitude toward others; a sense of underlying oneness

Steadfast – firm, loyal or constant; unswerving

Gentle - considerate or kindly; not harsh or severe

Competing well for the faith requires constant effort. It requires energy. It requires vigilance. It is an ongoing concern. We hear echoes of this in St. Francis de Sales' understanding of devotion: "Doing what is good carefully, frequently and promptly."

Simply put, the spiritual life is a life-long process. Regardless of how much progress we might be making at any given point along the journey, we must avoid becoming complacent, of becoming “contented to a fault.” No matter how much we have accomplished individually and collectively in the love of God and neighbor, there is always more good that still must be accomplished.

Today, just remember to do it carefully, frequently and promptly!

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(September 30, 2019: Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church)
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“They will be my people, and I will be their God, with faithfulness and justice…”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“St. Jerome was a Latin scholar in love with the art of fashioning words into beautiful phrases. About the year 366 he became secretary to the newly-elected pope, St. Damasus. It was Damasus’ dream to produce a new Latin translation of the Bible based on the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Recognizing his secretary’s flair with language, the pope believed that Jerome was the man for the job. In the three years that followed Jerome produced beautiful and accurate translations of the psalms, the four Gospels, all of the Epistles and the Book of Revelation.”

“To improve the then-current translations of the Old Testament, Jerome studied Hebrew. Frustrated at first, Jerome persisted with language and in twenty-six years he completed his translation of the Hebrew Scripture. During that time Damasus died and Jerome moved from Rome to Bethlehem, after which Rome itself fell to barbarians. One of Jerome’s letters written during the time when Roman refugees were pouring into the Holy Land survives to this day. Addressing a friend, Jerome wrote, ‘I have set aside my commentary of Ezekiel, and almost all of my study. For today we must translate the words of the Scripture into deeds.” (page 55)

What a privilege it was for Jerome to translate the Old and New Testaments! After all, taken together they constitute the greatest love story of all: the love of a just and faithful God for the human family.

Just today how can we continue to tell that same love story in words and translate it into deeds?

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(October 1, 2019: Therese of the Childs Jesus, aka, the “Little Flower”)
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“Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you…”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“There’s no reason why the world should have ever heard of Therese Martin. She grew up in Lisieux, an obscure town in Normandy, and rarely ventured beyond the tightly knit circle of her immediate family and relatives. At age sixteen she entered the Carmelite cloister, which completely isolated her from the outside world, and she died there when she was only twenty-four. In spite of her rather isolated life, St. Therese has a following among believers that is on par with St. Joseph, St. Anthony and St. Jude. She even has a nickname, ‘the Little Flower.’ And in 1997 Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church, which sets her among the Church’s intellectual and mystical heavyweights. How did this happen, this evolution from obscurity to world-wide fame?”

“It all began the year after Therese’s death, when the Carmelites published her spiritual biography, The Story of a Soul. The crucial point in the book is the idea that even the humblest, most mundane task – if done for love of God – can draw one closer to him and make one grow in holiness. At first, many readers dismissed Therese’s ‘Little Way’ (as she called it) as late-nineteenth-French sentimental piety. But even her fiercest skeptics have been surprised to find that her approach to sanctity is really quite mainstream: saints like John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila advocated the same idea, as did Thomas a Kempis in his book, Imitation of Christ. (Editor’s note: so, too, did St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to the Devout Life!) Miracles account for the other facet of St. Therese’s popularity. She has a reputation for answering prayers. On her deathbed she promised that – upon reaching heaven – she would rain down miracles on the world ‘like a shower of roses.’”

Therese’s relics appear frequently in selected places all around the world. The crowds that gather to view her remains consistently surpass those associated with such notable attractions as the “King Tut” and “Nicholas and Alexandria” exhibits by leaps and bounds. Why? Clearly, countless people have come to recognize that God was with her in a very vital, vivid and invigorating way. To what degree can the same be said of us?

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(October 2, 2019: The 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”.

How can we imitate the invisible example of the angel guardians today by befriending one another in very visible ways?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: September 19th - September 25th

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(September 19, 2019: Januarius, Bishop and Martyr)
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“She has shown great love.”

Throughout the history of great ideas, great inventions or great moments, often times what makes an idea, invention or moment great is the fact that somebody thinks of doing something which nobody else had considered doing.

Such is the example in today’s Gospel selection from Luke. On the face of it, wiping and anointing the feet of an important guest – signs of great respect and reverence – was something that in Jesus’ day one might simply take for granted. But in this case, it seems that that’s exactly what happened – the host took it for granted, and it didn’t get done until “a sinful woman” saw the need and sprang into action.

At the moment this “sinful woman” made her way into this august gathering with no invitation (no small achievement in itself) and proceeded to do what nobody else had ever thought of doing - through ritual action she expressed her respect and reverence by washing and anointing Jesus’ feet. She might have been a great sinner in the minds of other people, but in the mind of Jesus her sinfulness was only superseded by her great love. And we remember her great love for Jesus nearly two thousand years after her powerfully personal expression of that great love!

Sinners though we are, how might we show great love for Jesus today?

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(September 20, 2019: Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs)
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“Blessed the poor in spirit; the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

“This first native Korean priest was the son of Korean converts. His father, Ignatius Kim, was martyred during the persecution of 1839 and was beatified in 1925. After Baptism at the age of 15, Andrew traveled 1,300 miles to the seminary in Macao, China. After six years he managed to return to his country through Manchuria. That same year he crossed the Yellow Sea to Shanghai and was ordained a priest. Back home again, he was assigned to arrange for more missionaries to enter by a water route that would elude the border patrol. He was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded at the Han River near Seoul, the capital. Paul Chong Hasang was a lay apostle and married man, aged 45.”

“When Pope John Paul II visited Korea in 1984, he canonized, besides Andrew and Paul, 98 Koreans and three French missionaries who had been martyred between 1839 and 1867. Among them were bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay persons: 47 women, 45 men.”

“Among the martyrs in 1839 was Columba Kim, an unmarried woman of 26. She was put in prison, pierced with hot tools and seared with burning coals. She and her sister Agnes were disrobed and kept for two days in a cell with condemned criminals but were not molested. After Columba complained about the indignity, no more women were subjected to it. The two were beheaded. A boy of 13, Peter Ryou, had his flesh so badly torn that he could pull off pieces and throw them at the judges. He was killed by strangulation. Protase Chong, a 41-year-old noble, renounced his faith under torture and was freed. Later he came back, confessed his faith and was tortured to death. Religious freedom came to Korea in 1883. Today, there are almost 5.1 million Catholics in Korea.” (http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1144) Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean possessing nothing. Rather, being poor in spirit means being generous with one’s possessions, regardless of whether one possesses a lot or a little. In the case of the scores of Catholic men, women and children martyred over a thirty-year period in Korea, they were generous with the greatest of all possessions - their lives.

How can we follow the example of their poverty of spirit – that is, their generosity – today?

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(September 21, 2019: Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist)
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“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received…”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“During the Roman Empire, tax collecting was one of the most lucrative jobs a person could have. With the emperor’s tacit approval, collectors were free to wring all they could from their district’s taxpayers and then keep a portion of the proceeds for themselves. Caesar didn’t mind the profiteering as long as the total assessed tax was delivered to his treasury. But Jewish taxpayers forced to pay the exorbitant sums weren’t quite so forgiving, especially when the tax collector was a fellow Jew, like Matthew. Jewish tax collectors were regarded as loathsome collaborators and extortionists who exploited their own people. It’s little wonder, then, that in the Gospels tax collectors are placed on par with harlots, thieves, and other shameless public sinners.”

“Matthew collected taxes in Capernaum, a town in the northern province of Galilee and the site of a Roman garrison. Christ was a frequent visitor there, performing such miracles as healing the centurion’s servant, curing Peter’s ailing mother-in-law, and raising Jairus’ daughter form the dead. One day, while passing the customs house where Matthew was busy squeezing extra shekels from his neighbors, Christ paused to say, ‘Follow me.’ That was all it took to touch Matthew’s heart. He walked out of the customs house forever, giving up his life as a cheat to become an apostle, the author of a Gospel and eventually a martyr.” (Page 12)

Just when Matthew thought he had it made – just when he thought he was living la vita loca – Christ changed his life by calling him to live in a manner worthy of what God had in mind for him. Matthew – who clearly recognized an opportunity when he saw one – dropped everything he had valued up until that very moment to follow Jesus. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Amazing how a handful of words can change the trajectory of one’s life. A few words from Jesus transformed Matthew from being a human being who was all about taking from others into a man who was all about giving to others - even to the point of giving his very life.

How might God’s words invite us to change and to transform our lives today?

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(September 22, 2019: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.”

"One small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind."

Astronaut Neil Armstrong's words - accompanied as they were by the "thump" of his foot on the moon's surface - created a global image that affirmed once again our potential as human beings. It also gave us an image that inspires future generations to work together to realize still more dimensions of our human potential.

In his book Soul Mates (p viii), Thomas Moore approaches ‘soul making’ very much in terms of symbols and imagination. In fact, his major premise with respect to conversion and transformation is that changing imagery is crucial to changing priorities and behaviors.

Changing priorities and behaviors was very much the thrust of St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to the Devout Life. He promoted a very different image of holiness in his day and age. The prevailing image was monastic life, which saw the committed Christian life as removed from the affairs of the world. The new image was more like being at court, which saw the committed Christian life as being fully engaged in the affairs of the world. De Sales comments, “Where ever we may be, we can and should aspire to live a holy life.” (IDL, Part 1, Chapter 3)

This Salesian image offers a lens for seeing the message of today's Scriptures. Luke in his parable and Amos in his prophetic pronouncement speak to the man or woman engaged in the business of life, calling them to live in such a way as to give the fullest expression to their God-given dignity and destiny. From the negative side Amos castigates the ‘so called’ believers who cannot wait for the liturgy to be over and can return to fraud in the pursuit of profits. From the positive side, Jesus notes the unjust steward's prudence in meeting his needs in a crisis. He wishes this quality of clever prudence for all committed believers who want to love and serve God with their lives in and out of crisis.

What can sustain the committed Christian in the way of clever prudence? De Sales offers an image for prayer and reflection to care for the soul in this situation. He tells the devout Christian: “Imitate little children who with one hand hold fast to their father while with the other they gather berries from the hedge.” (IDL, Part 3, Chapter 10)

The most important thing we can do to become our whole selves in the business world (or anywhere for that matter) is to make an effort to stay connected and grounded. Time spent in honest prayer and reflection helps us connect with ourselves, with our values, with our faith community, our neighbor, and quintessentially with our God “in the midst of so much busyness.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 163)

Justice, like its counterpart: beauty, truth, and love, all-too-often remain an abstraction. Fairness, woven into the heart of the committed Christian man or woman (indeed, of anyone), could collectively be such a ‘giant leap for mankind’ for living a more grounded life and producing a more just and loving world.

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(September 23, 2019: Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest)
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“For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.”

“Born Francesco Forgione, Padre Pio grew up in a family of farmers in southern Italy. Twice (1898-1903 and 1910-17) his father worked in Jamaica, New York, to provide the family income.”

“At the age of 15, Francesco joined the Capuchins and took the name of Pio. He was ordained in 1910 and was drafted during World War I. After he was discovered to have tuberculosis, he was discharged. In 1917 he was assigned to the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, 75 miles from the city of Bari on the Adriatic. On September 20, 1918, as he was making his thanksgiving after Mass, Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus. When the vision ended, he had the stigmata in his hands, feet and side.”

“His life became more complicated after that. Medical doctors, Church authorities and curiosity seekers came to see Padre Pio. In 1924 and again in 1931, the authenticity of the stigmata was questioned; Padre Pio was not permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to hear confessions. He did not complain of these decisions, which were soon reversed. However, he wrote no letters after 1924. His only other writing, a pamphlet on the agony of Jesus, was done before 1924.”

“Padre Pio rarely left the friary after he received the stigmata, but busloads of people soon began coming to see him. Each morning following the 5:00 AM Mass in a crowded church, he heard confessions until noon. He took a mid-morning break to bless the sick and all who came to see him. Every afternoon he also heard confessions. Over time his confessional ministry would consume ten hours a day; penitents had to take a number in order to handle the crowds of people who came to see him.”

“Padre Pio particularly saw Jesus in the faces of the sick and suffering. At his urging, a hospital was constructed on nearby Mount Gargano. Beginning in 1940 a committee began to collect money: six years later ground was broken. This ‘House for the Alleviation of Suffering’ had 350 beds.”

“Pius of Pietrelcina died on September 23, 1968, was beatified in 1999 and canonized in 2002.” (http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1147)

Despite the fact that he did all he could to avoid drawing attention to himself, this humble priest became a household name for Catholics around the world. However obvious or obscure, may we door our best – just as Padre Pio did – to let our light shine.

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(September 24, 2019: Tuesday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

In earlier times in human history – before the development and growth of urban centers – communities tended to be small and tight-knit. Everybody knew everybody else, so much so, that when asked to identify members of a particular clan, tribe or family it was easy to pick them out by how they looked, spoke or acted.

We are children of the Father, siblings of Jesus and embodiments of the Holy Spirit. How easily do others identify us as members of God’s family by how we look, speak and act?

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(September 25, 2019: Wednesday, Twenty-fifth Week Ordinary Time)
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“Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic.”

When it comes to making progress along the road of life, Jesus is challenging us to travel lightly. While we should make some long-term plans for our lives and adjust those plans on a daily basis, Jesus urges us to resist the temptation to pack too many things that we figure we might ‘need’ for the journey.

All of us probably have seen people struggling with way-too-much luggage on vacation. In their attempt to prepare for just about every contingency that they might encounter during the course of their journey, they overdue it. What is the result? Ironically enough, all the stuff that they packed to help them prepare for the trip ends up becoming the biggest hindrance on the trip.

In a letter addressed to Jane de Chantal (January 1615), Francis de sales wrote:

“May God be with you on your journey. May God keep you clothed in the garment of his charity. May God nourish your soul with the heavenly bread of his consolation. May God bring you back safe and sound…May God be your God forever.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 226)

Whatever else she may have packed for her journey, Francis de Sales invited her (in the form of a blessing) to focus on the few things that she would truly need for her trip. The list might not sound like much, but upon closer review, it contains he things that really matter.

What provisions – if anything – will we choose to bring with us on the journey of life today?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: September 12th - September 18th

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(September 12, 2019: Holy Name of Mary)
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“Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…”

“The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, or simply the Holy Name of Mary, is a feast day in the Roman Catholic Church celebrated on 12 September to honor the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has been a universal Roman Rite feast since 1684, when Pope Innocent XI included it in the General Roman Calendar to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.”

“The feast day began in 1513 as a local celebration in Cuenca, Spain, celebrated on 15 September. In 1587 Pope Sixtus V moved the celebration to 17 September. In 1622 Pope Gregory XV extended the celebration to the Archdiocese of Toledo and it was subsequently extended to the entire Kingdom of Spain in 1671. The feast was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969, as it was seen as something of a duplication of the 8 September feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 2002, Pope John Paul II restored the celebration to the General Roman Calendar.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Name_of_Mary)

Mary has a prominent place among those chosen by God to be instruments of His will on earth. As the Mother of the Messiah we recognize her for – among other things – her “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Mary is a role model for us, insofar as we, too, are God’s chosen ones. The faithful Mother of Jesus shows us how we can be faithful brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Like Mary, how can we put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” today? And, in so doing, imitate her Son!

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(September 13, 2019: John Chrysostom, Bishop/Doctor of the Church)
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"I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“St. John, named Chrysostom (golden-mouthed) on account of his eloquence, came into the world of Christian parents, about the year 344, in the city of Antioch. His mother, at the age of 20, was a model of virtue. He studied rhetoric under Libanius, a pagan, the most famous orator of the age.

In 374, he began to lead the life of an anchorite in the mountains near Antioch, but in 386 the poor state of his health forced him to return to Antioch, where he was ordained a priest.”

“In 398, he was elevated to the See of Constantinople and became one of the greatest lights of the Church. But he had enemies in high places and some were ecclesiastics, including Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, who repented of this before he died. His most powerful enemy, however, was the empress Eudoxia, who was offended by the apostolic freedom of his discourses. Several accusations were brought against him in a pseudo-council, and he was sent into exile.”

“In the midst of his sufferings, like the apostle, St. Paul, whom he so greatly admired, he found the greatest peace and happiness. He had the consolation of knowing that the Pope remained his friend, and did for him what lay in his power. His enemies were not satisfied with the sufferings he had already endured, and they banished him still further, to Pythius, at the very extremity of the Empire. He died on his way there on September 14, 407.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=64)

Take some time today to consider the tough times that you have had in your life. To what degree were you able to work through those times because of God’s grace and the support of loved ones? Ask yourself the question “How grateful am I?”

How will you express that gratitude to God and others today?

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(September 14, 2019: Exaltation of the Holy Cross)
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“Christ Jesus did not regard equality with God something at which to grasp…”

The cross of Calvary is the most poignant and powerful embodiment of the Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Hanging upon the cross we see a crucified Christ who did not cling to the power of his divinity; rather, Jesus saw the power of his divinity as a gift to be freely shared with others through the fullness of his humanity. Being “poor in spirit” for Jesus didn’t mean having nothing to give, but for him, being “poor in spirit” meant holding nothing back.

In a letter written to Jane de Chantal on the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross in 1605, Francis de Sales exhorted:

“All I can do is just to give you my blessing, which I give you in the name of Jesus Christ, crucified; may his cross be our glory and our consolation, my dear daughter. May it be greatly exalted among us and planted on our head as it was on that of the first Adam. May it fill our heart and our soul, as it filled the soul of St. Paul, who knew nothing else. Courage, dear daughter, for God is on our side. Amen.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 100)

Today, look at the cross of the crucified Christ. See in Him a God who is always and forever on our side! May we embody the spirit of the Cross through our efforts each day to be on the side of one another. In this may we find courage and consolation to hold nothing back in our love of God and neighbor.

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(September 15, 2019: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

Today's scriptural readings pull no punches in describing the sorry lot of sinners. The people upon whom God has showered his preferential love have become "depraved and stiff-necked," turning from the worship of the one true God to that of a molten calf. Before the puny creation of their own hands, they bow in worship and sacrifice.

The author of Psalm 51 readily admits his guilt and sin before a God of goodness and compassion. St. Paul speaks bluntly of the way he was and the manner in which he lived his life before coming to faith in Jesus. He was - he candidly admits - a blasphemer and a persecutor of God's holy people. His was an unparalleled spiritual arrogance. Finally, the Gospel relates the familiar story of a profligate younger son who squanders all his inheritance in a reckless and dissolute life and, in the process, breaks his father's heart.

What is the point of this litany of sin, guilt, human weakness and failure? It is the dark side of Gospel Good News, the bleak background against which the bright beauty and sheer graciousness of Jesus' redemptive deed shines out in all its splendor. It is the humble acknowledgment of one's total powerlessness and loss as the result of having sinned against a good and compassionate God. This humility, this truth about ourselves, is the necessary precondition for being able to hear the clarion call of the Good News of faith and to receive in gratitude the healing power of grace.

Today, too often we are hesitant to speak of sin today, especially of personal sin. We do not like to acknowledge that we have rejected God or have turned aside from the way he has pointed to us in Scripture in the example and word of Jesus and in the teachings of his Church: Yet, it is just such an acknowledgement, in humility and truth, that readies us for the freeing experience of God's tender and forgiving grace.

Saints are converted sinners. This truth is what is proclaimed loud and clear in the Scriptures today. Grace takes the weak and wobbly - even the most heart-hardened sinners - and transforms them into saints and heroes.

St. Francis de Sales had a great respect for the example of saints, but he wanted people to see the saints in a realistic manner, that is, as weak and sinful people who, through the transforming power of grace, had become heroes. St. Peter was such a hero for Francis. He was captivated by this man who, though often heroic and always well-meaning, was nevertheless frequently short on courage ("I do not know the man!") or weak in understanding what Jesus really stood for ("Get behind me, you Satan!"), and who more than once fell flat on his face. Yet, what a giant that man became through grace! In St. Peter, Francis de Sales found it spiritually useful to speak of a man with whose failures his people could relate, and of a saint whose holiness they could imitate. His hero had warts. In pointing them out, he was in effect, encouraging others in their quest for holiness.

Let us end with St. Paul's exuberant hymn of praise in today's second reading. It celebrates the triumph of grace over human sin and weakness: “To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

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(September 16, 2019: Cornelius, Pope, and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs)
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“I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.”

In his letter to Timothy, Paul invites his audience to pray that all “may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” The two saints we remember today may have prayed for this intention, but they certainly didn’t experience it.

Saint Cornelius was elected Pope in 251 during the persecutions of the Emperor Decius. His first challenge, besides the ever-present threat of the Roman authorities, was to bring an end to the schism brought on by his rival, the first anti-pope Novatian. He convened a synod of bishops to confirm himself as the rightful successor of Peter.

“A great controversy that arose as a result of the Decian persecution was whether or not the Church could pardon and receive back into the Church those who had apostatized in the face of martyrdom. Against both the bishops who argued that the Church could not welcome back apostates, and those who argued that they should be welcomed back but did not demand a heavy penance of the penitent, Cornelius decreed that they must be welcomed back and insisted that they perform an adequate penance. In 253 Cornelius was exiled by the emperor Gallus and died of the hardships he endured in exile. He is venerated as a martyr.”

“Saint Cyprian of Carthage is second in importance only to the great Saint Augustine as a figure and Father of the African church. He was a close friend of Pope Cornelius and supported him both against the anti-pope Novatian and in his views concerning the re-admittance of apostates into the Church.”

“His writings are of great importance, especially his treatise on The Unity of the Catholic Church, in which he argues that unity is grounded in the authority of the bishop, and among the bishops, in the primacy of the See of Rome. In this work, St. Cyprian wrote, ‘You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother.... God is one and Christ is one, and his Church is one; one is the faith, and one is the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body.... If we are the heirs of Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are the sons of God, let us be lovers of peace.’”

“During the Decian persecutions Cyprian considered it wiser to go into hiding and guide his flock covertly rather than seek the glorious crown of martyrdom, a decision that his enemies attempted to use to discredit him.

On September 14, 258, however, he was martyred during the persecutions of the emperor Valerian.” (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint.php?n=596)

Whether in times of tranquility – or in times of trouble – may the examples of Cornelius and Cyprian inspire us do our level best to live a life of devotion and dignity.

Come what may!

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(September 17, 2019: Robert Bellarmine, Bishop/Doctor of the Church)
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“Whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task.”

“A contemporary of St. Francis de Sales, St. Robert Bellarmine was the third of ten children. He entered the newly formed Society of Jesus in 1560 and after his ordination went on to teach at Louvain (1570-1576) where he became famous for his Latin sermons. In 1576, he was appointed to the chair of controversial theology at the Roman College, becoming Rector in 1592. He went on to become Provincial of Naples in 1594 and Cardinal in 1598.”

“This outstanding scholar and devoted servant of God defended the Apostolic See against the anti-clericals in Venice and against the political tenets of James I of England. He composed an exhaustive apologetic work against the prevailing heretics of his day. In the field of church-state relations, he took a position based on principles now regarded as fundamentally democratic: authority originates with God, but is vested in the people, who entrust it to fit rulers.”

“This saint was the spiritual father of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, helped St. Francis de Sales obtain formal approval of the Visitation Order, and in his prudence opposed severe action in the case of Galileo. He has left us a host of important writings, including works of devotion and instruction, as well as controversy. He died in 1621.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=101)

Robert Bellarmine’s support of Francis de Sales was not limited to the formal approval of the Visitation Order. In fact, Bellarmine had been helpful to Francis de Sales nearly sixteen years earlier while the latter – then a newly-ordained priest – was engaged as a missionary in the Chablais. In a letter (February 1609) addressed to Pierre de Villars, Archbishop of Vienne, Francis wrote:

“I have some material for introducing beginners to the exercise of evangelical preaching which I would like to follow up with a methodical study for the conversion of heretics by holy preaching. In this last book I should like to demolish – by way of practical method – all the most obvious and celebrated arguments of our adversaries, and that not only in a style that will instruct, but also move, so that the book will not only serve for the consolation of Catholics but for the conversion of heretics. I intend to use towards this project some meditations that I composed during my five years in the Chablais where the only books I had to help me in my preaching were the Bible and those of the great Bellarmine.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 164-165)

Clearly, the office to which Robert Bellarmine aspired was a noble one. In the opinion of countless people – including that of St. Francis de Sales – Bellarmine accomplished his office in a most noble fashion.

How might we follow their examples – two bishops, saints and Doctors of the Church – in whatever offices to which we aspire today?

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(September 18, 2019: Wednesday, Twenty-fourth Week Ordinary Time)
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“To what shall I compare the people of this generation?”

You’re dammed if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

That’s essentially what Jesus is saying in today’s election from the Gospel of Luke. John the Baptist was criticized for eschewing food and drink, whereas Jesus was criticized for enjoying food and drink. Try as you might to do the right thing – try as you might to be true to yourself - some days you just can’t win!

St. Francis de Sales was certainly no stranger to the dynamic of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t, especially when it comes to trying to live a life of devotion. Citing this very selection from today’s Gospel, he observed:

“We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it. It is so demanding that it can’t be satisfied. ‘John came neither eating nor drinking,’ says the Savior, and you say, ‘He has a devil.’ ‘The Son of man came eating and drinking’ and you say that he is ‘a Samaritan’ If we are ready to laugh, play cards or dance with the world in order to please it, it will be scandalized at us, and if we don’t, it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy. If we dress well, it will attribute it to some plan we have, and if neglect our attire, it will accuse us of being cheap and stingy. Good humor will be called frivolity and mortification sullenness. Thus the world looks at us with an evil eye and we can never please it. It exaggerates our imperfections and claims they are sins, turns our venial sins into mortal sins and changes our sins of weakness into sins of malice.”

“The world always thinks evil and when it can’t condemn our acts it will condemn our intentions. Whether the sheep have horns or not and whether they are white or black, the wolf won’t hesitate to eat them if he can. Whatever we do, the world will wage war on us. If we stay a long time in the confessional, it will wonder how we can so much to say; if we stay only a short time, it will say we haven’t told everything….The world holds us to be fools; let us hold it to be mad.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 2, pp. 236-237)

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t? Well, then, why not be damned for doing what is virtuous, right and good!

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Spirituality Matters 2019: September 5th - September 11th

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(September 5, 2019: Thursday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord…”

In a letter to Madame de la Flechere, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Don’t be examining yourself to see if what you are doing is a little or much, good or bad, provided that it is not sinful and that – in all good faith – you are trying to do it for God. As much as possible, do well what you have to do, and once it is done, think no more about it but turn your attention to what has to be done next. Walk very simply along the way our Lord shows you and don’t worry. We must hate our faults, but we should do so calmly and peacefully, without fuss or anxiety…” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 161)

To walk in a manner worthy of the Lord – to follow Christ, to “Live + Jesus” – is a daunting task. But what makes it more doable – and enjoyable – is to walk the Lord’s ways calmly and peacefully, without fuss or anxiety.

Godspeed during your walk today!

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(September 6, 2019: Friday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation...”

The Incarnation is one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith: the Word became flesh – the invisible God become all-so-visible – in the person of Jesus Christ. (Creation is the other!)

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

“Just as God created ‘man in his image and likeness,’ so also he ordained for man a love in the image and likeness of the love due to his divinity. He says: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Why do we love God? ‘The reason we love God is God himself,’ says St. Bernard, as if to say that we love God because he is the most supreme and infinite goodness. Why do we love ourselves in charity? Surely, it is because we are God’s image and likeness. Since all men have this same dignity, we also love them as ourselves, that is, in their character is most holy and living images of the divinity.” (TLG, Book X, Chapter 11, pp. 170-171)

Insofar as we are sons and daughters of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus – temples of the Holy Spirit – we, too, are images of the invisible God. How do we make the invisible God visible?

By – and through – our love for ourselves and one another.

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(September 7, 2019: Saturday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“God has now reconciled you…”

In a letter to Sr. Anne-Marie Rosset, Assistant and Novice Mistress at Dijon, St. Jane de Chantal wrote:

“God knows the pain I feel in my heart over the misunderstanding that exists in your house. I ask the Lord to take it in hand. In the end, if a reconciliation doesn’t occur, you will have to find a way of sending away the sister who is the cause of it all. No good ever comes from the sisters wanting to control the superior; if they were humble and submissive, all would go well. Indeed, my very dear Sister, the one who governs there has done so very successfully elsewhere, and this ought to keep the sisters in peace. Help them to understand this as far as you can so that there may be humble and cordial submission in the house. Help the sister in question to unite herself to her superior and to be sincerely open with her. Oh, is this the behavior the way to honor the memory of him who so often recommended peace to us and union? What a dangerous temptation! May God, in His goodness, straighten this out! And we shall do what we can – with God’s help – to remedy the situation.” (LSD, p. 247)

Every family – every community – every organization or group – has its share of difficulties and divisions, and as this letter clearly shows, even cloistered, contemplative women. But note some of the ingredients that St. Jane identifies as critical in any attempts to bring about resolution and reconciliation. These include:

Being humble

Being submissive

Being peaceful/peaceable

Being understanding

Being sincere

Being open

And most important of all:

Asking for God’s help

Is there anyone in your life with whom you need to be reconciled? While there are few - if any - guarantees in life, following the suggestions given above might go a long way in helping you to experience the peace and union that Jesus won for us at the price of his own life.

Why wait for tomorrow to pursue a path toward reconciliation that you could begin today…with God’s help?

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(September 8, 2019: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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"If one of you decides to build a tower, will you not first sit down and calculate the outlay to see if you can accomplish the project?"

Life can be frustrating enough at times without making it worse by failing to look ahead. How many times have we had to go back to the grocery store because we didn't first make a list of what we needed to buy? How often have we run to Lowe’s or Home Depot three, four, five times or more on the same day because we simply didn't take the time to first consider all the materials that we would need in order to accomplish a project? How many vacations or trips have been soured because we failed first to sit down and consider all the things we should bring?

Anything worth doing - no matter how simple or complex - is worth doing well. And the first step in doing something well is to plan ahead.

We clearly hear echoes of this truth in the parable from Luke's Gospel. Jesus admonishes his audience to determine first what it is they will need to complete an important task before embarking on the task itself. For his part, St. Francis de Sales recommends:

"Be careful and attentive to all the matters that God has committed to your care. Since God has confided them to you, God wishes you to have great care for them."

Of course, we know that the Salesian tradition cautions us not to become so obsessed with advanced planning that we become anxious or compulsive. However, this same tradition cautions us against performing tasks or projects in a careless or haphazard manner. Our own experience clearly demonstrates that when we fail to plan we are frequently planning to fail.

Take a page from the life of Jesus himself. Before undertaking his public ministry, he went into the desert where he no doubt took stock of all that he would need to accomplish God's great project for him: the salvation of the human family. Jesus didn't begin his ministry in a haphazard fashion; he didn't make it up as he went along. He was deliberate; he was prudent. Before he began his ministry in earnest, he first considered all that he would need - with the Father's love - to redeem all creation through his life, love, passion, death and resurrection.

God has entrusted to us the most important of all projects: to continue Christ's work on earth and to be sources of God's peace, justice, reconciliation, truth, hope, care, concern and love for one another. Like the tower in today's Gospel parable, accomplishing this task can sometimes be a tall order indeed. Few of us, however, have the luxury of setting aside forty days in the desert to determine what we need in order to follow God's will - to be the kind of people that God calls us to be. When are we supposed to calculate what we'll need to be successful - to be faithful - in pursuing this greatest of all projects?

How about starting with the first few minutes of every new day?

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(September 9, 2019: Peter Claver, Priest)
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“It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.”

“A contemporary of St. Francis de Sales, St. Peter Claver was born at Verdu, Catalonia, Spain, in 1580, of impoverished parents descended from ancient and distinguished families. He studied at the Jesuit college of Barcelona, entered the Jesuit novitiate at Tarragona in 1602 and took his final vows on August 8th, 1604. While studying philosophy at Majorca, the young religious was influenced by St. Alphonsus Rodriguez to go to the Indies and save ‘millions of perishing souls.’”

“In 1610, he landed at Cartagena (modern Colombia), the principal slave market of the New World, where a thousand slaves were landed every month. After his ordination in 1616, he dedicated himself by special vow to the service of the Negro slaves - a work that was to last for thirty-three years. He labored unceasingly for the salvation of the African slaves and the abolition of the Negro slave trade, and the love he lavished on them was something that transcended the natural order.”

“Boarding the slave ships as they entered the harbor, he would hurry to the revolting inferno of the hold, and offer whatever poor refreshments he could afford; he would care for the sick and dying, and instruct the slaves through Negro catechists before administering the Sacraments. Through his efforts three hundred thousand souls entered the Church. Furthermore, he did not lose sight of his converts when they left the ships, but followed them to the plantations to which they were sent, encouraged them to live as Christians, and prevailed on their masters to treat them humanely. He died in 1654.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=94)

Peter Claver seems to have taken Paul’s admonition to ‘teach everyone’ quite literally by traveling to a different hemisphere and spending over thirty years of his life ministering to African slaves.

How can we model his example of dedicated service to those with whom we live and work close to home today?

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(September 10, 2019: Tuesday, Twenty-third Week Ordinary Time)
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“Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.”

Tomorrow we will commemorate the twelfth anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

In preparation for that commemoration, we might do well to pray for all those people in need of healing in the wake of such horrific injury, pain and loss by asking God to comfort, sustain and heal them.

For that matter, we also might also ask ourselves how we might be instruments of that same comforting, sustaining and healing Jesus in the lives of others we know who have sustained injury, pain and loss closer to home.

Just today.

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(September 11, 2019: Wednesday, Twenty-third Week Ordinary Time)
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“Think of what is above…”

People around the world – and especially in the United States – observe this day as a day of remembrance for the victims of the terror attack of September 11, 2001.

“In October 2001, the United States Congress passed a joint resolution designating that every September 11th be observed as "Patriot Day." The resolution requests that U.S. government entities and interested organizations and individuals display the flag of the United States at half staff and that the people of the United States observe a moment of silence in honor of the individuals who lost their lives. In 2009, a presidential proclamation declared that Patriot Day is also a ‘National Day of Service.’ The proclamation calls on Americans to ‘participate in community service in honor of those our Nation lost, to observe this day with other ceremonies and activities, including remembrance services ... to honor the innocent victims who perished as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.’” (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/september-11/)

On th**is day of remembrance and service, listen to the words of Jesus from today’s Gospel:

  • “Blessed are you who are poor,

  • or the Kingdom of God is yours.

  • Blessed are you who are now hungry,

  • for you will be satisfied.

  • Blessed are you who are now weeping,

  • or you will laugh.

  • Blessed are you when people hate you,

  • and when they exclude and insult you,

  • and denounce your name as evil

  • on account of the Son of Man.”

As we spend this day thinking of “what is above,” let us recommit ourselves to living our earthly lives here below in a heavenly way by being a source of beatitude – that is, a blessing – in the lives of others.

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Spirituality Matters 2019: August 29th - September 4th

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(August 29, 2019: The Passion of St. John the Baptist)
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“Stand firm in the Lord...”

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

“All the martyrs died for divine love. When we say that many of them died for the faith, we must not imply that it was for a ‘dead faith’ but rather for a living faith, that is, faith animated by charity. Moreover, our confession of faith is not so much an act of the intellect as an act of the will and love of God. For this reason, on the day of the Passion the great St. Peter preserved his faith in his soul – but lost charity – since he refused in words to admit as Master Him whom in his heart he acknowledged to be such. But there are other martyrs who died expressly for charity alone. Such was the Savior’s great Precursor who suffered martyrdom because he gave fraternal correction…” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 10, pp. 40-41)

We see in John the Baptist one who stood firm in the Lord. As the herald of Jesus both before and after the latter’s baptism in the Jordan, John respected, honored and loved the Lord, as well as the things, values and standards of the Lord. His willingness to stand firm in the Lord and in the ways of the Lord impelled him to call Herod on his immoral lifestyle (taking his brother’s wife to be his own) in a very public forum. His willingness to stand firm in the Lord and in the ways of Lord ultimately cost John his life.

John didn’t lose his head over some mere intellectual principle: he gave it because of something he believed from – and in – the depth of his heart.

How far are we willing to go for the things, the values and the people that we hold deeply in our hearts, presuming, of course, we possess such deep, heartfelt convictions?

Today on what issues – and for whom – are we willing to stand firm, whatever the cost?

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(August 30, 2019: Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.”

In the book Saints are not Sad (1949,) we read

“Holiness, in Francis de Sales’ conception of it, should be an all-around quality without abruptness or eccentricity. It should not involve the suppression in us of anything that is not in itself bad, for the likeness to God which is its essence must be incomplete in the proportion that it does not extend to the whole of us. So, we must be truthful to ourselves and about ourselves, and we shall lose as much by not seeing the good that really is in us as by fancying that we see good that is not there at all. It is as right and due that we should thank God for the virtue that His grace has established in us as that we should ask His forgiveness for our sinfulness that hinders His grace.” (Select Salesian Subjects, # 0377, p. 85)

God calls us to holiness. God calls us to walk in his ways. Imperfect as we are, we can make great progress in this quest by accepting the grace of God, by putting God’s grace to work in action and by relying on the love, support and encouragement of others. This call to holiness also challenges us to be truthful with ourselves and about ourselves - to recognize what is good in us, as well as anything in us needing to be purified. While we will always be imperfect, there is always a place for more purity in our own lives and in our lives with one another.

How can we live in – and practice – that truth today?

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(August 31, 2019: Saturday of the Twenty-first Week of the Year)
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"Mind your own affairs, and work with your own hands…”

In a conference to the Visitation Sisters, Francis de Sales wrote:

“It in indeed for us to labor diligently, but it is for God to crown our labors with success. Let us not be at all eager in our work – for in order to do it well, we must apply ourselves to it carefully indeed – but calmly and peacefully, without trusting in our own labor, but in God and in His grace.” (Conference VII, “Three Spiritual Laws”, p. 112)

Perhaps this is what was lacking in the case of one of the three servants cited in the parable of the talents in today’s Gospel. Two of the servants present their master, who had just come home, with a return on the talents. Whereas the third servant merely returned single talent to his master (after retrieving it from the spot where he had buried it earlier) without having made any attempt of doing something with it.

Why did the one servant fail to make even the slightest attempt to return his master’s talent with some semblance of interest? It turns out he was afraid of his master. Paraphrasing Francis de Sales’ words above, perhaps the reason the servant didn’t trust in his own labor was that – ultimately – he did not trust in his master. By contrast, the other two servants appear to have had every confidence and trust in their master, regardless of how much – or how little – a return that they would ultimately make on their master’s investment.

In an exhortation to the Sisters of the Visitation, Jane de Chantal once remarked:

“Let us redouble our efforts at serving God and one another faithfully, especially in small and simple ways. God expects only that which we can do, but that which we can do God clearly expects. Therefore, let us be diligent in giving our best to God, leaving the rest in the hands of God’s infinite generosity.” (Based upon St. Jane de Chantal’s Exhortation for the last Saturday of 1629, On the Shortness of Life. Found in Conferences of St. Jane de Chantal. Newman Bookshop: Westminster, Maryland. 1947. Pages 106 – 107)

We may not always know how God wants us to make use of all the talents, gifts and blessings that he has given us, but one thing is certain: doing nothing with them is totally unacceptable.

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(September 1, 2019: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

How do we find favor with God by humbling ourselves? For that matter, when we humble ourselves, what are we really doing?

First, humility challenges us to avoid two extremes in life: the temptations to either exalt ourselves or trash ourselves. Francis de Sales offered very concrete examples of how to do this.

"I don't want to play either the fool or the wise man, for if humility forbids me to play the sage, candor and sincerity forbid me to act the fool. Just as I would not parade knowledge even of what I actually know; so, by contrast, I would not pretend to be ignorant of it. Humility conceals and covers the other virtues in order to preserve them, but it also reveals them when charity so requires in order that we might enlarge, increase and perfect them." (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 5)

On a deeper level, humility is about acknowledging both our littleness and God's greatness.

"Let us consider what God has done for us and what we have done against God, and as we reflect upon our sins one by one let us also consider God's graces one by one. There is no need to fear that the knowledge of God's gifts will make us proud if only we remember this truth: none of the good in us comes from ourselves alone." (Ibid)

Finally, having a balanced view of ourselves, acknowledging our littleness and God's greatness, and being grateful for God's fidelity to us, lead us to live lives of generosity.

"Generous minds do not amuse themselves with the petty toys of rank, honor and titles. They have other things to do. Such things belong only to idle minds. Those who own pearls do not bother about shells, while those who aspire to virtue do not trouble themselves over honors." (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 4)

Humbling ourselves is not about putting ourselves down. No, humbling ourselves is about taking our rightful place in life - beneficiaries of God's love for us and instruments of God's love in the lives of other people.

Humility is ultimately about coming to know our place in God’s plan of salvation and having the courage to take and embrace it. This true humility, in turn, should lead us to gently and respectfully encourage others in their quest to likewise know their place in God’s plan of salvation and to have the courage to take it.

What better way of finding favor with God than by pursuing this quest together!

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(September 2, 2019: Labor Day)
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“He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”

The selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah that is cited in today’s Gospel lists signs associated with the coming of the Messiah – liberty to captives, sight to the blind and freeing the oppressed.

That requires a great deal of work!

Labor Day offers us a great opportunity to reflect upon the great work to which each of us is called – to continue the creating, healing and inspiring action of Jesus Christ in the lives of others in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Eucharistic Prayer IV puts it this way:

“Father, we acknowledge your greatness: all your actions show your wisdom and love. You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you, his creator, and to rule over all creatures…To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to those in sorrow, joy…And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth…”

On this Labor Day how might we do something to help complete Christ’s work on earth in our relationships with one another?

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(September 3, 2019: Gregory the Great, Pope/Doctor of the Church)
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“Encourage one another and build one another up…”

In the beginning of Part III of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Some virtues have almost general use and must not only produce their own acts but also communicate their qualities to the acts of all the other virtues. Occasions do not often present themselves for the exercise of fortitude, magnanimity and great generosity, but meekness, temperance, integrity and humility are virtues that must mark all our actions in life. We must always have on hand a good supply of these general virtues since we can use them almost constantly.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 1)

Using St. Paul’s words, there are lots of ways to encourage and build up other people. Gregory the Great did it by practicing the virtue of hospitality. Francis de Sales noted:

“Following Abraham’s example, St. Gregory the Great liked to entertain pilgrims and like Abraham he received the King of Glory in the form of a pilgrim.” (Ibid, page. 123)

Today what virtues might we employ in our attempts to encourage and build up others?

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(September 4, 2019: Wednesday, Twenty-second Week Ordinary Time)
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“Just as in the whole world the Good News is bearing fruit and growing, so also among you…"

Near the beginning of Part I of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind. In like manner God commands Christians – the living plants of the Church – to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to one’s position and vocation. Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the laborer, the servant, the prince, the young girl and the married woman. Not only is this true but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strengths, activities and duties of each particular person.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 1)

We are the living plants of the Church. That being so, what kind of fruits can we produce in the lives of others in our attempts help grow the Good News of Jesus Christ in our own little corners of the world today?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: August 22nd - August 28th

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(August 22, 2019: Queenship of Mary)
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“Many are invited, but few are chosen...”

We are all familiar with the story of the Annunciation. An angel appears to Mary, announcing that God has chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah. Notwithstanding a bit of foreboding and a few understandable questions that she posed to the angel; the scene ends with Mary accepting the invitation to play her role in God’s plan of salvation.

Mary’s affirmative response to God’s invitation is in stark contrast to the apathy of many portrayed in today’s Gospel parable. The “king” (obviously, God) repeatedly invites people from hill and dale to accept his invitation to attend his son’s wedding. (By extension, God is asking people to say “yes” to the power, promise and possibilities embodied in his Son, Jesus.) These people simply couldn’t care less, prompting the king to cast his net of hospitality further and further afield.

On any given day God invites each of us to play our unique role in God’s ongoing plan of salvation. Each and every day God invites us to draw nearer to the feast that is his Son, Jesus Christ. Today, how will we respond to God’s invitation to the feast?

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(August 23, 2019: Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

The question put to Jesus in today’s Gospel is not an exercise of ‘Trivial Pursuit.’ This is not mere rhetoric. Ultimately, it is a question of life and death. Jesus’ answer is direct and to the point: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And when he describes the second as “like” the first, Jesus is saying that the two commandments are essentially one in the same.

In a letter to Madame Brulart, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must consider our neighbors n God who wishes us to love and cherish them must exercise this love of our neighbor, making our affection manifest by our actions. Although we may sometimes feel that this runs against the grain, we must not give up our efforts on that account. We ought to bring our prayers and meditations to focus on this point, for, after having asked for the love of God, we must likewise ask for the love of our neighbor.” (Living Jesus, 0618, p. 246)

Today, how can we put these two great commandments into practice?

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(August 24, 2019: St. Bartholomew, Apostle)
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“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom…”

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

“You can see how God – by progressive stages filled with unutterable sweetness – leads the soul forward and enables it to leave the Egypt of sin. He leads it from love to love, as from dwelling to dwelling, until He has made it enter into the Promised Land. By this I mean that God brings it into most holy charity, which, to state it succinctly, is a form of friendship…Such friendship is true friendship, since it is reciprocal, for God has eternally loved all those who have loved Him, who now love Him or who will love Him in time…He has openly revealed all His secrets to us as to His closest friends…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 22, pp. 160 - 161)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is clear and unambiguous about the quality that makes Bartholomew (a.k.a., Nathaniel) a friend of God: “There is no guile in him.” There is no pretense in Bartholomew – nothing fake, nothing phony. Jesus sees him as a man who is real, authentic and transparent - he is an open book.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offered some practical advice regarding how to practice the virtue of guilelessness

“Your language should be retrained, frank, sincere, candid unaffected and honest…As the sacred Scripture tells us, The Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul. No artifice is so good and desirable as plain dealing. Worldly prudence and carnal artifice belong to the children of this world, but the children (the friends) of God walk a straight path and their hearts are without guile.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Do you want to be a friend of God today? Like Bartholomew, strive to be guileless. Simply try to be yourself – nothing more, and nothing less.

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(August 25, 2019: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Go out to all the world and tell the good news.”

Pope Paul VI defined evangelization as "bringing the Good News into all strata of humanity and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new."

In their book entitled Creating the Evangelizing Parish, Paulist Fathers Frank DeSiano and Kenneth Boyack challenge us to accept this simple truth: each of us is called to be an evangelist, to “go out to all the world and tell the Good News,” and to give witness to the power and promise of God's redeeming love in our lives. (Paulist Press, 1993)

While the good news is essentially the same, the authors insist that the manner and method in which each of us evangelizes must be rooted in the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. For a deeper understanding of what this means, they turn to our old friend and companion, St. Francis de Sales:

“St. Francis de Sales wrote a marvelous book entitled The Introduction to the Devout Life. In it he makes the simple yet profound point that a follower (a disciple) of Jesus should look at his or her situation in life and then live a Christian life accordingly. A wife and mother will find holiness in the way she lives in relation to her husband, and in taking care of the family. She could hardly leave her family many times each day, like monks or nuns, to attend Liturgy of the Hours...Her spirituality, her way of following Christ is determined by her vocation and lifestyle...and if she works, living out her vocation as a married woman bearing witness to Christ in the workplace.”

We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are redeemed by the life, love, death and resurrection of Jesus. We are inspired and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. This acclamation is indeed Good News! This Good News should make a difference in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we love, live, work pray and play. This Good News should transform and renew us. Through us, this Good News offers the possibility of transformation and renewal to others.

How we share this Good News -- how we evangelize -- depends on who we are, where we are and how we are. How we share this Good News must match the state, stage, circumstances, responsibilities, routines and relationships in which we find ourselves each day. Following Jesus is not about forsaking our ordinary lives. No, it is about making real the life and love of God in our thoughts, feelings attitudes and actions.

Evangelization has a lot to do with what we say. After all, it is about ‘telling’ something, which in this case, is the Good News of God. However, evangelization also has a lot to do (perhaps even more) with what we do. What we say is a convincing sign of God's love only insofar as it is congruent with how we relate to one another.

By all means - by any means - "go out to all the world and tell the Good News" of God's love, God's forgiveness, God's justice and God's peace. But most especially, do it in the places - with the people - where you live, work, pray and play every day.

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(August 26, 2019: Monday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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"We give thanks to God always…unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love.”

You can hear the happiness in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. His joy flows from reminding himself of the “work of faith and labor of love” in the members of that early faith community.

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

“When our mind is raised above the natural light of reason and begins to see the sacred truth of faith, O God, what joy ensues! The holy light of faith is filled with delight!” (Select Salesian Subjects, #0263, p. 58)

What a contrast with how Jesus describes the scribes and Pharisees! Their faith produces no good works; their love is lacking. Their faith is anything but happy. Jesus simply describes what is painfully obvious about them in his litany of “woes” that begin with today’s Gospel and continue thorough Wednesday’s Gospel. In a word, these people were just plain miserable.

How do people experience the gift of faith in us? Are we sources of happiness – or woe – in the lives of others?

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(August 27, 2019: St. Monica)
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“We drew courage through our God to speak the Gospel of God with much struggle."

“St. Monica was married by arrangement to a pagan official in North Africa, who was much older than she, and although generous, was also violent tempered. His mother lived with them and was equally difficult, which proved a constant challenge to St. Monica. She had three children; Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. Through her patience and prayers, she was able to convert her husband and his mother to the Christian faith in 370. He died a year later. Perpetua and Navigius entered the religious life. St. Augustine was much more difficult, as she had to pray for him for seventeen years, begging the prayers of priests who - for a while - tried to avoid her because of her persistence at this seemingly hopeless endeavor. One priest did attempt to encourage her by saying, ‘It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.’ This thought, coupled with a vision that she had received, strengthened her in her prayers and hopes for her son. Finally, St. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose in 387. St. Monica died later that same year in the Italian town of Ostia, on the way back to Africa from Rome.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=1)

We can all relate to Saint Monica. We all have people in our lives for whom we want the best. We all have people in our lives that we want to be happy. We all have people in our lives about whom we have concerns and heartaches. Of course, as much as we might love someone else, we cannot live their lives for them. Sometimes the most we can do is to pray for them, encourage them and support them. As for the rest, we need leave it in the hands of God and hope that God will do His best.

Saint Monica is a model of courage. We see in her struggles the power that flows from a life of prayer and perseverance.

How can we imitate her example today, especially when it comes to loved ones about whom we care so deeply?

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(August 28, 2019: Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“Walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his Kingdom…”

“This famous son of St. Monica was born in Africa and spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. Though he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been raised a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride closed his mind to divine truth. Through the prayers of his holy mother and the marvelous preaching of St. Ambrose, Augustine gradually became convinced that Christianity was indeed the one true faith. Yet he did not become a Christian even then, because he thought he could never live a pure life.”

“One day, however, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted after reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terribly ashamed of himself. ‘What are we doing?’ he cried to his friend Alipius. ‘Unlearned people are taking heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!’ Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine cried out to God, ‘How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?’ Just then he heard a child singing, ‘Take up and read!’ Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul and read the first passage upon which his gaze fell. It was just what Augustine needed, for in it, St. Paul said to put away all impurity and to live in imitation of Jesus. That did it! From then on, Augustine began a new life. (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=418)

In his Letter to the Thessalonians, the same Paul who had such a powerful influence in the life of Augustine challenges us to “walk in a manner worthy of God.” Desirable as that goal may be, the ability to walk in God’s ways – as we see so clearly in the life of Saint Augustine – doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. For most of us, walking in a manner worthy of God isn’t just a sprint – it’s a marathon!

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Spirituality Matters 2019: August 15th - August 21, 2019

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(August 15, 2019: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“Blessed are you among women ...”

Our Salesian reflection for this Feast Day – the Assumption – comes entirely from Francis de Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God, Book 7, Chapter 14.

“I do not deny that the soul of the most Blessed Virgin had two portions, and therefore two appetites, one according to the spirit and superior reason, and the other according to sense and inferior reason, with the result that she could experience the struggle and contradiction of one appetite against the other. This burden was felt even by her Son. I say that in this heavenly Mother all affections were so well arranged and ordered that love of God held empire and dominion most peaceably without being troubled by diversity of wills and appetites or by contradiction of senses. Neither repugnance of natural appetite nor sensual movements ever went as far as sin, not even as far as venial sin. On the contrary, all was used holily and faithfully in the service of the holy love for the exercise of the other virtues which, for the most part, cannot be practiced except amid difficulty, opposition and contradiction…”

“As everyone knows, the magnet naturally draws iron towards itself by some power both secret and very wonderful. However, there are five things that hinder this operation: (1) if there is too great a distance between magnet and iron; (2) if there is a diamond placed between the two; (3) if the iron is greased; (4) if the iron is rubbed with onion; (5) if the iron is too heavy.”

“Our heart is made for God, and God constantly entices it and never ceases to cast before it the allurements of divine love. Yet five things impede the operation of this holy attraction: (1) sin, which removes us from God; (2) affection for riches; (3) sensual pleasures; (4) pride and vanity; (5) self-love, together with the multitude of disordered passions it brings forth, which are like a heavy load wearing it down.”

“None of these hindrances had a place in the heart of the glorious Virgin. She was: (1) forever preserved from all sin; (2) forever most poor in spirit; (3) forever most pure; (4) forever most humble; (5) forever the peaceful mistress of all her passions and completely exempt from the rebellion that self-love wages against love of God. For this reason, just as the iron, if free from all obstacles and even from its own weight, would be powerfully yet gently drawn with steady attraction by the magnet – although in such wise that the attraction would always be more active and stronger according as they came closer together and their motion approached its end – so, too, the most Blessed Mother, since there is nothing in her to impede the operation of her Son’s divine love, was united with him in an incomparable union by gentle ecstasies without trouble or travail.”

“They were ecstasies in which the sensible part did not cease to perform its actions but without in any way disturbing the spiritual union, just as, in turn, perfect application of the spirit did not cause any great distraction to the senses. Hence, the Virgin’s death was the most gentle that can be imagined, for her Son sweetly drew her after the odor of his perfumes and she most lovingly flowed out after their sacred sweetness even to the bosom of her Son’s goodness. Although this holy soul had supreme love for her own most holy, most pure, and most lovable body, yet she forsook it without any pain or resistance…At the foot of the cross love had given to this divine spouse the supreme sorrows of death. Truly, then, it was reasonable that in the end death would give her the supreme delights of love.”

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(August 16, 2019: Stephen of Hungary)
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“Give thanks to the Lord…”

“St. Stephen the Great (977-1038), was the son of the Magyar chieftain Geza, Stephen succeeded him as leader in 997. Already raised a Christian, in 996 he wed the daughter of Duke Henry II of Bavaria and devoted much of his reign to the promotion of the Christian faith. He gave his patronage to Church leaders, helped build churches, and was a proponent of the rights of the Holy See. Stephen also blunted the pagan counter reaction to Christianity, forcibly converting the so-called Black Hungarians after their failed rebellion. In recognition of his efforts, Stephen was anointed king of Hungary in 1000, receiving the cross and crown from Pope Sylvester II. The remainder of his reign was taken up with the consolidation of the Christian hold on the region. His crown and regalia became beloved symbols of the Hungarian nation, and Stephen was venerated as the ideal Christian king. Canonized in 1083 by Pope St. Gregory VII, he became the patron saint of Hungary.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=409)

In his desire to give thanks to God, St. Stephen forged a nation while defending the faith.

What simple things might we accomplish or achieve this day by following his example of giving thanks to God?

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(August 17, 2019: Saturday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Put away the strange gods that are among you and turn your hearts to the Lord.”

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

“Is it not a great pity to see Socrates in Plato’s narrative talk as he lay dying about the gods as if there were many of them, whereas he knew full well that there is but one only? Is it not a deplorable thing for Plato, who understood so clearly the truth concerning divine unity, to ordain that sacrifices should be offered to many gods? Is it not a lamentable thing that Mercurius Trismegistus should so basely lament and grieve over the abolition of idolatry – he who had spoken so worthily of the divinity on so many occasions?.” (TLG, Book I Chapter 17, p. 96)

In our day and age, it seems strange to talk about having “strange” gods or the notion of practicing idolatry. It’s probably safe to assume that we consider ourselves far too learned and sophisticated to worship false gods. However, maybe it isn’t so strange to talk about the need to put away strange gods when you consider the lengths that we sometimes go to protect – even to the point of worshipping - things like:

  • Our power

  • Our popularity

  • Our appearance

  • *Our reputation

  • Our time

  • Social media

  • Our opinions

  • Our way of doing things

  • Our way of seeing things

  • Our way of saying things

  • Our attitudes

  • Our biases and prejudices

  • Political talk shows

  • Our past glories

  • Our past hurts

When you consider that idolatry is essentially the practice of having anything compete with – or serve as a substitute for – our relationship with God, perhaps idolatry isn’t so rare, old-fashioned or “strange” these days after all!

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(August 18, 2019: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? I assure you; the contrary is true: I have come for division.”

This is a hard saying that we hear from Jesus in today’s Gospel. However, when we stop to consider our own experience of trying to faithfully live the Gospel, we realize that it is not merely a hard saying. It is also a hard truth.

We experience this “division” in two ways.

First, our attempts to follow Jesus may produce division within ourselves. While our attempts to practice a life of devotion – as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews might say, to “lay aside every encumbrance of sin which clings to us and persevere in running the race which lies ahead” - should be its own reward, it also brings its own share of struggles. Our daily effort to turn away from sin and to pursue a life of virtue is imperfect at best. Who of us cannot relate to St. Peter’s confession of his failures to do what he should do and his apparent inability to refrain from doing things that he should not do? Many of us experience the spiritual life as a form of the game “Chutes and Ladders” wherein our virtues are hard-fought, and our vices come all too easily.

Francis de Sales knew of this experience all too well. He wrote: “It may well turn out that this change in your life will cause you many problems. While you have bid a great, general farewell to the follies and vanities of the world, your decision brings on a feeling of sadness and discouragement.” (Introduction, Part IV, Chapter 2)

Second, our attempts to follow Jesus may produce division within our relationships with others. While doing what is right should be its own reward, we also know that sometimes “no good deed goes unpunished.” Francis de Sales observed: “As soon as worldly people see that you wish to follow a devout life, they aim a thousand darts of mockery and even detraction at you. The most malicious of them will slander your conversion as hypocrisy, bigotry and trickery. They will say that the world has turned against you and, being rebuffed by it, you have turned to God. Your friends may raise a host of objections which they consider very prudent and reasonable. They will tell you that you will become depressed, grow old before your time and that your affairs at home will suffer. They will say that you can save your soul without going to such extremes, and a thousand similar trivialities.” (Introduction, Part IV, Chapter 1)

Ironically, it is only in the midst of these experiences of division (both within ourselves and with others) that are sometimes part and parcel of our attempts at pursuing lives of devotion that we can have any hope of finding true peace: the peace that comes from our patient perseverance at being faithful to whom God calls us to be, regardless of how the voices within us and around us may try to dissuade us from our quest. Our experiences of the troubles that come with doing the right thing – living the right way – remind us of yet another hard truth.

Peace has its price.

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(August 19, 2019: Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“If you wish to be perfect, sell what you have and give to the poor…”

And the man went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Listen carefully to Jesus’ words. He doesn’t say, “Give it all to the poor.” He does say, “Give to the poor.” This presumes that what – or how much – is given to the poor is left to the individual to decide. In the case of the unnamed young man in today’s Gospel, perhaps his sadness was caused by the fact that he didn’t want to give anything away – not one bit – to the poor. If, in fact, he had many possessions, this makes his reluctance to share even the smallest amount of his good fortune with those less fortunate than he even more saddening.

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

“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches that God has given us. Frequently give up some of your property by giving it with a generous heart to the poor. To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become. It is true that God will repay us not only in the next world but even in this world…Oh, how holy and how rich is the poverty brought on by giving alms!” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 15. p. 165)

Listen carefully to Francis’ words: “Frequently give up some of your property…”

Count your blessings. Name your possessions. Be they material, like money, or non-material, like influence, time or talent, what transforms our riches into wealth is our willingness to share them with the poor, with the impoverished, with the less-fortunate, with those who have fallen on hard times.

Do you want to gain eternal life? How many – or much – of your possessions are you willing to share with anyone poor or needy today?

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(August 20, 2019: Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church)
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“It will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Riches themselves are not the greatest obstacle to our entering into the Kingdom of God. From a Salesian perspective, it is our desire for riches that poses the problem - the grandeur with which we protect them and the passion with which we pursue them.

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

“Your heart must be open to heaven alone and impervious to riches and all other transitory things. Whatever part of them you may possess, you must keep your heart free from too strong an affection for them. Always keep your heart above riches: even when your heart is surrounded by riches, see to it that your heart remains distinct from them and master over them. Do not allow your heavenly spirit to become captive to earthly things. Let your heart remain always superior to riches and over them – not in them… I willingly grant that you may take care to increase your wealth and resources, provided this is done not only justly but also properly and charitably.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 163)

How can we determine if our possessions might be holding us back from the Kingdom of Heaven? Francis wrote:

“If you find your heart very desolated and devastated at the loss of anything you possess then believe me when I tell you that you love it too much. The strongest proof of how deeply we are attached to possessions is the degree of suffering we experience when we lose it.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 164)

Are we experiencing any difficulties entering into the Kingdom of Heaven during our journeys here on earth? Perhaps, it is because our possessions have somehow managed to possess us!

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(August 21, 2019: Pius X, Pope)
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“Are you envious because I am generous?”

The parable in today’s Gospel certainly suggests that those who labored the longest surely were envious! They felt cheated, because as we are told, they “grumbled” –when they realized that the landowner had paid them the same amount as those who had barely worked a few hours!

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

“We must be most careful not to spend much time wondering why God bestows a grace upon one person rather than another, or why God makes his favors abound on behalf of one rather than another. No, never give in to such musings. Since each of us has a sufficient – rather, an abundant measure of all things required or salvation – who in all the world can rightly complain if it pleases God to bestow his graces more largely on some than on others?” (Living Jesus, 0618, p. 246)

Of course, given how generous God is to us we would never be envious or complain about somebody else having more than we do!

Or would we?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: August 8th - August 14th

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(August 8, 2019: Dominic, Priest and Founder)
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“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers (popularly known as The Dominicans).

“Dominic sought to revive religious devotion among Catholics and bring the Cathar heretics (who taught that the physical world was evil) back to the fold. He emphasized preaching effectively and knowledgeably to ensure success in converting nonbelievers…Although the Dominicans succeeded in bringing many Cathars back to the Catholic faith, some lords and bishops felt the missionary effort was taking too long. They launched a war that, by the end of the thirteenth century, had nearly wiped out the Cathars.” (This Saint’s for You!, p. 46)

Francis de Sales has more than a little bit to say on the topic of preaching. In an extended letter to Andre Fremyot (brother of Jane de Chantal), Archbishop of Bourges, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Say marvelous things, but if you do not say them well, they are nothing. Say only a little but say it well, and it is very much. How must we speak when we preach? We must be on guard against the haughtiness and long periodic sentences of the pedants, against their gestures, their airs and their movements. All such things are the plague of preaching. Preaching must be spontaneous, dignified, courageous, natural, sturdy, devout, serious and a little slow. But to make it such what must be done? In a word, it means to speak with affection and devotion, with simplicity and candor, and with confidence, and to be convinced of the doctrine we teach and of what we persuade. The supreme art is to have no art. Our words must be set aflame, not by shouts and unrestrained gestures, but by inward affection. They must issue from our heart rather than from our mouth. We must speak well, but heart speaks to heart, while the tongue speaks only to the ear.” (Preacher and Preaching, pp. 63 – 64) pp. 198-199)

To speak with affection and devotion and with simplicity and candor - to speak from the heart rather than from the mouth - to set our hearts on fire with inward affection, such advice should not be limited to preaching! It should be the hallmark of how we speak to – and about – one another!

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(August 9, 2019: Edith Stein, a.k.a. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)
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“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross - Virgin and Martyr – was born Edith Stein in 1891 in Breslau, Poland. She was the youngest child of a large Jewish family. An outstanding student and well versed in philosophy with a particular interest in phenomenology, she became interested in the Catholic Faith, and in 1922, she was baptized at the Cathedral Church in Cologne, Germany. Eleven years later Edith entered the Cologne Carmel. Because of the ramifications of politics in Nazi Germany, Edith, whose name in religion was Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was sent to the Carmel at Echt, Holland. With the outbreak of World War II, the Nazis invaded and subsequently occupied Holland. Life in the Lowlands under National Socialism was particularly brutal, especially for Jews. Following the Dutch episcopacy's public condemnation of Nazi racism in 1942, Teresa – along with her sister Rose, also a member of the Carmel – was arrested. She and her sister were transported east to the concentration camp at Auschwitz where Edith died in the gas chambers at the age of fifty-one.
(http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=179)

In a conference to the Visitation Sisters on “Hope,” Francis de Sales counseled:

“If divine Providence does not permit afflictions or mortifications to come upon you, then do not desire them or ask for them. On the other hand, if divine Providence permits afflictions or mortifications to come upon you, you must not refuse them but accept them courageously, lovingly and calmly.” (Conference VI, P. 95)

When Edith Stein converted to Catholicism in the 1920’s, she wasn’t looking for trouble. When she joined the Carmelites in the 1930’s, she wasn’t looking for trouble. When National Socialism gained power in Germany in 1933 and began to menace some of the subgroups within its borders – especially Jews – Teresa Benedicta wasn’t looking for trouble. In fact, she and her sister transferred to a monastery in another country with the hope of staying clear of any controversies. But, on that fateful day in 1942, when trouble finally caught up with her in the form of men in SS uniforms, she accepted it “courageously, lovingly and calmly” in imitation of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on the night of his arrest and subsequent crucifixion.

Some crosses can be delayed, but not denied. On any given day we would do well not to desire or ask for afflictions or mortifications, but if any afflictions or mortifications should come our way today, how will we accept – and deal with – them?

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(August 10, 2019: Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr)
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"Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…”

In the Gospel of John, we hear: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

If you sow bountifully, you will reap bountifully; if you give, you shall receive; however, you measure will be measured back to you. What we are talking about is the challenge – the command – to be generous. But sowing bountifully and reaping bountifully isn’t necessary all smiles and sunshine – what if the call to be generous should require your very life from you, as in the case of the martyr whose life we celebrate today, St. Lawrence?

Salesian spirituality holds the practice of generosity in high esteem. So much so that Francis de Sales gave an entire conference to the Sisters of the Visitation on the subject in which he described an intimate relationship of two virtues: humility and generosity. He observed:

“Humility believes that it can do nothing, considering its poverty and weakness when it comes to depending upon ourselves; by contrast, generosity makes us say with St. Paul, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.’ Humility makes us mistrust ourselves; generosity makes us trust in God. You see, then, that these two virtues of humility and generosity are so closely joined and united to one another that they never are and never can be separated...The humility which does not produce generosity is undoubtedly false, for after it has said, ‘I can do nothing; I am absolute nothingness,’ it suddenly gives way to generosity of spirit, which says, ‘ There is nothing – and there can be nothing – that I am unable to do, so long as I put all my confidence in God, who can do all things.’” (Conferences, pp. 75 - 77)

Humility calls us to stand in awe of how good, caring, patient, solicitous and generous God is on our behalf - to consider our good fortune, to count our blessings. This virtue, in turn, should produce in us a similar spirit of generosity, by which we imitate God’s generosity by sharing our good fortune and blessings with others. But as Jesus reminds us, this generosity brings with it dying to self and letting go, often in small ways but sometimes in the biggest ways of all.

In another place, St. Francis de Sales put it this way: “The measure of love is to love without measure.”

How will our generosity to others measure up in the eyes of God today?

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(August 11, 2019: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Faith is confident assurance concerning those things for which we hope, and conviction about that which we do not see.” “Do not be afraid...”

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live lives of faith. Each day, each hour, each moment of our lives should be faith-filled opportunities to grow in our love and knowledge of God, ourselves, and one another.

Today's Scriptures beg the question: What, exactly, is faith? St. Francis de Sales distinguished between faith that is living, and faith that is dead:

"Examine your works and actions. It is when all signs of life cease that we consider a person to be dead. So, it is with faith. While in winter living trees may resemble dead ones, in their season they produce leaves, flowers and fruit. In the same way, while dead faith may appear to be living faith, only the latter bears the fruit of faith in all seasons. Living faith is excellent because, being united to love and vivified by love, it is strong, firm and constant."

People who are faith-filled, Francis de Sales would suggest, are living vigilant, strong, prudent and attentive lives. Adhering to the truth that God is love, that they are created, redeemed and inspired in love, and that they are called to share this love with others. Faith-filled people are people of action, courage and perseverance, always moving forward, even toward things they do not see.

Compare this power and promise with the alternative: the decision to live in fear.

Today's Scriptures beg the question: What, exactly, is fear? It is "a state or condition marked by feelings of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger; a feeling of disquiet or apprehension." (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

Those who live in fear do not trust the truth that God is love. They dare not believe that they are created and sustained in that love. They feel that they must not take the risk of sharing that love with others. People who live in fear are people of inaction, discouragement and timidity. They long to turn back; they fear to look forward. People of fear are, in a very real sense, already dead.

Make no mistake - people of faith are not immune to fear. They fear their own infidelity; they fear their own weakness; they fear their own sin. Sometimes, they likewise fear the infidelity, weakness and sin of others. But in the end, people of faith choose not to live in fear but to live in the truth of who God is, who God is calling them to be, and who God challenges them to be in the lives of their brothers and sisters.

People of faith are human beings who try their level best to be fully human. People of faith know that while fear is a part of life, there is more to life – much, much more - than fear!

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(August 12, 2019: Jane Frances de Chantal, Wife, Mother, Religious and Founder)
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A reading from the book of Deuteronomy (10: 12-22)

Now, therefore, Israel, what does the LORD, your God, ask of you but to fear the LORD, your God, to follow in all his ways, to love and serve the LORD, your God, with your whole heart and with your whole being, to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD that I am commanding you today for your own well-being? Look, the heavens, even the highest heavens, belong to the LORD, your God, as well as the earth and everything on it. Yet only on your ancestors did the LORD set his heart to love them. He chose you, their descendants, from all the peoples, as it is today. Circumcise therefore the foreskins of your hearts and be stiff-necked no longer.

For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing. So, you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.

The LORD, your God, shall you fear, and him shall you serve; to him hold fast and by his name shall you swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you those great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen. Seventy strong your ancestors went down to Egypt, and now the LORD, your God, has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.

Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm

(R) How good to sing praise to our God; how pleasant to give fitting praise!

Glorify the LORD, Jerusalem;
Zion, offer praise to your God,
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates,
blessed your children within you.

(R) How good to sing praise to our God; how pleasant to give fitting praise!

He brings peace to your borders,
and satisfies you with finest wheat.
He sends his command to earth;
his word runs swiftly!

(R) How good to sing praise to our God; how pleasant to give fitting praise!

He proclaims his word to Jacob,
his statutes and laws to Israel. He has not done this for any other nation;
of such laws they know nothing.

(R) How good to sing praise to our God; how pleasant to give fitting praise!

Gospel Acclamation

R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who humble themselves like this child are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel

+ A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark (3: 31-35)

His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers [and your sisters] are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. [For] whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Gospel of the Lord.

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In the Introduction to the book, Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction, we read:

“Jane de Chantal continued with her work of overseeing the large family of religious to whom she was the chief spiritual mother. She wrote ardent letters to superiors, novice-mistresses and novices which reflect her struggle to institute a way in which the authentic Salesian spirit might come to be observed everywhere.”

“In her letters of spiritual direction (where her concern was to stay close to the very Salesian spirit of beginning right where one is and with the facts at hand, Jane de Chantal continued to show herself as a masterful director of souls. She brought to this task her own life-experience and temperament. The experience of motherhood was chief among those experiences. Since her youth she had been engaged in the art of biological mothering, and since midlife she had exercised her spiritual maternity. The correspondence she maintained with the superiors of the Visitation reflects a self-conscious cultivation of attitudes and skills she believed were congruent with maternal care. Superiors were enjoined to be true mothers, tolerant of their children’s weaknesses, encouraging their small steps, never overly ambitious for their advancement until they themselves grew into the maturity of spiritual wisdom…This task of cultivating and disseminating this spirit of motherly direction occupied Jane de Chantal for many years. It was part of her long-term effort to ensure the survival – both institutional and spiritual – of the Salesian charism in its manifestation as the order of the Visitation.” (LSD, p. 32)

The selection from the Book of Deuteronomy underscores the importance of having a legacy – of making intentional efforts at passing on our hard-earned learning and wisdom to those with whom we live and work today, as well as to those who will follow in our footsteps tomorrow. Jane de Chantal shows us a sure and certain method for accomplishing this goal, namely:

  • Beginning right where we are with the facts at hand

  • Nurturing others

  • Tolerating others’ weaknesses

  • Encouraging small steps

  • Allowing others to experience spiritual maturity at their own pace.

We are the beneficiaries of Jane de Chantal’s efforts to ensure the survival of the Salesian charism.

How can we pick up where she left off - just today?

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(August 13, 2019: Tuesday of the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you. Be brave and steadfast.”

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Scriptures tell us that St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, grew afraid; and as soon as he was afraid, he began to sink and drown, so he cried out: ‘O Lord, save me!’ And our Lord caught hold of his hand and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Look at this holy apostle; he walks dry foot on the water, the waves and the winds could not make him sink, but fear of the wind and the waves will make him perish unless his master saves him. Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 125, p. 198)

His advice to Saint Jane de Chantal is also great advice for us. He recommended:

“Do not be afraid. You are walking on the sea, surrounded by wind and water, but you are with Jesus: so, what is there to fear? If terror seizes you, cry out loudly: O Lord, save me. He will stretch forth his hand towards you; clasp it tight and go joyfully on your way. In short, don’t philosophize about your trouble; don’t argue with it, just go straight on, quite simply. If the whole world is topsy-turvy – if all around is darkness and smoke and din – God is still with us.” (Ibid)

Today is there anything that is weighing heavily on your mind or heart? Are there any issues or concerns that are attempting to paralyze you? Is there anything about which you find yourself afraid?

Remember: God is with you! Take his hand, clasp it tight and go joyfully on your way.

As best - and as bravely - as you can!

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(August 14, 2019: Maximilian Kolbe, priest and martyr)
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“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Today we remember the ultimate witness to the love of God made by the Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, Maximilian Kolbe.

“During the Second World War, he provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów. On 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On 28 May, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670. At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander to select ten men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men cried out, ‘My wife, my children,’ Kolbe volunteered to take his place.”

“In the starvation cell, he celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners. He led the other condemned men in song and prayer. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards administered to Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_Kolbe)

Jesus tells us that “there is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) In Kolbe’s case perhaps there is an even greater love than that – laying down one’s life for a stranger, even an enemy. You see, what makes his sacrifice even more remarkable is that as a younger man Maximilian Kolbe criticized the Jews in word and writing.

People can – and do – change.

It is remarkable to consider that God is always in our midst - even in a place like Auschwitz – not because of the witness of two or three gathered together, but because of the witness of just one person who was willing to stand out among the rest - in the name of love.

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Spirituality Matters 2019: August 1st - August 7th

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(August 1, 2019: Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop/Doctor of the Church)
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“The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full, they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.”

What should I hold onto in life? What should I let go of in life? What’s good for me? What’s not good for me? These kinds of questions are the stuff of discernment. John Crossin, OSFS offers for our consideration three aspects of any discernment process, that is, any attempt to determine God’s will.

Mind you, discernment is not an exact science. While we can come to know God’s Will in broad strokes – and sometimes even in the particular – we can’t presume to know it all. And sometimes, we may even get it wrong.

Still, some of the things that can help us to know what to keep and what to give away in life include:

  • God’s Signified Will – This is the information we already have at our disposal from the Scriptures, Commandments, Counsels etc. These clearly communicate what God considers to be good, virtuous and life-giving values, attitudes and actions.
  • Feedback from Others – We should make good use of the wise counsel of friends, clergy, mentors, counselors and other people whom we trust. True friends will know when to tell us what we want to hear, and when to tell us what we need to hear.
  • Flexibility – Francis de Sales observed that while all the saints are recognized for their conformity to God’s will, no two saints followed God’s Will in exactly the same way. We need to remind ourselves that discernment is about what God wants us - not others - to do in any particular situation. Sometimes, this may require us to ‘think outside of the box’ - we need to be open to change.

Today, life being what it is, we may catch all kinds of things in the nets of our lives. Some things are always good for us; other things are always bad for us. However, there may be some things we catch that used to be good but no longer are. On the other hand, there may be other things once considered bad that may now actually be very good.

Decisions, decisions - What do I keep? I keep the things that promote the Kingdom of heaven! What do I throw away? I throw away the things that don’t!

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(August 2, 2019: Friday, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place, in his own house...”

It isn’t an accident that prophetic people are often most unappreciated by those closest to them. It isn’t by chance that prophetic voices encounter the most resistance from members of their own family, relatives or friends. It isn’t a surprise that prophetic movements are often far easier to export abroad than to practice at home. Recall the saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Strangers don’t see our foibles. Strangers don’t see our weaknesses. Strangers don’t experience our dark side. But as we know all-too-well, those who know us well do see those things…and much, much more.

We are all disciples of Jesus. We are all commissioned by virtue of our Baptism to preach in word (and especially in deed). So, what are we to do? Preach freely to strangers but remain silent when in the presence of those with whom we labor, live and love? No, that won’t do. When it comes to following Jesus, we know that there’s extra pressure when we are among our own. We realize that there is extra scrutiny in our own (glass!) house. We accept that there is greater expectation (and perhaps more skepticism) in our native place. So, how should would-be prophets deal with this reality?

The answer - make sure that you’re already making your best efforts to put into practice what you are pondering to preach.

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(August 3, 2019: Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in ordinary Time)
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“Therefore, when you sell any land to your neighbor or buy any from him, do not deal unfairly but stand in fear of your God. I, the LORD, am your God.”

Francis de Sales clearly understood and appreciated the spirit of today’s selection from the Book of Leviticus. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he counseled:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and your neighbor in yours, and then you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell, and then you will sell and buy justly. A person loses nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously and with a royal, just and reasonable heart. Resolve to examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor as you would have your neighbor’s heart to be toward you. This is the touchstone of true reason....” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 36, p. 217)

When it comes to the give and take of daily life, take fairly – and give generously!

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(August 4, 2019: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“What profit comes to a person from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which one labored under the sun?” “One may be wealthy, but one's possessions do not guarantee one life.”

Is wealth an obstacle to living a righteous life? Do possessions prevent us from living a righteous life? Must we choose between the things that are of earth and the things that are of heaven?

Indeed, riches may be a temptation to forsake a God-centered life precisely because they may distract us from pursuing the things that really matter in life - the things that will last forever. However, the root of the problem may not be the wealth - the possessions - the success - themselves, but rather, inordinate anxiety and concern about them.

Anxiety about the accumulation and preservation of wealth ultimately prevents us from truly enjoying our blessings and successes in life. As today's Scriptures point out, anxiety about holding on to how much (or even, how little) we possess can lead to tragic consequences.

Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

"There is a difference between possessing poison and being poisoned. Pharmacists keep almost every kind of poison in stock for use on various occasions, yet they are not themselves poisoned because it is merely in their shops, not in their bodies. So, too, you can possess riches without being poisoned by them if you keep them in your home, purse or wallet, but not in your heart." (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14)

The man in the Gospel parable is not condemned because he had filled his barn with riches. No, he is condemned because he had allowed his heart to be consumed by riches. So consumed, in fact, that when he was considering how to dispose of his excessive good fortune, it never occurred to him that he might share it with others.

A word to the wealthy...and the wise: the best remedy for not being consumed with riches is to practice the virtue of generosity. After all, how can you be anxious about losing what you have if you are already too busy sharing it with - even giving it away to - others?

Therein lies the secret of true wealth...in the eyes of God, wealth that truly - and forever - enriches. What makes me rich is not a measure of what I possess. No, what makes me rich is what I am willing to share with others.

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(August 5, 2019: Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major)
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“The children of Israel lamented…”

The children of Israel were complaining – one might say even whining. Never mind that God (through the leadership of Moses) had liberated them from the Egyptians. The heady days of their new-found freedom had vanished, and the Israelites complained about the manna they were reduced eating in the desert. They longed for the good food that they had once enjoyed back in the good old days at the hands of the not-so-good Egyptians. Faced with such ingratitude, Moses, in turn, did his own share of complaining and whining to God about the complaining and whining Israelites.

Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

"Complain as little as possible about the difficulties you suffer. Complaining people commit a sin by doing so, since self-love always feels that the troubles they experience are worse than they actually are. The truly patient person neither complains of his hard lot nor desires to be pitied by others…If some just occasion requires a complaint to either correct an offense or to restore peace of mind, do not do so with irascible or fault-finding people. Instead of calming your mind the others will stir up worse difficulties and in place of pulling out the thorn that is hurting you they will simply drive it deeper into your foot. If you must complain do it only with those who are even-tempered and who really love God." (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 130)

One can understand the Israelites’ frustration - they had been wandering in the desert a lot longer than anyone had expected. The conditions there were challenging (hot in daytime and cold at night) and the food was dreadful. However, the complaining not only solved nothing, but in fact, it simply made things worse.

Before you complain about something today, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the difficulty that I am experiencing really as bad as I feel it is?

  • Will my complaint change things for the better or for the worse?

  • If my complaint is justified, will I complain to the right – or to the wrong – kinds of people?

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(August 6, 2019: Transfiguration of the Lord)
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“He was transfigured before them…”

Something remarkable happened on that mountain.

Consider the possibility that it was not Jesus who changed, but rather, it was Peter, James and John who were transformed. Imagine that this account from Mark’s Gospel documents the experience of Peter, James and John as if their eyes were opened and their vision widened, enabling them to see without impediment the virtually blinding light of Jesus’ love that flowed from every fiber of his being.

Indeed, every day of Jesus’ life something of that remarkable brilliance, that remarkable passion, and that remarkable glory was revealed to people of all ages, stages and states of life. The shepherds and magi saw it; the elders in the temple saw it; the guests at a wedding saw it; a woman caught in adultery saw it; a boy possessed by demons saw it; a man born blind saw it; a good thief saw it.

If so many others could recognize it in a word, a glance, or a touch, why might Peter, James and John have required such extra effort in helping them to see Jesus’ glory? Perhaps it was because they were so close to Jesus; perhaps it was because they were with him every day; perhaps it was because, on some level, they had somehow taken his glory for granted.

What about us? Do we recognize that same divine glory present in us, present in others, present in creation, present in even the simplest and most ordinary, everyday experiences of justice, truth, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion?

Or do we take it for granted?

St. Francis de Sales saw the Transfiguration as a “glimpse of heaven.” How might our eyes, our minds and our hearts need to be transfigured and transformed in ways that enable us to catch this “glimpse of heaven” within us and around us? How might we need to see more clearly the glory of a God who always loves, redeems, heals, forgives, challenges, pursues., strengthens and inspires us?

Today, may we grow in our ability - through the quality of our lives - to make that “glimpse of heaven” more clearly visible and available to the eyes – and in the lives – of others.

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(August 7, 2019: Sixtus II, Pope and Companions, Martyrs)
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“O woman, how great is your faith!”

Today’s Scripture readings offer us a study in contrast. In the Book of Numbers we see how the faith of the Israelites was shaken when they learned that the land of “milk and honey” promised by the Lord was already occupied by other people, and not just any other people – they were strong, fierce giants living in well-fortified towns. It would seem that the Israelites simply expected to inherit the Promised Land unopposed without any effort or resistance.

Contrast this situation with the faith demonstrated by the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel. Three times Jesus rebuffed her request to drive a demon out of her daughter. Undaunted, the woman continued to press Jesus to the point where he was not only impressed by her faith but also granted her request.

The Israelites teach us that having a strong faith in God’s Providence doesn’t mean that God’s promises always come easily. Many good things in life require hard, difficult work. For her part the Canaanite woman demonstrates that strong faith in God does not require passivity, but in fact, it often requires persistence and tenacity.

Today consider: how great is our faith?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: July 25th - July 31st

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(July 25, 2019: James, Apostle and Martyr)
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“Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant…”

Francis de Sales once wrote:

“‘Borrow empty vessels, not a few,’ said Elisha to the poor widow, ‘and pour oil into them.’ (2 Kings 4: 3-4) To receive the grace of God into our hearts they must be emptied of our own pride…” (Living Jesus, p. 149)

It’s all-too-easy to fill our hearts – our precious earthen vessels – with all kinds of earthly treasures, things that – as good as they might be – aren’t really treasures at all - at least, not where God is concerned. The less space occupied in our hearts by things that merely pass for treasure, the more room we make available in our hearts for real, heavenly treasure that is truly precious: the love of God. Recall the words of St. Francis de Sales in a conference (On Cordiality) he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation: “We must remember that love has its seat in the heart, and that we can never love our neighbor too much, nor exceed the limits of reason in this affection, provided that it dwells in the heart.” (Conference IV, p. 56)

The story of Zebedee’s sons illustrates the importance of being very careful about what we store in our hearts. Notwithstanding their intimate relationship with Jesus, they set their hearts on a treasure that was not in Jesus’ power to grant: places of honor in His Kingdom. He responds to this request (made on James and John’s behalf by their mother, no less, who apparently also had her heart set on honor for her sons as well) by challenging them to set their hearts not on the desire for honor but for opportunities to serve the needs of others…and so to have honor beyond their wildest dreams!

Jesus tells Zebedee’s sons that the chalice from which they will drink (the same chalice from which Jesus drank every day) is an invitation to experience the greatness that comes from being a servant. Francis de Sales wrote:

“To be a servant of God means to be charitable towards one’s neighbors, to have an unshakable determination in the superior part of one’s soul to obey the will of God, to trust in God with a very humble humility and simplicity, to lift oneself up as often as one falls, to endure through one’s own imperfections and to put up with the imperfections of others.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 140)

How ready and willing are we to drink from that same chalice today?

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(July 26, 2019: Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“Hear the parable of the sower….”

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

“Ostriches never fly; hens fly in a clumsy fashion, near the ground, and only once in a while, but eagles, doves and swallows fly aloft, swiftly and frequently. In like manner, sinners in no way fly up towards God, but make their whole course upon the earth and for the earth. Good people who have not as yet attained to devotion fly toward God by their good works but do so infrequently, slowly and awkwardly. Devout souls ascend to him more frequently, promptly and with lofty flights.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

There is something of the ostrich, something of the hen and something of the eagle in all of us. We crawl in God’s paths; we stumble in God’s path; we fall in God’s paths; we walk and sometimes run in God’s paths, and on occasion, we even manage to fly in God’s paths. So, too, there is something of each of the scenarios of the seed in today’s Gospel that apply to us. Sometimes God’s word is stolen from our hearts before it has a chance to grow. Sometimes God’s word springs up quickly in us but withers even more quickly because of our shallowness or hardness of heart. Sometimes God’s word falls to the wayside because we lose heart in the midst of trials and difficulties. Sometimes God’s word is simply overwhelmed by our fears, doubts, anxieties and second-guesses.

But sometimes – just sometimes – God’s word finds a home deep in our hearts – deep in our souls, deep in our lives – and bears a harvest beyond our wildest dreams: thirty, sixty or even a hundredfold. The seed of God’s life certainly took root in the heart of Mary, the daughter of Joachim and Anne. In fact, it would appear that not a single seed of God’s life and love failed to take root and to grow thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. One would like to think that Joachim and Anne had a hand in making Mary so open and accepting of the Divine Sower, allowing her to say “yes” to God’s invitation to her to become the mother of the Messiah!

Don’t just hear the parable of the sower, but also – more importantly – live the parable of the sower! Consider the ways in which the seeds of God’s love might have trouble taking root in your life. Focus on the ways in which the seeds of God’s love have made a deep, abiding and fruitful home in your heart.

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(July 27, 2019: Saturday of the Sixteenth Week in ordinary Time)
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“Let them grow together until harvest…”

In the garden of our lives all of us can find both wheat and weeds. It’s really tempting to focus our energy and attention on identifying and removing the weeds, but we do this at the risk of unintentionally removing the wheat as well. Jesus suggests that it is far better to be comfortable with the fact that we have both wheat and weeds in our lives and to allow God to sort them out over time.

Francis de Sales clearly grasped the wisdom of Jesus’ advice. In a letter to Madame de la Flechere, he wrote:

“Don’t be examining yourself to see if what you are doing is little or great, good or bad, provided that it is not sinful and that, in all good faith, you are trying to do it for God. As much as possible do well what you have to do, and once it is done, think no more about it but turn your attention to what has to be done next. Walk very simply along the way our Lord shows you and don’t worry. We must hate our faults, but we should do so calmly and peacefully, without fuss or anxiety. We must be patient at the sight of these faults and learn from the humiliation that they bring about. Unless you do this, your imperfections, of which you are acutely conscious, will disturb you even more and thus grow stronger, for nothing is more favorable to the growth of these ‘weeds’ than our anxiety and overeagerness to get rid of them.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, pp. 161-162)

Bottom line? God loves us just the way we are - weeds and all. Who are we to suggest that God will love us more without them?

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(July 28, 2019: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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"I must see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them. I mean to find out."

Today's Scriptures show us that God's judgment is both righteous and compassionate.

The Book of Genesis describes God's outrage over the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah. However, before taking any action, God intends to personally determine whether or not the outcry has a basis in fact.

God's judgment is never rash.

St. Francis de Sales says in his Introduction to the Devout Life: "How offensive to God is rash judgment. It is a kind of spiritual jaundice that causes all things to appear evil to the eyes of those infected with it." (IDL, Part 3, Chapter 28)

Rash judgments have far less to do with the behaviors of our neighbor and a great deal more to do with the machinations and moods of our own hearts. Rash judgments are signs of the presence of arrogance, self-satisfaction, fear, bitterness, jealousy, hatred, envy, ambition and condescension within the person whose judgments are rash.

Rash judgments seldom deal with facts. Rash judgments are founded upon appearance, impression, hearsay and gossip. Rash judgments are made in an instant (hence the term "snap" judgments), based not on reason, but on emotion.

Rash judgments do not promote reconciliation and peace; rather, rash judgments produce division and injustice. Francis de Sales wrote: "Rash judgments draw a conclusion from an action in order to condemn the other person." (Ibid)

Finally, rash judgments seldom - if ever - result in compassionate action.

Francis de Sales wrote: "Whoever wants to be cured (of making rash judgments) must apply remedies, not to the eyes or intellect, but to the affections. If your affections are kind, your judgments will be likewise." (Ibid)

To be like God - to live like Jesus - to be instruments of the Holy Spirit - requires that our judgments of one another be righteous:

• based in fact, not fiction

• rooted in sense, not suspicion

• focused on behavior, not bias

Divine judgment is always consumed with truth, committed to justice, and characterized by compassion.

Today consider how do our judgments stack up?

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(July 29, 2019: Martha, Patron of Housewives, Waiters and Waitresses)
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"You are anxious and worried about many things."

We are all-too familiar with this image from the Gospel according to Luke. All-too familiar because it is all-too-easy to see in this Gospel a putdown of action and activity as compared with prayer and contemplation.

We need to revisit this interpretation. We need to understand how this Gospel speaks about Martha and Mary. More importantly, we need to consider how this Gospel speaks to us.

Jesus does not criticize Martha for being busy about the details of hospitality. Rather, Jesus criticizes the fact that Martha is allowing her activity and expectations to make her anxious. Likewise, Mary is not exalted due to her inactivity, but rather because she is not burdened with anxiety. In short, Martha is upset and flustered, while Mary is calm and centered.

Both Martha and Mary bring something to the experience of hospitality. In Martha, we see the importance of tending to details when welcoming people into our homes. In Mary, we see the importance of welcoming people into our lives, into our hearts, into the core of who we are without allowing the details to overwhelm us. Hospitality, then, isn't a matter of choosing between activity and availability. It is a matter of incorporating – and of integrating – both.

Francis de Sales certainly knew this truth when he described the two great faces of love: the love of complacence, and the love of benevolence. Complacence is love that delights in simply being in the presence of the beloved; benevolence is love that delights in expressing this complacence by doing for the beloved.

Doing and being. Being and doing. This is the dance of hospitality. This is the dance of love…a dance that challenges us to be as free as possible from anxious self-absorption, self-preoccupation and self-destruction.

In order to be truly open, to be truly welcoming, to be truly hospitable, there needs to be something of both Martha and Mary in each of us.

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(July 30, 2019: Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in ordinary Time)
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“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field…”

Last week, ago we touched upon the images of wheat and weeds. There is something of both wheat and weeds inside each and every one of us. Careful examination of the interior gardens of our thoughts, feelings and attitudes reveals things which promote life; likewise, in those same gardens we can identify things that compete with life.

In a letter to Madame de la Flechere, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Don’t be examining yourself to see if what you are doing is little or much, good or bad, provided that it is not sinful and that, in all good faith, you are trying to do it for God. As much as possible, do well that you have to do, and once it is done, think no more about it but turn your attention to what has to be done next. Walk simply along the way our Lord shows you and don’t worry. We must hate our faults, but we should do so calmly and peacefully, without fuss or anxiety. We must be patient at the sight of these faults and learn from the humiliation which they bring about. Unless you do this, your imperfections – of which you are acutely conscious – will disturb you even more and thus grow stronger, for nothing is more favorable to the growth of these ‘weeds’ than our anxiety and over eagerness to rid ourselves of them.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, pp. 161-162)

In each of us we find a mixture of both wheat and weeds. In each of us we find a mixed bag of both good and bad. Essentially, the Salesian tradition challenges us to deal with this reality in three ways. First, detest the weeds within us. Second, don’t dwell on those weeds within us. Third, focus on – and nourish – the wheat within us.

These thoughts should pretty much explain the parable of the weeds – and for that matter, the wheat – don’t you think?

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(July 31, 2019: Ignatius of Loyola)
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“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure; like searching for fine pearls.”

A traditional way of explaining these images in today’s Gospel is to place the emphasis on us. This perspective considers this Gospel as a challenge to the hearer to ‘trade up’, that is, to give up those things we most value in order to obtain that which has the greatest value - the Kingdom of God.

A non-traditional way of explaining these images – and, apparently, the more accurate one – is to place the emphasis on God. It is God who is ‘trading up’ for something better; it is God who is – as it were – cashing in all his chips for something even more valuable. What is that “treasure”? What are those “fine pearls”? We are the treasure that God pursues at any price. We are the pearls that God will leave no stone unturned to possess.

God ‘traded up’ his only Son because He wanted to reclaim us. God ‘cashed in’ his only Son because He wanted to redeem us. God gave away everything He had in order to make us his own. In these acts God clearly displayed that it’s people, not things – like possessions, power or privilege – that God values the most.

Ignatius of Loyola is a great example of what happens when somebody discovers – or uncovers – a pearl of great price and value! Before his conversion to Christianity he was arrogant, vain about his appearance, defensive in matters of honor, and much more interested in attaining worldly glory than in growing in heavenly virtue. But following a long convalescence from a crippling battle wound that almost killed him, Ignatius traded up – he discovered that the Kingdom of God was vastly more important than any passing honor or achievement, and he acted accordingly.

We are God-given treasures! We are pearls bought at the highest of prices! Do we treat ourselves – and one another – accordingly?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: July 18th - July 24th

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(July 18, 2019: Thursday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart...”

In her book entitled Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition, Wendy M. Wright writes:

“The Jesus of gentleness and humility is not a sentimental figure. In the Salesian world of hearts these qualities belong to God’s own kingdom. If one looks carefully, one sees that the passage in Matthew 11 that issues its invitation is located in a scriptural discourse on the mystery of the kingdom of God. That mystery of the kingdom of God the Father, the passage continues, is revealed through the Son. ‘Come to Me,’ he declares, ‘and learn from Me for I am gentle and humble of heart.’ God’s-kingdom-realized is thus seen in this gentle, humble heart that confounds and overturns the values of the accepted order. It is not power over others, self-assertion or wealth that characterize God’s reign, but love of God and neighbor exercised through all the intimate, relational virtues like gentleness and humility…Discipleship is the lifelong opening of the heart to be transformed by and inhabited by Jesus’ own gentle heart…” (Pp. 33-34)

The meekness that Jesus embodies is not weakness; it is strength. The humility that Jesus embodies is not thinking less about oneself; it is thinking about oneself less. This meek Jesus is all about power; this humble Jesus is all about using His power to help others.

This passage in Scripture was Francis de Sales’ favorite. The “meek and humble” Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel transformed Francis’ life and the lives of so many others whose lives he touched. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this “meek and humble” Jesus transformed Francis into a saint.

Jesus wants to do the same for - and with - us; Jesus wants to make us saints. Are we meek and humble enough to accept His invitation?

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(July 19, 2019: Friday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“That saying, so celebrated among the ancients – ‘know thyself’ – even though it may be understood as applying to the knowledge of the greatness and excellence of the soul (so that it might not be debased or profaned by things unworthy of its nobility) it may also be taken as referring to the knowledge of our unworthiness, imperfection and misery. The greater our knowledge of ourselves, the more profound will be our confidence in the goodness and mercy of God, for between mercy and misery there is so close a connection that the one cannot be exercised without the other. If God had not created man, He would still indeed have been perfect in goodness, but He would not have been actually merciful, since mercy can only be exercised towards the miserable.” (Select Salesian Subjects, 022, pp. 46 - 47)

We see this dynamic at work in today’s Gospel, but not in quite the way that Francis de Sales intended. The Pharisees observe Jesus’ disciples feeding themselves by picking the heads of grain. Blinded their own self-perceived “greatness and excellence,” the Pharisees considered this activity to be work, something strictly forbidden on the sabbath. As we’ve seen in many other places throughout the Gospels, seeing Jesus’ disciples – or Jesus himself, for that matter – being merciful (that is, being generous) to others on the sabbath made the Pharisees miserable. If they had really known themselves - that is, their own unworthiness, imperfection and misery - the Pharisees would have approved and applauded Jesus for doing the right thing, regardless of when, where or with whom he did it. Instead, they seized on every opportunity they could to condemn Jesus for it.

Amazing, isn’t it, how someone doing what is right can bring out the worst in others? As we’ll see in tomorrow’s continuation of Chapter 12 of Matthew’s Gospel, the Pharisees’ misery rises ultimately to the level where they decide to put Jesus to death.

What about us? Have we ever seen somebody else doing something merciful and generous at a time or in a place or in a way with which we did not agree and attempted to discredit them? Put another way, who would we like others to see and experience in us – the merciful Jesus, or the miserable Pharisee?

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(July 20, 2019: Saturday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“His mercy endures forever…”

Several times this week we have focused on the kindness, mercy and generosity of God. This is who God is. If God is nothing else, he is kind, caring, compassionate, merciful and generous to us. This would be enough, but as Francis de Sales reminds us in his Treatise on the Love of God, there is something particularly unique to the mercy and generosity of God. He wrote:

“‘I have loved you with an everlasting love. Therefore, I have drawn you, having pity and mercy on you. And I will build you again and again, O beloved of Israel.’ These are God’s words, and by them he promises that when the Savior comes into the world, he will establish a new kingdom in his Church…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 9, pp. 123-124)

God’s love is everlasting. God’s mercy endures forever. There are no limits to how far God will go in showering us with his merciful, generous love. Put another way, God will do whatever it takes to convince us of his fidelity to us.

Even if it takes forever!

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(July 21, 2019: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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"You are anxious and worried about many things."

We are all-too familiar with this image from the Gospel according to Luke. All-too familiar because it is all-too-easy to see in this Gospel a putdown of action and activity as compared with prayer and contemplation.

We need to revisit this interpretation. We need to understand how this Gospel speaks about Martha and Mary. More importantly, we need to consider how this Gospel speaks to us.

Jesus does not criticize Martha for being busy about the details of hospitality. Rather, Jesus criticizes the fact that Martha is allowing her activity and expectations to make her anxious. Likewise, Mary is not exalted due to her inactivity, but rather because she is not burdened with anxiety. In short, Martha is upset and flustered, while Mary is calm and centered.

Both Martha and Mary bring something to the experience of hospitality. In Martha, we see the importance of tending to details when welcoming people into our homes. In Mary, we see the importance of welcoming people into our lives, into our hearts, into the core of who we are without allowing the details to overwhelm us.

Hospitality isn't a matter of choosing between activity and availability. It is a matter of incorporating – and of integrating – both.

Francis de Sales certainly knew this fact when he described the two great faces of love: the love of complacence, and the love of benevolence. Complacence is love that delights in simply being in the presence of the beloved; benevolence is love that delights in expressing this complacence by doing for the beloved.

Doing and being. Being and doing. This is the dance of hospitality. This is the dance of love…a dance that challenges us to be as free as possible from anxious self-absorption and self-preoccupation.

In order to be truly open, to be truly welcoming, to be truly hospitable, there needs to be something of Martha and Mary in all of us. We need to be equally at peace with all the details and demands that come with trying to do justice to both.

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(July 22, 2019: Mary Magdalene, Patron of the Order of Preachers)
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“She saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.”

In a letter to Marie Bourgeois Brulart, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Mary Magdalene is looking for Our Lord and it is he whom she holds. She is asking him, and it is he whom she asks. She could not see him as she had hoped to see him. This is why she did not recognize him as he actually was and continues to see him in another guise. She wanted to see him in his robes of glory and not in the lowly clothes of a gardener. But in the end she recognized him when he spoke to her by name: ‘Mary.’”

“You see, Our Lord meets you every day dressed as a gardener in any number of places and situations…Be of good cheer and let nothing dismay you.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 136)

On any given day God may be, as it were, hidden in plain sight. However, it isn’t a case of God trying to hide from us! Rather, it is our desire to see God in ways that match our preferences, and that prevent us from seeing God as He really is, especially when it comes to recognizing how God is present in us and in one another!

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(July 23, 2019: Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in ordinary Time)
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“Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, sister and mother…”

In the opinion of William Barclay, this selection from Matthew’s Gospel offers us an expanded notion of the ties that bind - a new way of looking at kinship, family and friendship. He wrote:

“True kinship is not always a matter of flesh and blood relationship. It remains true that blood is a tie that nothing can break and that many people find their delight and their peace in the circle of their families. But it is also true that sometimes a man’s nearest and dearest are the people who understand him least, and that he finds his true fellowship with those who work for a common ideal and who share a common experience. This certainly is true – even if Christians find that those who should be closest to them are those who are most out of sympathy with them, there remains for them the fellowship of Jesus Christ and the friendship of all who love the Lord.”

Barclay says that this expanded notion of family – of home – is founded on three things:

  1. A common ideal. People who are very different can be firm friends, if they have a common ideal for which they work and toward which they press

  2. A common experience and the memories that come from it. When people have passed together through some great experience – and when they can together look back on it – real friendship begins

  3. Obedience. There is no better way of showing the reality of love than the spirit of obedience.

In a conference to the Visitation Sisters, Francis remarked:

“Let us hear and follow the voice of the divine Savior, who like the perfect psalmist, pours forth the last strains of an undying love from the tree of the cross, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ After that has been said, what remains but to breathe forth our last breath and die of love, living no longer for ourselves but Jesus living in us? Then, all the anxieties of our hearts will cease – anxieties proceeding from desires suggested by self-love and by tenderness for ourselves that make us secretly so eager in the pursuit of our own satisfaction…Embarked, then, in the exercises of our own vocation and carried along by the winds of this simple and loving confidence we shall make the greatest progress; we shall draw nearer and nearer to home.” (Living Jesus, p. 430)

As members of Jesus’ family let us do our level best to be obedient, that is, to listen to the voice of God in our lives and act upon what we hear. May we celebrate the kinship, friendship and love that come with following the will of our heavenly Father and experience the ties that truly and tenaciously bind us together.

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(July 24, 2019: Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit…”

In a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Persevere in this great courage and determination which keeps you lifted high above temporal things. Keep your eyes fixed steadfastly on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on. As these pass they themselves pass by us stage after stage until we reach the end of the road. But in the meantime, in each passing moment 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…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, Chapter 29, p. 212)

Regardless of how large or small the yield of the seeds that God has planted deep within you, there is only one place in which you will find those seeds – today.

In each and every present moment!

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Spirituality Matters 2019: July 11th - July 17th

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(July 11, 2019: Benedict, Abbott)
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“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

What could be more humbling than to consider all the good that God has done for us, is doing for us and will do for us? Well, perhaps even more humbling is the realization that God’s goodness, mercy and generosity come without cost or condition. Insofar as we are created from nothing, we have done nothing to deserve God’s overwhelming blessings, gifts and love. They are unconditionally free gifts!

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation on the virtue of generosity, Francis de Sales remarked:

“We must indeed keep ourselves humble because of our imperfections, but this humility must be the foundation of a great generosity. Humility without generosity is only a deception and a cowardice of the heart that makes us think that we are good for nothing and that others should never think of using us in anything great. On the other hand, generosity without humility is only presumption. We may indeed say, ‘It is true I have no virtue, still less the necessary gifts to be used in such and such an endeavor,’ but after that humble acknowledgement we must put our full confidence in God as to believe that He will not fail to give His gifts to us when it is necessary to have them, and when He wants us to make use of us, provided only that we forget ourselves in praising faithfully His Divine majesty and helping our neighbor to do the same so as to increase His glory as much as lies in our power. ” (Living Jesus, p. 152)

On one level it is true to say that we are “nothing”, creatures that we are. But because of the God who has created us, each and every one of us is – in God’s eyes – marvelous to behold. What a humbling, empowering gift!

What better way today to say “thank you” for such gift than to freely and generously share who we are and what we have with one another?

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(July 12, 2019: Friday, Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say…”

In a letter to Jane de Chantal in 1606, Francis de Sales wrote:

“I cannot think of anything else to say to you about your apprehension of your particular troubles, nor of the fear of being unable to bear it. Did I not tell you the first time I spoke to you about your soul that you pay too much attention to what afflicts or frightens you? You must do so only in great moderation! People frequently reflect too much about their troubles and this entangles thoughts and fears and desires to the point that the soul is constricted and cannot be itself. Don’t be afraid of what God has in store for you – love God very much for He wants to do you a great deal of good. Carry on quite simply in the shelter of your resolutions and reject anticipations of your troubles as simply a cruel temptation…Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself, but if terror should seize you cry out loudly to God. He will stretch forth his hand towards you – grab it tightly and go joyfully on your way.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 124 -125)

Francis de Sales recommends that we begin every new day with what he calls a “preparation of the day”. Consider all the things you may need to accomplish today. Think about the people and situations that you may encounter today. When you finished, does anything, place or person you may face today make you worry, anxious or fearful?

Take hold of God’s hand and do your best to go joyfully through your day!

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(July 13, 2019: Saturday, Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not be afraid……”

In the same letter that we considered yesterday, Francis de Sales wrote to Jane de Chantal concerning the issues of worry, anxiety and fear. We read:

“Don’t philosophize about your trouble – don’t argue with it. Quite simply, continue to walk straight on. God would not allow you to be lost while you live according to your resolutions so as not to lose him. If the whole world turns topsy-turvy, if all around is darkness and smoke and din, yet God is still with us. So, if we know that God lives in the darkness and on Mount Sinai which is full of smoke and surrounded with the roar of thunder and lightning, shall not all be well with us as long as we remain close to him? So, live wholly in God, and do not fear. Jesus in his goodness is all ours; let us be all his. Let us cling to him with courage!” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 124 -125)

This exhortation is very challenging! After all, who of us can say that they have never been afraid, worried or anxious? Doesn’t even the Book of Proverbs (9:10) claim that “fear (of the Lord) is the beginning of wisdom?” Some things should scare us!

Let’s look at it this way. While we may have our share of fears in life, it is critical that we try our level best to avoid becoming people who are fearful and become people who are joyful!

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(July 14, 2019: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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"This command that I enjoin on you today...is already in your mouths and in your hearts; all that remains is for you to carry it out."

In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones asks his mentor, Marcus Brody: "Do you believe, Marcus? Do you believe that the grail exists?" His older friend and mentor soberly and softly replies: "The search for the cup of Christ is the search for the divine in all of us."

The search for the divine is not about going to far away places. The search for the divine is not about looking up to the sky. The search for the divine is not about crossing great oceans. No, the search for the divine is about the greatest - and sometimes the most challenging - adventure of all: the search within ourselves. It is a journey to the heart, to the soul and to the core and the center of our being.

Francis de Sales certainly believed this truth. He wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life: "God is in all things and in all places. There is no place or thing in their world in which God is not truly present." But this, says Francis de Sales, is not enough, for "God is not only in the place where you are; God is also present in a most particular manner in your heart, in the very center of your spirit." (Part II, Chapter 2)

Of course, the search for the divine in all of us is not limited to a journey to the heart. The search for - and recognition of - the divine in us must be pursued in the other great journey - reaching out and caring for one another.

Jesus makes this point powerfully in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Two people, who should have known better (especially given their intellectual training), walked past a neighbor in need - certainly no way of acknowledging the presence of the divine in another. Clearly, and perhaps more tragically, this action is indicative of their failure to acknowledge God's abiding presence within themselves.

The third man, by contrast, is "moved to compassion" at the plight of the other person in need. He can reach out to him because he first had the courage to see inside himself the presence of a God who loves and cares for him - the presence of a God who called him to do the same for others.

We know that God dwells everywhere, but most especially he dwells in our hearts. Francis de Sales challenges us: "Examine your heart often. Does your heart look upon your neighbor in the same way as you would like your neighbor's heart to look upon you?"

All that remains for us is "to carry it out," to extend our hearts - and in us, the heart of God - to our neighbors in need.

As in the case of so many things, easier said than done!!

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(July 15, 2019: Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple: Amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

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

“Little daily acts of charity, a headache, toothache or cold, the ill humor of a husband or wife, this contempt or that scorn, the loss of a pair of gloves, a ring or a handkerchief, the little inconveniences incurred by going to bed early and getting up early to pray or attend Mass, the little feelings of self-consciousness that comes with performing good deeds in public – in short, all such little things 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 people a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves constantly each day it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches only if you use them well…Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, whereas little ones are frequent.”(IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 214 - 215)

Jesus - as it were - throws cold water on the notion that serving God is limited to doing great things for others. As Francis de Sales clearly understood, the point that Jesus makes is that serving God, more often than not, is displayed in our willingness to do little things for one another with great love.

Francis de Sales tells us that we can store up vast spiritual riches by enriching the lives of others in simple, ordinary ways.

How might we store up such riches today?

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(July 16, 2019: Tuesday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”

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

“Put your hand to strong things, by training yourself in prayer and meditation, receiving the Sacraments, bringing souls to love God, infusing good inspirations into their hearts and in fine, by performing big, important works according to your vocation. But never forget to practice those little, humble virtues that grow at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of your family with all the tasks that go with such things and with all the useful diligence that will not allow you to be idle.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 35, pp. 214 - 215)

The selection from today’s Gospel suggests why Jesus emphasized the importance of doing little things for other people as illustrated in yesterday’s Gospel selection. Jesus had firsthand experience of how some of his contemporaries were left cold and unconvinced by even some of the greatest deeds that he performed. Put another way, Jesus discovered that even the greatest of deeds are powerless in the presence of hardened hearts. Mind you, the selective stubbornness of some folks did not deter Jesus from doing great things, but Jesus doubtless enjoyed great success in his ministry by performing little deeds as well: visiting people in their homes, walking and talking with people and just simply being with other people.

There may be times in our lives when our love for God and others may require us to perform “important works” associated with the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Chances are, however, that the challenge to do big things won’t present it frequently. However, never forget that time-honored saying to which most – if not all – of us can relate.

Little things mean a lot.

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(July 17, 2019: Wednesday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"The Lord is kind and merciful...”

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!”(TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, Chapter 29, p. 212)

Today’s responsorial psalm challenges us to remember, to recall and to reflect on all the ways that God has been kind, merciful and generous to us. Today’s responsorial psalm also provides us with a kind of examination of conscience concerning how kind, merciful and generous we are toward other people.

As we begin this new day, consider these questions:

• How often do we remember how others have been of benefit to us?

• How willing are we to pardon or forgive those who have injured us?

• How ready are we to be sources of healing for other?

• How kind and compassionate are we?

• How can we promote justice and the rights of the oppressed?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: July 4th - July 10th

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(July 4, 2019: Independence Day)
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“Why do you harbor evil thoughts?”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales claimed that impugning the motives of others is a primary source of much of the sin and iniquity with which our world is plagued.

We witness slander when someone falsely imputes crimes and sins toward another person. We see slander when someone reveals others’ secret faults or exaggerates faults that are already obvious to everyone. We hear slander when someone ascribes evil motives to the good deeds that another does or attempts to minimize - or deny them - all together.

In today’s Gospel we see such slander in action. Perhaps slander in thought only, but slander, nonetheless.

After forgiving the sins of a paralyzed man, Jesus is palpably aware of what was going through the minds of the scribes – they secretly assumed that such action made Jesus guilty of blasphemy, that is, of usurping the power and authority of God. They were determined to turn any good that Jesus did into something bad. Jesus response is swift and twofold – he calls them out for their secret, distorted thinking and then powerfully proves by what power and authority he forgives sins by healing the same man of his physical paralysis.

Would that Jesus could have healed the attitudinal paralysis of the scribes so easily, a paralysis stemming from the slanderous manner with which they viewed Jesus because when they weren’t falsely accusing him of assorted crimes and sins, they attempted to minimize – or discredit entirely – the good that he accomplished and the healings that he performed.

What is the moral is this Gospel? When it comes to our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions there are far worse ways of being incurably paralyzed than being physically unable to walk.

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(July 5, 2019: Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

In today’s Gospel, we are considering two related – but remarkably different – notions of what it means to be God-like. We are considering two related – but remarkably different – models for growing in holiness.

The tension between mercy and sacrifice is not something invented by Jesus, but it is as old as the Hebrew community itself. Actually, it is as old as the human family itself (Cain and Abel – Abraham and Isaac). But Jesus does make this issue front and center in his ongoing struggle with the Scribes and Pharisees.

Under the paradigm of SACRIFICE, holiness is all about proving my fidelity to God. It is all about showing God that I love God enough to go without food for a day, to slaughter a bull, to walk so many miles in my bare feet or to donate $5 million to my church’s capital campaign. Mind you, none of these things are wrong per se, but when holiness is understood almost exclusively as sacrifice, the danger is that it may ultimately lead to loving God to the exclusion of loving my neighbor.

The ancient Israelite prophets frequently criticized their people for somehow attempting to pit the love of God against the love of neighbor. In the prophet Isaiah, we hear:

“The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have more than enough burnt offerings, or rams and the fat of fattened animals. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.” (1: 11 – 17)

By contrast, the MERCY paradigm of holiness emphasizes the need to integrate the two components of Jesus’ Great Commandment exemplified in the words of 1 John 4:12:

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and love is made complete in us.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but loving God and loving neighbor can never be separated. They are indeed two indispensable sides of the very same coin. The goal of holiness that we pursue in praying, fasting, singing songs of praise, donating blood making meals for the homeless and every other act of piety and mercy is not to prove anything to God but to give God complete influence over our hearts.

Sacrifice can be extremely beneficial when it is a means for submitting ourselves more completely to God’s mercy and not a substitute for it. For example, fasting can teach us to be aware of our own hungers and our need for God to feed us as a remedy for the pride of self-sufficiency. However, if God indeed desires mercy over sacrifice, the commands that God gives us are not intended to be tests of our loyalty to God but rather a pathway for allowing His reign of mercy to reign in our hearts - a reign expressed through our exercise of mercy toward one another.

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(July 6, 2019: Saturday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?”

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

“If you can stand fasting, you will do well to fast on certain days in addition to those prescribed by the Church. Besides the usual effects of fasting, namely, elevating our spirits, keeping the body in submission, practicing virtue and gaining greater reward in heaven, it is valuable for restraining gluttony and keeping our sensual appetites and body subject to the law of the spirit.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 185)

From a Salesian perspective, there is a place for fasting in the spiritual life. However, fasting is not the only method for “elevating our spirits, keeping the body in submission, practicing virtue and gaining greater reward in heaven.” So is work!

Francis continued:

“Both fasting and labor mortify and subdue the flesh. If your work is necessary for you to contribute to God’s glory, I prefer that you endure the pains of work rather than that of fasting. Such is the mind of the Church…One man finds it difficult to fast, while another is called to care for the sick, visit prisoners, hear confessions, preach, comfort the afflicted, pray and perform similar tasks. These latter disciplines are of greater value than the first: besides subduing the body, they produce much more desirable fruits.” (Ibid, pp. 185 – 186)

Why didn’t Jesus’ disciples fast? It seems they were too busy contributing to God’s glory by serving the needs of others.

There are two ways of contributing to God’s glory: fasting (doing without) and laboring (doing).

Which way will you pursue today?

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(July 7, 2019: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.”

On any given day, most of us spend the bulk of our time, talent and energy dealing with and trying to balance all the things in life that are the most pressing: keeping appointments, making deadlines, surviving the daily commute, driving to/from soccer games, paying bills, shopping for food, managing the household, monitoring homework, eating, sleeping, etc., etc., etc.

Where are we supposed to find the time to do “what really matters - to be created anew?”

Pursuing things in life that really matter does not mean that we turn our backs on those things that are most pressing - quite the contrary! Francis de Sales said: “Be careful and attentive to all the matters God has committed to your care: since God has entrusted them to you, God wishes that you have great care for them.” You know, things like keeping appointments, making deadlines, surviving the daily commute, driving to/from soccer games, paying bills, shopping for food, managing the household, monitoring homework, eating, sleeping, etc., etc., etc.

Keeping in mind the things that really matter means keeping in perspective all the things that keep us busy: “Do not be worried, that is, don't exert yourself over them with uneasiness, anxiety and forwardness,” observed Francis de Sales. “Don't be worried about them, for worry disturbs reason and good judgment and prevents us from doing well the very things about which we are worried in the first place.”

Living a happy, healthy and holy life isn't about having to choose between fulfilling our commitments and responsibilities or pursuing that which is most important. It is not an either/or proposition. In the Salesian tradition, it is only when we keep before our eyes what really matters – “that we be created anew” - that we can truly do justice to all the things that we find on our plates each day.

The most important thing for Jesus was to proclaim the power and the promise of the Good News of salvation, redemption, life and love. However, as today's Gospel clearly demonstrates, pursuing the things that really matter can generate more than a few “to-do” lists for us, just as it did for Jesus and his disciples.

And so then, throughout each day try to keep in mind and heart the things that really matter. Stay grounded in God's desire for you to be created anew. Keep before your eyes the image of the gentle, humble Christ who walks with you throughout every moment of each day. Recall God's invitation to you to embody the Good News in ways appropriate for the stage and circumstances of life in which you find yourself.

But don't take too much time. After all, we've got a lot of stuff – some new and others – all-too-familiar - on our plates today!

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(July 8, 2019: Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Truly the Lord is in this spot, although I did not know it...”

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

“God is in all things and in all places. There is no place in this world where God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly, they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are we find God present.”(IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)

Do we always find God wherever we go or wherever we are? Not according to Francis de Sales, when he added this comment to the above:

“Everyone knows this truth but not everyone manages to bring it home to themselves.”(IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84) In other words, we know it intellectually, but we don’t translate that knowledge into practice. The result is that we frequently forget that God is always ‘in the spot’ in which we find ourselves. Even worse, we sometimes draw the conclusion that not only is God not present, but we believe that He has forgotten about us altogether.

Of course, we all know from our own experiences that often when we do recognize God’s presence in a person, a place or a situation, it is only after the fact – it is only in hindsight that we recognize how God was truly – and actively – present in this or that spot, moment or circumstance.

One might say that God frequently is hidden ‘in plain sight.’ What steps might we take this day to improve our ability to see, hear, feel and sense the presence of a God who is always with us?

Including at this very moment!

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(July 9, 2019: Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"At the sight of the crowds his heart was moved…”

In commenting upon the Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn…” William Barclay wrote: “It is first of all to be noted about this beatitude that the Greek word for to mourn – used here – is the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language. It is the mourning that is used for mourning for the dead, for the passionate lament for one who was loved…it is defined as the kind of grief that takes such a hold on a man that it cannot be hidden. It is not only the sorrow which brings an ache to the heart; it is the sorrow which brings the unrestrained tear to the eyes…” (The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 93)

In the case of Jesus, it is this sorrow that moves his heart and releases miraculous power!

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales cites one of two virtues associated with mourning or sadness: “Compassion.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 12, p. 253) At the sight of the man with a dead daughter and the woman with a chronic illness in yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved: the woman was cured, and the girl was raised. In today’s Gospel Jesus’ heart was deeply moved as He taught in synagogues, proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom and cured every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved. Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size and scale of the neediness that He himself was encountering in others, Jesus asked His disciples to pray that God send more laborers for His harvest. In tomorrow’s Gospel, Jesus’ heart will move Him to go a step further with this request: He himself will commission his disciples to be those very laborers.

Whenever Jesus’ heart was moved by the sight of others’ needs, power was released in Him: the people were taught, the sick were healed, the possessed were freed, the lost were found and the dead were raised. These actions are the heart of compassion, because it’s not enough merely to feel sorry for someone else’s plight. Compassion requires that we do something to address another’s plight. Compassion is more than just feeling; compassion is more about doing.

Are we willing to take our rightful place as laborers for God’s harvest today?

At the sight of other people’s needs, will our hearts – like the heart of Jesus himself – be moved to meet their needs?

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(July 10, 2019: Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"Let your mercy be on us...”

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!”(TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, Chapter 29, p. 212)

When we pray using the words from today’s responsorial psalm, we are not engaging in wishful thinking. We aren’t asking for something that has not yet occurred. God’s mercy is on us! God’s generosity rains down upon us! God’s love is always with and within us.

Today, how can we be instruments of that same divine mercy, generosity and love in the lives of others?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: June 27th - July 3rd

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(June 27, 2019: Thursday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “You must be ready to suffer many great afflictions for our Lord, even martyrdom itself. However, as long as divine Providence does not send you great, piercing afflictions…bear patiently the slight inconveniences, the little inconveniences and the inconsequential losses that daily come to you…All such little trials when accepted and embraced with love are highly pleasing to God’s mercy.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

When it comes to entering the Kingdom of God, talk is cheap. As we see clearly in the example of Abram, Sarai, and so many others in the selections from the Book of Genesis that we have been hearing this week, there’s a lot less lips service involved with following God’s will and a great deal more hearing – to say nothing of doing it!

How far are we willing to go this day in attempting to follow the will of God – by doing it?

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(June 28, 2019: Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus)
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“The love of God has been poured into our hearts…”

In a letter (undated) to the Sisters of the Visitation, Jane de Chantal wrote:

“You are, I hope, always striving more earnestly to rid yourself of all that is displeasing to your sovereign spouse and to acquire those virtues which please him. Oh, my dearest sisters, how deeply is this wish engraved in my heart! Show a childlike trust and gentleness toward one another…So courage, dear ones. May all of you together – and each one in particular – work at this and never grow slack. May you all live in harmony with one heart and mind in God…If you imitate Him in all your little trials and make His divine will rule in you, He will fill it with every blessing…I urge you to this once again, for the love of our Savior and by his Precious blood, and with the deep affection of my heart which is all yours in Jesus." (Wright, Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition, p. 95)

God gives us the courage to accept St. Jane’s exhortation and make it our own! God gives us the grace we need to live in harmony with one heart and mind! God gives us the patience to acquire the virtues that please God and serve others.

Today, may God fill us with every blessing - and help us to be a blessing to each other – as He did so clearly through the Sacred Heart of his Son! Just as the love of God has been poured into our hearts through Christ, so may we be willing to share that same love with the hearts of one another.

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(June 29, 2019: Solemnity of Peter and Paul, Apostles)
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“I have completed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul – Apostles.

Of Saint Peter, Francis de Sales wrote: “St. Peter was chosen to be the chief of the Apostles, although he was subject to so many imperfections that he even committed some after he had received the Holy Spirit, because, notwithstanding these defects, he was always full of courage, never allowing himself to be dismayed by his shortcomings.” (Conferences, Number IV, Page 63)

Francis expounds upon this duality of Peter’s nature in his Treatise on the Love of God. “Who would not marvel at the heart of St. Peter, so bold among armed soldiers that out of all of his master’s company he alone takes his sword in hand and strikes out with it? Yet a little afterwards among ordinary people he is so cowardly that at the mere word of a servant girl he denies and detests his master.” (TLG, Book X, Chapter 9, p, 167)

Now let us turn our attention to some of what Francis de Sales said about St. Paul. “He fights for all people, he pours forth prayers for all people, he is passionately jealous in behalf of all people, and he is on fire for all people. Yes, he even dared more than this for ‘those according to the flesh,’ so that, if I dare to say so, he desires by charity that they may be put in his place with Jesus Christ. O perfection of courage and unbelievable spirit!” (, Book X, Chapter 16, pp. 188 – 189)

Of course, as in the case of Peter, Paul, too, has his shortcomings. In a letter of encouragement to a sister of the Visitation, Francis wrote: “Do not be ashamed…any more than St. Paul who confessed that there were two men in him, one rebellious to God and the other obedient to God.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 224.)

“I competed well; I have finished the race.” Paul wrote these words, but they could also be said of Peter. But note well – they both finished well. By contrast, look at their earlier track records. Peter was called “Satan” by Jesus and Peter denied Him three times. While Paul, he began his public life by persecuting the early Church as Saul. Neither man’s resumes were particularly impressive!

When it comes to being an apostle, a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ, perhaps this is the most important thing to remember – as imperfect as we are, where we’ve been isn’t nearly as important as where we are going with the grace of God and the support of one another.

All’s well that ends well!

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(June 30, 2019: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“You have been called to live in freedom...out of love, to place yourselves at the service of one another.”

The American Heritage Dictionary defines freedom as “the condition of being free of restraints, the liberty of the person from slavery, detention or oppression - the capacity to exercise choice: free will.”

God created us with free will. God created us to live in freedom.

The Salesian tradition - for that matter, Christianity - makes a distinction between free will and freedom. In his Treatise on the Love of God, St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Our free will can stop or obstruct the course of God's inspiration. When the favorable wind of God's grace fills the sails of our soul, it is within our power to refuse consent, thereby impeding the effect of that favoring wind. But when our spirit sails along and makes a prosperous voyage, it is not we who cause the wind of inspiration to come to us. We neither fill our sails with it, nor do we give movement to the ship that is our heart: we consent to its movement. It is God's inspiration, then, which impresses on our free will the gentle, blessed influence whereby it not only causes the will to see the beauty of the good, but also warms it, helps it, reinforces it and moves it so gently that by its agency, the will turns and glides freely toward the good.” (TLG, Book 4, Chapter 6)

We have the power to make choices. We can use our free will to do what is right and good in the eyes of God. By contrast, we can also use our free will to do what is sinful and shameful in the eyes of God. Our free will makes us truly free only when we use it to cooperate with God's grace and inspiration, by placing ourselves at the service of others out of love. When we use our free will to obstruct or turn away from God's grace and inspiration, we are not living in freedom at all. By contrast, we make ourselves (and sometimes, by extension, others) slaves of sin.

What’s the bottom line? Our “free will” isn't freedom at all, unless we use it to pursue a life of truth, a life of righteousness, a life of justice, a life of reconciliation and a life of service. Our “free will,” as it turns out, isn't really free at all; rather, it brings with it an awesome responsibility: to feed, to nourish, to heal, to challenge and to raise up one another in imitation of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the model of what it truly means to live in freedom. He always - always - made choices that were consistent with the Father's dream and destiny for him. His free will was truly freeing because Jesus faithfully placed his ability to choose at the disposal of his Father, at the disposal of the Kingdom of God and at the service of his brothers and sisters.

We indeed have free will. Today, consider this question: are we using it - like Jesus - in ways that make us - and others - truly free?

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(July 1, 2019: Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord is kind and merciful…”

In the wake of Jesus' crucifixion and death, the apostles were locked away together in fear. They were afraid that they might suffer the same fate as their teacher.

Despite their anxious seclusion, Jesus breaks into their lives: not merely into the physical space in which they were taking refuge; Jesus also breaks into the core of their minds and hearts. Jesus attempts to calm their fears; he challenges them to be at peace; he does this in a rather confrontational and mysterious manner: by showing them the wounds in his hands and side.

The experience of resurrection did not remove the scars of Jesus' woundedness, the lasting marks of pain, disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection, humiliation, abandonment, suffering and death. Notwithstanding these wounds, however, Christ's resurrection powerfully demonstrated that pain, sadness, suffering and injustice did not, ultimately, enjoy the last word. While suffering is clearly a part of life, there is much more to life than suffering.

St. 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 forbearance the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet." (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 3)

All of us bear the wounds of failure, deception, betrayal, disappointment and loss. Our hearts, our minds, our memories - our souls - bear the scars to prove it. Like the Apostles, we, too, are tempted to withdraw from others, to lock ourselves away in some secluded emotional or spiritual corner, living in fear of what other pain or disappointments may come our way. Of course, in withdrawing from life, we figuratively - in some cases, even literally - die.

Jesus clearly demonstrates in his own life that our wounds do not necessarily need to overwhelm or disable us. While these wounds may be permanent, they need not rob us of the power and promise of recovery, of renewal - of resurrection - unless we despair, unless we allow ourselves to be defeated by the nails of negativity.

The wounds of our past continue to leave their mark in our present: they don't necessarily determine the course of our future. Turn to the love of Jesus who knows what it means to be wounded and who shows us how to move through and beyond them. St. Francis de Sales wrote: “Look often on Christ, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, and overwhelmed by every kind of weariness, sadness, sorrow and labor.” Jesus triumphed over and through the wounds of his humanity: so, too, with God's help, can we.

To be sure, life can be tough. But as we see in the life of Jesus, however, there is something in life even stronger than ‘tough:” love, and mercy.

What could be more merciful – more generous – than that?

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(July 2, 2019: Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"Why are you terrified?”

Given the fact that the disciples were caught out in open water in a violent storm would be plenty of reason to be terrified, regardless of whether Jesus was with them or not. In the event, the disciples’ terror quickly subsided, when they witnessed the calming power of Jesus.

In a letter to Madame Gasparde de Ballon, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Regarding your fears, they are the work of the enemy who sees that you are quite determined to live in Our Lord without any reserves and exceptions. The evil one will make every sort of effort to upset you and make the way of holy devotion seem hard for you. What you must do to counteract this is to open your heart and often repeat your protestation never to give in, always to keep faith, to love the challenges of God’s service more than the sweetness of the world’s service and to say that you will never leave God’s side. Be very careful not to give up on prayer, for that would be playing into the hand of your adversary. Instead, continue to go steadfastly with this holy exercise and wait for Our Lord to speak to you, for one day he will say words of peace and consolation to you. Then you will know that your trouble will have been well spent and your patience and trust useful…Say often: May Jesus reign!”” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 225 - 226)

We all have things in life that should concern, scare - and even - terrify us. Jesus isn’t asking us to never be fearful or even terrified; rather, Jesus asks us to trust him precisely in times of timidity and terror.

No matter how daunting the storms of life may be, don’t allow them to shake your faith in God’s love for you and fidelity to you. Regardless of how your boat may get rocked during the course of your life, Jesus will never – never – abandon you. He will either calm the storms for you or ride them out with you.

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(July 3, 2019: Thomas, Apostle)
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"Unless I see the mark of the nails…I will not believe.”

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

“Do not say that so-and-so is a drunkard even though you have seen him intoxicated, or that so-and-so is an adulterer even if you saw him in his sin, or that so-and-so is incestuous because he has been guilty of a certain depraved deed. A single act is not enough to justify the name of vice...To deserve the name of a vice or a virtue, there must be some advance in an act and it must be habitual. Hence it is untrue to say that so-and-so is bad-tempered or a thief simply because we once saw him in a fit of anger or guilty of theft…We must not draw conclusions from yesterday to today, nor from today to yesterday, and still less to tomorrow.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 29, p. 202)

So why is it, then, that we continue to refer to the Apostle whose life and legacy we celebrate today as “Doubting Thomas”? Nearly two thousand years have passed, since he declared to his peers what it would take for him to believe that Jesus was risen. Why should we vilify Thomas for being honest? Why should we beat up on Thomas for speaking from his heart?

Jesus certainly didn’t!

Jesus didn’t scold Thomas for his declaration. Jesus didn’t refuse Thomas’ request. Quite the contrary! Jesus showed him his hands and his side, saying, in effect: “Do you want to see my wounds? Here they are! Do you want to touch my hands and side? Please do! If that’s what it’s going to take to convince you that I’m real, Thomas, then by all means please do it!” It was then that Thomas believed that the person, who was standing in front of him, was the same Jesus with whom he walked for three years. It was the same Jesus who had spent his ministry meeting people, where they were, who now offered the same courtesy to Thomas.

In the closing scene from the film Red Dragon, Dr. Hannibal Lector’s character opined: “Our scars have the power to remind us that the past was real.” Perhaps, Thomas intuited that only the scars left by Jesus’ humiliation, passion and death could convince him that Jesus had conquered death! Perhaps, this is what prompted Thomas’ request. Perhaps, that’s why Thomas had the courage to speak his truth despite the giddy euphoria of the other Apostles who had previously seen Jesus. Can you really blame Thomas for not taking their word for it?

Come to think of it, it is remarkable that the experience of resurrection did not remove the wounds of Jesus: the lasting marks of pain, disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection, humiliation, abandonment, suffering and death. Notwithstanding these wounds, however, Christ's resurrection powerfully demonstrated that pain, sadness, suffering and injustice -- as real as they were -- did not, ultimately, wield the last word. While suffering was clearly a part of Jesus’ life, there was so much more to his life than suffering.

Maybe it’s time for us to retire the moniker “Doubting Thomas” and replace it with “Honest Thomas” from this day forward! Maybe it’s also time for us to simply accept the fact that there are some things about Jesus that we can know only through our own wounds and the wounds of others.

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Spirituality Matters 2019: June 20th - June 26th

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(June 20, 2019: Thursday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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Thy will be done…

In a sermon on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Francis de Sales preached:

“People who, like Martha, are desirous and anxious to do something for Our Lord believe they are very devout and believe that this eagerness is a virtue. However, this is no so, as He Himself would have us understand. Only one thing is required, that is, to have God and possess Him. If I seek only Him, what does it matter to me if I have to do one thing or another? If I desire only His will, what will it matter to me if I have to do one thing or another? If I desire only His will, what will it matter to me whether I am sent to Spain or to Ireland? If I seek only His cross, why should I be troubled if I am sent to the Indies, or to old countries or to new countries, since I am certain that I shall find it everywhere?” (Living Jesus p. 436)

These are not mere pious platitudes coming from the mouth of the Gentleman Saint. His life is filled with illustrations of how Francis de Sales practiced what he preached. In reflecting upon an offer he received to become a coadjutor to Cardinal de Retz in Paris, he wrote to Madame Angelique Arnauld:

“I am, and shall be and ever want to be at the mercy of God’s divine providence. I want to hold no rank except that of a servant and a follower…I am again invited to go to Paris under advantageous conditions. I said that I would neither go there nor stay here unless to follow the will of God. This country (Savoy) is my home according to my natural birth; according to my spiritual birth, my home is the Church. I shall willingly go or stay wherever I can best serve the latter without attaching myself to the former.” (Ibid, p. 438)

In a Conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales once quipped: “While all the saints have saved their souls (by following God’s will) they have done so in very different ways…” (Conference XIX, p. 365) All of us are called to follow the will of God, but no two of us will do that in exactly the same way. All of us are called to put ourselves as the disposal of God’s plans, but God’s plan may take each of us in a variety of different directions. Of course, the one constant in the midst of life’s twists and turns is the God whose will we try to accomplish!

How might God ask us to follow His will today?

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(June 21, 2019: Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Store up treasures in heaven…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life (in a chapter entitled, “We must be Faithful to both Great and Little Tasks”), Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Sacred Spouse implies that He is pleased to accept the great deeds of devout persons, that their least and lowest deeds are also acceptable to Him, and that to serve Him as He wishes we must have great care to serve Him well in both great, lofty matters and in small, unimportant things. With love we can capture His heart by the one just as well as by the other…For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves from moment to moment it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches if only you use them well.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

Do you want to store up treasures in heaven? Do good things for God – be they little or great – as often as you can on this earth.

Each and every day!

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(June 22, 2019: Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not worry about your life…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life (in a chapter entitled, “We must be Faithful to both Great and Little Tasks”), Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Sacred Spouse implies that He is pleased to accept the great deeds of devout persons, that their least and lowest deeds are also acceptable to Him, and that to serve Him as He wishes we must have great care to serve Him well in both great, lofty matters and in small, unimportant things. With love we can capture His heart by the one just as well as by the other…For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves from moment to moment it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches if only you use them well.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

Don’t worry about whether or not you are making great progress in the spiritual life. Don’t worry about not measuring up! Don’t worry about not being perfect! Just simply – with trust and confidence - do good things for God – be they little or great – as often as you can on this earth.

In the process you will slowly – but surely - store up treasures not only in heaven, but also right here, right now on this earth.

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(June 23, 2019: Body and Blood of Christ)
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“Give them food yourselves.”

The disciples seemed to be a practical group of men, perhaps like most ministers of the Church, including most of us, for that matter. If today’s account in the Gospel had occurred in a contemporary parish, they may have worded their question along these lines: “Did anyone requisition a room for all these people to meet and eat? What about the health department or fire marshal? Who’s going to pay for this? Who’s running this show? Are we going to get sued?”

Fortunately for us, Jesus wasn’t concerned about any of these details. In fact, in the face of the daunting task of feeding at least 5,000 men (not counting women and children), Jesus essentially said, “Do it yourselves.”

His only organizational instruction was to have the people sit down in groups of fifty. And to their credit, they did as they were told. And there is the rub, that is, they did as they were told without any evidence of a solution that made sense. Obviously, their faith in Jesus prevailed. They believed that if Jesus recognized a need, Jesus would – and could – do whatever it takes to meet that need.

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

“Your chief aim in Holy Communion should be to advance, strengthen and comfort yourself in the love of God, receiving for love’s sake what love alone can give. There is nothing in which the love of Christ is set forth more tenderly or more touchingly than in the Sacrament by which He, so to say, annihilates Himself for us and takes upon Himself the form of bread in order to feed us, and unites Himself closely to the bodies and souls of the faithful.”

So, too, with us today, each time when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus is with us and within us. But how does knowing that Jesus is truly present to us - and in us - help us when we are faced with situations for which there seem to be no easy solutions? Sometimes all we can do at the time is to try to take stock of what we do have rather than what we don’t have and decide how to make the best use of what we have, leaving the rest to Jesus.

A biblical commentary on this Gospel passage suggested that the crowd was so moved by love that each shared what he had brought. It is similar to a contemporary challenge, which goes something like this: “If everybody does what they can, we can do anything!”

In this holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are challenged to reflect on St. Augustine’s maxim, “become what we receive.” We become the Body of Christ. When faced with overwhelming situations with little or no evidence of resolution or solutions in sight, we remember that Christ is present in us and with us, knowing that we are not alone even when we feel that we are alone. So, we should have no fear to bring to the table whatever it is we possess when we’re faced with seemingly overwhelming challenges- and leave the rest to God.

Perhaps, if more of us took this message to heart, each of us would be genuinely empowered by the Body and Blood of Christ to the best we can and to do whatever needs to be done in fulfilling God’s will to feed and nourish one another.

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(June 24, 2019: Nativity of John the Baptist)
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“I make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Francis de Sales wrote: “I have often wondered who is the most mortified of the saints that I know, and after some reflection I have come to the conclusion that it was St. John the Baptist. He went into the desert when he was five years old and knew that our Savior came to earth in a place quite close by, perhaps only one or two days’ journey. How his heart, touched with love of his Savior from the time he was in his mother’s womb, must have longed to enjoy Christ’s presence. Yet, he spends twenty-five years in the desert without coming to see our Lord even once; and leaving the desert he catechized without visiting him but waiting until our Lord comes to seek him out. Then, after he has baptized Jesus, he does not follow him but stays behind to do his appointed task. How truly mortified was John’s spirit! To be so near his Savior and not see him, to have Him so close and not enjoy His presence! Is this not a completely detached spirit, detached even from God himself so as to do God’s will, and to serve God, as it were to leave God for God, and not to cling to God in order to love him better? The example of this great saint overwhelms me with its grandeur.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, Page 74)

“How truly mortified was John the Baptist’s spirit.” What does Francis de Sales mean? The American Heritage Dictionary defines mortify as to discipline by self-denial or self-inflicted privation. John did, indeed, discipline himself and denied himself many things in order to be faithful to his understanding of the person God wanted him to be - a light to the nations, a light to highlight the coming of Jesus, even when this meant that John would “follow” Jesus by – in fact – staying behind!

Think about it! According to St. Francis de Sales, John spends twenty-five years in the desert preparing to announce Christ’s coming. Despite growing up in the same general area, John meets Christ only once – when he baptized him at the Jordan River – only to remain behind as Jesus recruited others to be his apostles and disciples! John never sees his cousin again.

John was faithful to the role God wanted him to play in the plan of salvation: He played that role supremely well. Listen to what Jesus himself said: “I tell you the truth: among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11: 11) However, Jesus continues, “Anyone who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” John shows us that being faithful to God’s will often requires that we deprive ourselves of the desire to “have it all” and to dedicate ourselves to discerning – and embracing – what it is that God wants us to do…and not to do.

Each of us is called – like John – to be “a light to the nations” and help God’s salvation to reach to the ends of the earth.” This assistance doesn’t necessarily mean being the biggest, brightest or best bulb in the chandelier - it means being faithful to the kind of light that God wants you to be when, where and how God wants you to shine!

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(June 25, 2019: Tuesday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life…”

Striving for perfection - growing in holiness - “living Jesus” - is a formidable challenge. Embracing a life of virtue requires strength and courage. Renouncing sin requires strength and courage. Turning a deaf ear to temptation requires strength and courage. On any given day, our progress in devotion is marked by both success and setback.

However, this striving to be holy is made even more difficult when we attempt to be holy in a way that doesn’t fit our state or stage of life - a way of living that doesn’t fit who we are. While we are all indeed called to be holy, we are not called to be holy in the in the same way as others. Francis reminds us:

“Devotion (holiness) must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the prince the widow the young girl and the married woman. I ask you, is it fitting for a bishop to want to live a solitary life like a monk? Or for a married man to want to own no more property than a monk, for a skilled workman to spend his whole day in a church, for a religious to be constantly subject to every sort of call in service to one’s neighbor, which is more suited to the bishop? Would not such holiness be laughable, confused and impossible to live?” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 2)

Francis de Sales put it another way in a Conference (On the Virtues of St. Joseph) to the early Visitation community: “Some of the saints excelled in one virtue, some in another, and although all have saved their souls, they have done so in very different ways, there being as many different kinds of sanctity as there are saints.” (Conference XIX, p. 365) A more contemporary reflection on this issue comes from Nobel prize-winning author and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “There are a thousand and one gates leading into the orchard of mystical truth. Every human being has his or her own gate. We make a mistake of wanting to enter the orchard by any gate other than our own.” (Night, Page 3)

To be sure, if there is indeed one model of Christian holiness, we find it in Jesus Christ, the one in whom all of us are consecrated. But to be holy - as Jesus is holy - is not about trying to be like someone else. Rather, being holy is about having the strength, integrity and courage to be who God wants each one of us to be, precisely in the places, circumstances and relationships in which we find ourselves each day.

Today, here will you find your gate to holiness?

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(June 26, 2019: Wednesday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“By their fruits you will know them…”

Imagine yourself walking through a lush forest in which you encounter a variety of fruit-bearing plants. What would you expect to find along the boughs of an apple tree? Why, apples, of course! What would you expect to find hanging from the branches of a peach tree? Peaches, no doubt! What would you expect to find near the top of a banana tree? Clearly, you’d look for bananas! You approach grape vines. What would you expect to find throughout them? You’d hope to see grapes!

In the opening chapters of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind. In like manner he commands Christians, the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one according to his position and vocation.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 3)

Insofar as we are “living plants of the Church,” what kind of fruit(s) should we be producing? He offers some ideas in a letter he wrote four hundred years ago to Mademoiselle de Soulfour: “Let us practice those ordinary virtues suited to our littleness…patience, forbearance toward our neighbor, service to others, humility, gentleness of heart, affability, tolerance of our own imperfections and similar little virtues…” (LSD, p. 98)

How would other people describe us by the fruits that they discover growing in and from us today?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: June 13th - June 19th

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(June 13, 2019: Anthony of Padua, Priest/Doctor of the Church)
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“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus raises the bar when it comes to considering just what it takes in order to “enter into the Kingdom of God. Jesus calls his disciples to a higher love! When it comes to judgment, it’s no longer enough for them to say, “Well, we never killed anybody.” Now, they must also be able to say, “We did not grow angry with somebody else; we did not hold another person in contempt; we didn’t hold a grudge against anybody!” In other words, Jesus calls his disciples to live a higher love!

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales describes what this higher love – “devotion” – looks like:

“Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to his Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do what is good but also enables us to do what is good carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion. Ostriches never fly; hens fly in a clumsy fashion near the ground and only once in a while, while eagles, doves and swallows fly aloft, swiftly and frequently. In like manner sinners in no way fly up towards God but make their way here upon the earth and for the earth. Good people who have not yet attained devotion fly toward God by their good works but do so infrequently, slowly and awkwardly. Devout souls ascend to Him more frequently, promptly and with lofty heights.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

Today, how might we rise to Jesus’ challenge to live a higher love? How might our souls “ascend to Him more frequently, promptly and with lofty heights” with our feet planted firmly on this earth?

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(June 14, 2019: Friday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time)
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“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out…if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off…”

In his commentary on today’s selection from the Gospel of Matthew, William Barclay wrote:

“The words of Jesus are not to be taken literally. However, what Jesus is saying is that anything that may entice us to sin is to be ruthlessly rooted out of our lives. If there are habits that tempt us to sin - if there are associations that can increase the likelihood of wrongdoing - if there are pleasures that could lead to our ruin - then such things must be surgically excised from our lives.”

Drawing from wisdom gleaned from countless spiritual classics, Barclay offers a two-pronged approach to rooting out from our minds, hearts and attitudes anything that can serve as a stumbling block in our efforts to imitate the life of Jesus:

“First, do something! One way to defeat negative thoughts or influences is through Christian action. Fill your life so full with Christian labor and service that you have little or no time left for negative thoughts or feelings. One effective cure for evil thoughts or attitudes is being fully engaged in good action.”

Second, fill your mind with good thoughts and your heart with good feelings. “There is a famous scene in Peter Pan in which Peter in the children’s bedroom – they have seen him fly, and they wish to fly, too. They have tried to fly from the floor, and they have tried it from the beds, both resulting in failure. ‘How do you do it?’ John asks Peter. ‘You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts and they will lift you up in the air.’” The other effective remedy for evil thoughts or feelings is to choose to think or feel something else. (The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, pp. 148-150)

Are there negative thoughts, feelings or attitudes that are holding you back from being more like Jesus? While you might be tempted to simply rip them out, it is perhaps more advisable – and far more Salesian – to replace them with good thoughts, feelings and attitudes, and to allow such life-giving transplants to lead to more God-like actions.

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(June 15, 2019: Saturday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time)
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“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the Evil One.”

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity and dissimulation: such things are dangerous…As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul. No artifice is nearly as good or desirable as honest, plain dealing. While worldly prudence and carnal artifice belong to the children of this world, the children of God walk a straight path and their hearts are without guile. ” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

We are children of God. May our efforts - just this day - to both speak the truth and to also walk in the truth enable us to talk the talk – and to and walk the walk - of Jesus Christ!

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(June 16, 2019: Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity)

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“I was beside God as his craftsman; I was God's delight day by day.”

God is revealed to us as a creating and loving Father, a nourishing and redeeming Son, and an inspiring and challenging Spirit. It is in the image and likeness of the Trinity that we are created; it is in the image and likeness of the Trinity that we are called to live with one another on this earth; it is in the image and likeness of the Trinity that we are destined for the glory of heaven.

Trinity speaks of creative fullness; Trinity speaks of healing abundance; Trinity speaks of inspiring generosity.

The Holy Spirit, the Wisdom of God, is the source of the gifts that we need to experience and embody this Triune God in our daily lives. St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Treatise on the Love of God:

“We need temperance to restrain the rebellious inclinations of sensuality; justice, to do what is right in relation to God, our neighbor and ourselves; fortitude, in order that we might remain faithful in doing what is good and in avoiding what is evil; prudence, to discover the most proper ways for us to pursue what is good and to practice virtue; knowledge, that we might know the true good to which we must aspire, as well as true evil, that we must reject; understanding, to penetrate well into the first and chief foundations or principles of the beauty and excellence of virtue, and; at the very end, wisdom, to contemplate the divine nature, the first source of all that is good.” (TLG, Book 11, Chapter 15)

Do these virtues sound familiar? They should be! We know them as the "seven gifts" of the Holy Spirit.

The love that comes from this triune God, a love that is part and parcel of who we are, contains all of these gifts. Francis de Sales described this love as “a splendid lily that has six petals whiter than snow, and in its center are the beautiful little golden hammers of wisdom that drive into our hearts the loving taste and flavor of the goodness of the Father, our Creator, the mercy of the Son, our Redeemer, and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier.” (Ibid)

As mysterious as the Trinity may be, two things are crystal clear: (1) we are called to embody God's creative fullness, God's healing abundance, and God's inspiring generosity, and (2) we have been given the gifts to make that call a reality.

Today, we pray: Triune God – Father, Son, Spirit – help us to clearly - and convincingly - reflect your image in our own minds, hearts, attitudes and actions. Give us the grace to be your delight day by day in the lives of one another.

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(June 17, 2019: Monday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)

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“Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.”

In a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde, Francis de Sales wrote:

“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 by us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But in the meantime, in each passing moment 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)

Seen through the lens of Salesian spirituality, St. Paul’s exhortation makes absolute sense. The seed “of all eternity” isn’t found in the past; it isn’t found in the future. It is found only in each and every present moment as it comes!

Just this day.

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(June 18, 2019: Tuesday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)

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“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

It’s safe to say that we all have enemies. We all have people in our lives that we do not like. We all have people in our lives whose company we avoid. We all have people in our lives that rub us the wrong way. We all have people in our lives that push our buttons. We all have people in our lives that drive us crazy.

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“Antipathies are certain inclinations which excite in us a certain repugnance toward those about whom we entertain these feelings…If I feel a repugnance to conversing with a person whom I know to be most excellent – and from whom I mighty learn much that would do me good – I must not succumb to the antipathy which prompts me to avoid his company. On the contrary, I must discipline myself to listen to the voice of reason telling me rather to seek his company or at least, if I am already in it, to remain there in quiet, peaceful mind…People who are of a harsh, severe disposition will dislike those who are gentle and mild. They will regard such gentleness as extreme weakness, though indeed it is a quality most universally beloved. What remedy is there for these antipathies, since no one, however perfect, can be exempt from them? The only remedy for this evil – as indeed for all other kinds of temptation – is simply to turn away from it and think no more about it…We should never try to justify our reasons for our antipathies, let alone wishing to nourish them. If you have simply a natural, instinctive dislike for anyone, I beseech you to pay no attention to it; turn away your thoughts from it and so trick your mind. When, however, you find these antipathies going too far you must fight against them and overcome them, for reason will never permit us to foster antipathies and evil inclinations for fear of offending God.” (Conference XVI, pp. 298 - 301)

Francis knows the human heart very well. He acknowledges that “this instinctive tendency to love some more than others is natural.” (Ibid) Likes and dislikes are part-and-parcel of life. That said, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Jesus commands us to love those whom we dislike. Jesus commands us to love those who get on our nerves.

Like it or not…and beginning today!

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(June 19, 2019: Wednesday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)

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“Take care not to perform righteous deeds…that others might see them.”

In a letter to Madame de la Flechere, Francis de Sales observed:

“Humility is the virtue of virtues, but a humility that is generous and peaceable. Preserve a spirit of holy joy which – modestly spreading over your words and actions – gives consolation to the good people who see you, that thus they may glorify God, which is your only aim.” (Living Jesus, p. 150)

Jesus calls us to “perform righteous deeds.” He calls us to live a life of virtue. That said, Jesus cautions us against doing so to win the applause, praise or adulation of others.

Let’s try our level best this day to do the right thing for others. Let’s try our level best to do it for the right reason: to the praise and glory of God!

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