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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Spirituality Matters 2019: June 6th - June 12th

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(June 6, 2019: Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter)
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“Take courage…”

In a letter to Soeur de Soulfour, Francis de Sales offered this advice:

“Be like a little child who, while it knows that its mother is holding its sleeve, walks boldly and runs all around without being distressed at a stumble or fall; after all, it is as yet unsteady on its legs. In the same way, as long as you realize that God is holding on to you by your will and resolution to serve him go on boldly and do not be upset by your setbacks and falls. Continue on joyfully and with your heart as open and widely trustful as possible. If you cannot always be joyful, at least be brave and confident.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 45-46)

Be brave; be confident; be courageous.

Being courageous is not about being foolhardy. Being courageous (as we learn from the Italian word, coragio) is about being a person of heart. We all have issues in life; we all have difficulties in life; we all have setbacks in life; we all have heartaches in life. Often times what distinguishes triumph from tragedy in our attempts to deal with life’s challenges is whether we end up encouraged or discouraged, that is, whether we manage to maintain our hearts or whether we lose our hearts.

Today consider the stumbles and falls that you have experienced in life. How have they left you? Encouraged or discouraged? Are you managing to keep your heart or are you losing it?

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(June 7, 2019: Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter)
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“Do you love me…?”

In a sermon preached at the Visitation monastery at Annecy on the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in 1618, Francis de Sales observed:

“God wants our love for Him to be a love of choice. He wants us to love Him with a love that chooses Him out from all others. He wants the love which we have for others to be just a faint reflection of the supreme love which we have for Him and to allow His love to reign supreme in our hearts.” “Some foolish people claim that such a commandment to be impossible in this life. Such people make a big mistake! Our Lord would never have given this commandment without also giving us the power to set about doing it. Other people will say that we cannot love God with our whole heart, soul mind and strength; we must share some of our love with our families and friends. Had our Lord commanded us to love Him as the blessed do in heaven, there might be some point to their objection insofar as the love of the angels and the saints never changes; it is never interrupted. As for us, there are many things vying for our time and attention. Yet for all that, our love for God can be strong and unchanging even though we cannot always be actively showing it.” (Pulpit and Pew, pp. 222 - 223)
Francis de Sales concludes his sermon by asking this question: “How can you be sure that you love God?” He lists three “infallible signs:”
  1. “If you love God, you will seek His presence; you will yearn to be close to Him. You will seek Him, not for your own pleasure, but to please Him.”

  2. “The love of too many things dissipates our love and lessens its perfection. We are to love other things besides God, but always put Him first. Be forever ready to forego whomever and/or whatever else we may love as God’s pleasure may require.”

  3. “You are to love one another with a love similar to the love that God has for us – a love that is loyal and unchanging; a love that does not rely on outward appearances; a love that is not impatient of faults and imperfections; a love that is ever ready to lend a helping hand to further our neighbor’s good…all the ways in which God, in his goodness, shows his love for us.”

Do you love God? Jesus told Peter how he should show it! Today how will you demonstrate your love for God?

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(June 8, 2019: Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter)
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“Who is the one who will betray you…?”

Well, the obvious answer is Judas. We know that he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Later he regretted his betrayal and hanged himself.

Then again, Peter betrayed Jesus by denying that he even knew him - not once, not twice but three times. He regretted it almost immediately and went on to become “the rock” on which Jesus would build his Church. How about James and John? Didn’t they betray Jesus – in a way – by asking for places of honor at his left and at his right? In subsequent years they gave their lives for their faith.

It might make a great deal more sense – and require a lot less time – to ask this question: who is the one who has not betrayed Jesus? The answer would produce a much shorter list. After all, each of us betrays Jesus when we are focused upon our own benefit at the expense of others. Each of us betrays Jesus when we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the needs of others. Each of us betrays Jesus when we decide that we are not up to the challenges that come with being his disciples.

Each of us betrays Jesus when we sin.

Thanks be to God that Jesus doesn’t hold grudges. Thanks be to God that Jesus doesn’t settle old scores. Thanks be to God that Jesus doesn’t hold on to old hurts or betrayals. Imperfect as we are, Jesus continues to say to us, day in and day out: “Follow me”.

Thanks be to God!

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(June 9, 2019: Pentecost Sunday)
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“Each of us hears them speaking in our own tongue about the marvels that God has accomplished.”

Despite the fact that they were speaking to many people of many languages, from many places and from many cultures, the apostles were, nonetheless, understood by all of their listeners as they proclaimed the marvels that God had accomplished.

How was this possible?

Enflamed by the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were speaking the language of the heart. They were speaking with enthusiasm. They were speaking with gratitude. They were speaking with praise and thanksgiving. They were speaking from their core. They were speaking from their soul. In short, they were speaking the universal language – the language of the heart, which is the language of love.

We are most human - we are most divine - when we speak the language of the heart, when we speak the language of love, when we speak and listen from the soul, when we are grounded in the Word Made Flesh. St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Treatise on the Love of God:

“The Holy Spirit almost always uses words that express union and conjunction when wishing to express a perfect love. ‘And the multitude of believers,’ says St. Luke, ‘had but one heart and one soul.’ Our Savior prayed to his Father for all the faithful to the end that they all ‘might be one.’ St. Paul warns us to be ‘careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ These unities of heart, soul and spirit signify the perfection of love which joins many souls into one.” (Treatise, Book One, Chapter 9)

Communicating is often easier said than done. We misunderstand one another. We presume to know what others are thinking or feeling. We use the same words for which we have different meanings. We have different ways of saying the same thing. We hear, but we fail to listen. We so infrequently use the language of the soul.

St. Francis de Sales tells us that the Holy Spirit comes to inflame the hearts of believers. When we speak and listen from hearts enflamed with joy, truth and gratitude, conflict gives way to understanding, confusion gives way to clarity, estrangement gives way to intimacy, hurt gives way to healing, frustration gives way to forgiveness, violence gives way to peace, sin gives way to salvation, and division gives way to unity.

How might you need to speak – and to hear - the language of love today?

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(June 10, 2019: Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church)
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“Who told you that you were naked?”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales does not equate happiness with self-centeredness, self-absorption or self-obsession. However, Francis does equate happiness with what he calls self-possession. The Gentleman Saint writes:

“It is man’s great happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls.”

What happiness it is to know and accept yourself for who you are in the sight of God! What delight it is to be comfortable – without being complacent – in your own skin! What joy it is to be essentially at home – to be at peace – with the person that God made you to be! Why, it’s the next best thing to Paradise.

Tragically enough, the ability to be at home with ourselves became the first – and the most fundamental – casualty of The Fall. No sooner had Adam and Eve eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge than their natural state – their nakedness, their transparency – became a reproach. They were embarrassed – they were ashamed – of who they were. Literally, they were no longer comfortable in their own skin. Suddenly sullied by self-alienation and self-loathing, Paradise was lost…and life became a burden.

As we know all-too-well, so much of the misery, sin and sadness that plagues the human family to this very day comes from either (1) the inability to be who we really are, or (2) the fruitless attempt to become someone we’re not.

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

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that he wills all of us to be saved that no one should be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose, through Creation God made us ‘in his own image and likeness’, whereas through the Incarnation God has made himself in our image and likeness.”

The redemptive grace of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the happiness that comes from possessing our own souls. The restorative power of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the joy of being essentially at home with who we are in the sight of God. Wounded as we are by sin, our practice of devotion – our quest to possess our own souls – no longer comes effortlessly as it originally did in Paradise. It requires perpetual practice; it demands tremendous patience That said, God not only promises us the joy and peace born of this heavenly self-acceptance; God also shows us how to achieve it on this earth in the person of his Son.

Jesus embodies the power of self-possession. Jesus exhibits the joy of self-acceptance. Jesus exudes the peace of self-direction. Who better than Jesus shows us what it looks like to be comfortable in one’s own skin? Who better than Jesus demonstrates what it looks like to invite - and to empower - others to do the same?

Not unlike what he did with our first parents, The Evil One hits us where it hurts. Sometimes Satan tempts us to believe that we can’t possibly be happy by being who we are. Other times, Satan tempts us to believe that we’d be happier if we were someone else – perhaps anybody else – other than who we are. In very deep, dark places within our minds and hearts, each and every one of us is tempted to ask this question:

Sinner as I am, weak as I am, wounded as I am and imperfect as I am, why should I believe that God wants me to be comfortable – at home - in my own skin?

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(June 11, 2019: Barnabas, Apostle)
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"You are salt for the earth…you are light of the world…”

In his commentary on today’s selection from the Gospel of Matthew, William Barclay wrote:

“In the time of Jesus salt was connected in people’s minds with three special qualities:

(1) Salt was connected with purity. No doubt its glistening whiteness made such a connection easy to make. The Romans believed that salt was the purest of all things because it came from the purest of all things: the sun and the sea. So then, if Christians are to be salt of the earth, they must be an example of purity.”

“(2) Salt was the most common (and most readily available) of all preservatives. It was used to prevent good things from going bad. So then, if Christians are to be salt for the earth, they must be a remedy for corruption.”

“(3) The greatest and most obvious quality of salt is that it lends flavor to things. Food without salt is a sadly insipid and perhaps even sickening thing. So then, if Christians are to be salt for the earth, they must add flavor to life.” (The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 119-120)

We are created to be salt for the earth. We are meant to be pure, that is, to be unadulterated, to be genuine, and to be real. We are meant to be a remedy for anything in danger of decay or disrepair in life. We are meant to add flavor, gusto and zest to life.

How can we be sources of this divine, life-giving salt in the lives of those whom we encounter today?

Look at the day ahead. What trials – large or little – might be headed your way today? How do you plan to deal with them?

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(June 12, 2019: Wednesday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time)
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“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets...”

Throughout the Gospels Jesus was repeatedly criticized by the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes for not “doing it by the book”. That is, he was accused of abolishing the Law and the prophets by not living by the letter of the Law. In today’s Gospel Jesus responds to that charge by saying not only does He have no intention of abolishing the Law, but also, he plans to go one step further – to fulfill the Law.

And how does Jesus fulfill the Law and the Prophets? He does so by being himself, that is, by performing the works of God in accordance with the will of God, and not by the whims of man – a life described by St. Paul as a life lived in “the Spirit.”

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

“The Holy Spirit dwells in us if we are living members of Jesus Christ, who said to his disciples, ‘He who abides in me, and I in him bears much fruit.’ This is because one who abides in him partakes of his divine Spirit, who is the midst of a person’s heart as a living fountain springs up and flashes its waters into everlasting life...Thus, like a little grain of mustard seed, our works are in now ay comparable in greatness to the tree of glory they produce. Still they have the vigor and virtue to produce it because they proceed from the Holy Spirit. By a wondrous infusion of his grace into our hearts he makes our works become his and yet at the same time they remain our own, since we are members of a head of which he is the Spirit…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 7, pp. 211-212)

So, it turns out that the reason that Jesus did not abolish the Law – even the smallest parts of it – is that he embodied the Law, that is, the Law of the Spirit which supersedes (“fulfills”) the letter of the Law. While we, the followers of Jesus, may need to know how to do it “by the book,” the life of Jesus clearly suggests that there is something much more important than the letter of the law – the law of the Spirit, which leads to life.

Today, how can we do our part in fulfilling Jesus’ law of love through our love for one another?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: May 30th - June 5th

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(May 30, 2019: Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter)
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“He stayed with them and worked…”

This snippet from the Acts of the Apostles reveals something noteworthy about the person of Paul. It seems that when he wasn’t working at preaching in the synagogue he was working to earn his keep, at least, as we are told, until Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia. Put another way, notwithstanding the important work that Paul was doing in Corinth, he did not take Pontus’ and Priscilla’s hospitality for granted; he did what he could to support himself, or at least, to make himself less of a burden.

That action on Paul’s part may have provided just as powerful a message – if not more so – than the preaching he did in the synagogue.

It brings to mind the famous saying of St. Francis of Assisi (for whom St. Francis de Sales was named): “Preach always, and when necessary, use words.”

Today consider - what impact does our preaching – whether in words or in actions – have upon others?

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(May 30, 2019: Ascension of the Lord - Where Observed)
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“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Well, the day in question finally arrived. Jesus was taken up into heaven and returned to the Father. After standing there in silence for what must have seemed like an eternity, one of the eleven eventually broke the quiet by asking the question: “Now what?”

The rest – as they say – is history.

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

“After Jesus had shown himself for a little while to the disciples, he ascended up to heaven, and at length a cloud surrounded him, took him and hid him from their eyes. Jesus Christ, then, is hidden in heaven in God. Jesus Christ is our love, and our love is the life of the soul. Therefore our ‘life is hidden in God with Christ Jesus, and when Christ who is’ our love and therefore our spiritual life ‘shall reappear’ in the Day of Judgment, we shall also appear ‘with him in glory.’” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

In his Catholic Controversies (p.286) Francis de Sales outlines the activity of the Apostles – especially Peter and Paul – following the Ascension. Simply put, it would appear that once the dust of the Ascension settled, Jesus disciples got to work.

This same work continues for us today. Our task in the wake of the Ascension is to make the “hidden” Christ “reappear” through the quality of our love for others.

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(May 31, 2019: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“Anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal…”

No sooner had Mary received the announcement from the Angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of the Messiah than she “set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. (Recall that in the context of the Annunciation, Mary had learned that her cousin was pregnant.) As if Mary didn’t have enough on her plate already, she dropped whatever she was doing in order to aid Elizabeth for “about three months”. Mary didn’t wait for the request; Mary anticipated the need.

One of the hallmarks of the Salesian tradition (and as embodied in the Sisters of the Visitation, founded by Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal) is this notion of “anticipating the need of our neighbor”. This quality invites us to be “on the lookout” for opportunities to do good for others. Simple things like:

• holding open a door for another

• offering to help carry someone’s groceries

• assisting someone who may have dropped something on the floor

• checking in on someone who’s under the weather

• being the first to greet someone or to call someone by name

• asking how someone is doing today.

These are ordinary, everyday ways of honoring others by simply acknowledging their presence and by recognizing that they exist.

Here is where Paul’s admonition in his Letter to the Romans comes into play. Insofar as each day is loaded with countless opportunities to honor people by anticipating their needs – by “looking out” for their interests – such efforts could understandably become wearisome over time. In the Salesian tradition, we need to approach each new day as yet another God-given gift: the invitation to offer to do good things for others rather than waiting for others to ask us to do good things for them.

Mary embodied the virtue of anticipating the need of another in her decision to offer her cousin Elizabeth assistance without waiting to be asked. In so honoring her cousin, she brought honor to herself.

Today, how might we honor Mary by following her example through our willingness to anticipate the needs of one another?

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(June 1, 2019: Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter)
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"Ask and you shall receive…”

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

“If a man prays to God and perceives that he is praying, he is not perfectly attentive to his prayer. He diverts his attention from the God to whom he prays in order to think of the prayer by which he prays…A man in fervent prayer does not know whether he prays or not, for he does not think of the prayer he makes but of God to whom he makes it.” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

Today here’s a question for you. When you “ask the Father for anything” in Jesus’ name, upon what do you focus - the thing for which you ask or the person from whom you ask it?

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(June 2, 2019: Ascension of the Lord - Where Observed)
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“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Well, the day in question finally arrived. Jesus was taken up into heaven and returned to the Father. After standing there in silence for what must have seemed like an eternity, one of the eleven eventually broke the quiet by asking the question: “Now what?”

The rest – as they say – is history.

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

“After Jesus had shown himself for a little while to the disciples, he ascended up to heaven, and at length a cloud surrounded him, took him and hid him from their eyes. Jesus Christ, then, is hidden in heaven in God. Jesus Christ is our love, and our love is the life of the soul. Therefore our ‘life is hidden in God with Christ Jesus, and when Christ who is’ our love and therefore our spiritual life ‘shall reappear’ in the Day of Judgment, we shall also appear ‘with him in glory.’” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

In his Catholic Controversies (p.286) Francis de Sales outlines the activity of the Apostles – especially Peter and Paul – following the Ascension. Simply put, it would appear that once the dust of the Ascension settled, Jesus’ disciples got to work.

This same work continues for us today. Our task in the wake of the Ascension is to make the “hidden” Christ “reappear” through the quality of our love for others.

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(June 2, 2019: Seventh Sunday of Easter – Where Observed)
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“I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds…”

Today's selection from the Book of Revelation reminds us of the end for which we are created - eternal life with Christ, the Alpha and the Omega. The reading also reminds us that the end for which we are created will include the end of life, as we know it - an end that includes being rewarded, as our conduct on earth deserves.

Notwithstanding God's compassion, God's love, God's forgiveness and God's mercy, each of us will experience this end - and its accompanying judgment - personally.

Still, the Salesian tradition challenges us to recognize the deeper reality of the "end" - or purpose - for which we are created, for which we live: namely, to love. Love not only prepares us for death. Love makes it possible for us to live truly here on earth.

Echoing the words of St. Paul, St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Treatise on the Love of God:

"Love has a perfection which contains the virtue of all perfections and the perfection of all the virtues. Hence, love is patient, is kind, and is not envious, but generous. Love is not pretentious, but prudent. Love is not puffed up with pride but is humble. Love is not ambitious or disdainful, but amiable and affable. Love is not eager to exact all that belongs to it but is generous and helpful. Love is not provoked, but is peaceful. Love thinks no evil but is gentle. Love does not rejoice over wickedness but rejoices with truth. Love suffers all things, believes all things that pertain to all that is good without obstinacy, contention or distrust. Love hopes for all good things for others without ever losing hope of salvation. Love endures all things, awaiting without anxiety the good promised." (Treatise on the Love of God, Book Eleven, Chapter 8). In conclusion, "love is that fine gold, tried by fire, that contains the price of all things, can do all things, and does all things."

This kind of life - this kind of love - truly is our end. It is the purpose for which we are born, live, and long. It is the purpose for which God will one day call us home to himself forever.

Truly, such a life - such a love - is, indeed, its own reward. Why wait until heaven to experience it? Why not begin today?

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(June 3, 2019: Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs)
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“Now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech. Now we realize that you know everything…”

It’s probably safe to say that the Apostles were – as a group – pretty unsophisticated men. Insofar as many of them were tradesmen, they were men who would have put a high premium on keeping things plain and simple. If you had something to say to them, their preference would be that you give it straight to them, without a great deal of images or elaborations. Put another way, these were men for whom ‘less’ would clearly be ‘more.’ So, we can understand their appreciation in today’s Gospel selection for Jesus’ willingness to simply say what they needed to hear in a manner in which they could hear – and understand – it!

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say everything that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. Therefore, you must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purpose, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth’…Although we may sometime discreetly and prudently hide and disguise the truth by an equivocal statement, this must never be done except when the matter is important and God’s glory and service clearly require it. In any other such case such tricks are dangerous. As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or slippery soul. No artifice is as good and desirable as plain dealing.” ( IDL , Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

When it comes to preaching – to say nothing of living – the Good News of Jesus Christ, you don’t have to convince other people that you “know everything” in order to be effective. Just give it to people straight, in unembellished and unvarnished words – and ways – that they can understand.

And live!

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(June 4, 2019: Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
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“This is eternal life: that they should know you, the only true God and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ…”

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

“‘Life is in the will of God,’ says the Psalmist, not only because our temporal life depends on the divine will but also because our spiritual life consists in its fulfillment, by which God lives and reigns in us and makes us live and subsist in God….Ah, Lord God, we are in this world not to do our own will but that of your goodness, which has placed us here. It was written of you, O Savior of my soul, that you did the will of your eternal Father. Ah, who will give my soul the grace to have no will but the will of God!” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 7, p. 73)

To know God is to know God’s will. To love God is to love God’s will. To know and do God’s will is to experience eternal life. Nowhere do we see this love demonstrated more clearly and convincingly than in Jesus’ knowledge, love and obedience to his Father’s will throughout his entire earthly ministry. Note the impact: not only did following the Father’s will not diminish Jesus, but it also empowered Him to be faithful to and effective in his purpose for living - that “we might have life and have life to the full”. (John 10:10)

If eternal life is found by knowing and loving God – and, by extension, by knowing, loving and living God’s will in our lives – then the eternal life that Jesus offers us is not limited to the next life; it is available here and now in this life.

Let us pray. God, not our will, but your will be done in us, in order that we might know something already on this earth of the eternal life you offer us in the One whom you sent in order that we might know and love you…Jesus Christ!

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(June 5, 2019: Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter)
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“Savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock…So be vigilant…”

There are a number of variations of a Cherokee parable known as “The Two Wolves.” It goes something like this:

An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life. The old man said, “A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego. The other wolf is good. he He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too, as these two wolves struggle for supremacy.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old chief sat in silence for a few moments and then simply replied, “The one you feed.”

It is tempting to look for the “savage wolves” about which Jesus warns in other people, especially in the case of those with whom we find ourselves embroiled in misunderstanding, conflict and perhaps even hostility. However, it might be a good idea also to look inside of ourselves for any signs that such “savage wolves” might be living within us. And for what should we be vigilant?

Today be on the watch for any feeling, thought, opinion or perspective that would pervert the truth of who we are in our relationship with God, ourselves and one another.

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Spirituality Matters 2019: May 23rd - May 29th

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(May 23, 2019: Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter)
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“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete…” This debate outlined in the today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles puts us in touch with Francis de Sales’ perspective on two gifts of the Holy Spirit: knowledge and understanding.

The Gift of Knowledge

“This divine gift, however, has little to do with mere human learning. The Spirit’s gift of knowledge is essential if we are to make good and effective use of the previous two gifts, if we are to know how to behave towards the God we mean to fear and love. It is about being capable of discerning evil to be avoided and the good to be sought. As the prophet says, offend no more; rather, do what is good. And be at rest always.”

Mere human knowledge only enables us to know the difference between good and evil. Just hearing God’s word doesn’t guarantee the ability to follow it! The Spirit’s gift of knowledge, by contrast, actually enables us to turn away from what is evil and to put our hands to doing what is good.

Francis concludes with this observation.

“There have been saints, to be sure, who were wonderfully wise for all of their ignorance. There have been others, equally as certain, who have been wonderfully ignorant for all of their knowledge.”

Many practicing Jews – considered knowledgeable of the Law and Prophets – rejected Jesus. Many Gentiles – considered by these same Jews – to be ignorant of the Law and Prophets – accepted Jesus! Tough pill for some to swallow.

The Gift of Understanding

“Understanding is a special enlightenment that enables us to see and penetrate the beauty and perfection of the mysteries of faith. We may listen to sermons, we may read widely; yet we can remain ignorant of these divine mysteries if we lack the gift of understanding. A simple soul, open in prayer, may gain some insight into the mystery of the Blessed Trinity – not to explain it, but to draw from it some secret aspect that can save – because the Holy Spirit has bestowed the gift of understanding. I always maintain that if anyone loses his soul, it is for want of following such mysteries of the faith, for example: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs; blessed are the patient, they shall inherit the land. Who is awake to the beauty of these principles, however, except those whom the Holy Spirit enlightens?”

There is no substitute for the knowledge that helps us to grow in our understanding of the ways of the Lord. However, we must be careful not to allow knowledge to take the place of understanding. Ultimately, this became the Achilles heel of many of the Jews of Jesus’ day. While Francis de Sales recognizes the need to know the difference between good and evil (and, by extension, to actually do good and to actually avoid evil), such knowledge only comes to full flowering when we demonstrate our understanding of God’s ways through our practice of the Beatitudes, that is, by being sources of blessing, happiness and joy in the lives of others!

How does Jesus make our joy complete? By helping us to be sources – perhaps even signs and wonders - of joy in the lives of one another!

(Based upon a sermon preached by St. Francis de Sales on the feast of Pentecost, date unknown. Translation from Pulpit and Pew: A Study in Salesian Preaching. Vincent Kerns, MSFS.)
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(May 24, 2019: Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter)
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“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden...”

“Living Jesus” is not always easy. “Living Jesus” brings with it its share of difficulties and challenges. “Living Jesus” will certainly stretch us and challenge us to be more of the people that God calls us to be.

But one thing that “Living Jesus” is not supposed to be is burdensome.

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

“True devotion does us no harm whatsoever, but instead perfects all things. It not only doers no injury to one’s vocation or occupation, but on the contrary adorns and beautifies it. All kinds of precious stones take on greater luster when dipped into honey, each according to its color. In the same way every vocation becomes more agreeable when united with devotion. Care of one’s family is rendered more peaceable, love of husband and wife more sincere, service to one’s prince more faithful and every type of employment more pleasant and agreeable.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 3, p. 44)

If your practice of devotion is weighing you down, you must be doing something wrong. If your attempts at “Living Jesus” make your everyday life more complicated, something’s not right. Perhaps you’re trying too hard. Or, worse yet, maybe you’re trying to “Live Jesus” all by yourself.

Take Jesus at his word! Go to him when you find life burdensome. Let him refresh you. Take up his yolk and learn from him, for he is meek and humble of heart. And you’ll find rest for your soul, for his yolk is easy, and his burden light.

And if you let him, Jesus might even put a spring in your step today!

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(May 25, 2019: Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter)
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"No slave is greater than the master…”

Jesus seems to be saying, in effect, “Don’t even think about trying to be greater than I am.” Put another way, it certainly feels like Jesus is at least reminding us of our place, if not putting us in our place. But as Francis de Sales reminds us in his Treatise on the Love of God , the “place” that Jesus has in mind for us is anything but a put-down.

“You see how God by progressive stages filled with unutterable sweetness leads the soul forward and enables it to leave the Egypt of sin. God leads us from love to love, as from dwelling to dwelling, until He has made us enter into the Promised Land. By this I mean that He brings us into a most holy charity, which to state it succinctly, is a form of friendship and disinterested love, since by charity we love God for his own sake because of his most supremely pleasing goodness. Such friendship is true friendship, since it is reciprocal, for God has eternally loved all those who have loved him, now love him or will love him in time to come. It is manifested and recognized mutually: God cannot be ignorant of the love we have for Him since He himself has given it to us, while we cannot be ignorant of his love for us since He has made it so widely known and we on our part acknowledge that whatever good we possess is the true effect of his good will. In fine, we are in continual communication with Him and He never ceases to speak to our hearts by his inspirations, allurements and sacred movements. He never ceases to do us good or to give us every kind of proof as to his most holy affection. God has openly revealed all his secrets to us as to his closet friends.” ( TLG , Book II, Chapter 22, pp. 160 – 161)

The bottom line is that we are already friends of God! Why would we need to be anything greater than that?

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(May 26, 2019: Sixth Sunday of Easter)
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"My peace is my gift to you...but not as the world gives peace."

Jesus makes a distinction in today's Gospel between the "peace as the world offers it" and the peace that comes from him.

Just what does Jesus mean?

The American Heritage Dictionary on the English Language may provide us with some clues. It defines peace as: 1. the absence of war or hostilities. 2. an agreement or treaty to end hostilities. 3. freedom from quarrels or disagreements; harmonious relations. 4. public security and order. 5. inner contentment; serenity.

The vision of peace that the world offers - appropriately enough - tells us that in order to experience true inner contentment we must first establish a world in which there is no war, no hostility, no quarrels, no disagreements, no public disorder or chaos. Tempting as this vision is to pursue, history - the world's and our own - painfully illustrates how truly fleeting and fallacious is this promise of peace…at least, this way of going about it.

By contrast, the peace that Jesus promises starts from within. It's about having a sense of integrity. It's about having a sense of purpose. It's about having a sense of meaning. It's about having a sense of mission. Ultimately, it's about having a clear and unambiguous sense of self, a self that is only fully understood and actualized in the context of one's relationship with God, oneself and others.

This is the kind of peace that the world cannot give.

Ironically, it is Jesus' promise of inner peace that offers the greatest hope for world peace. Only when we have first set aside our own personal hostilities, can we truly work for a world free of war. Only when we have first set aside our own need to be always right, can we strive for a world in which disagreements are not the last word. Only when we have first established some order and direction in our own lives, can we hope to achieve the same on a greater scale. Only when we experience the power and possibility that comes from knowing - and embracing - who we really are in the sight of God, can we become sources of that same power and possibility in the lives of others.

God's peace is not measured by the absence of conflict. God's peace is a function of how dedicated each one of us is to first knowing who we are so that we can see more clearly what the world can be and what steps we must take - together - to make that ideal, however fleeting or fragile, a reality.

Do you want world peace? Then think globally. But, like Jesus, act locally. As the last line of a well-known hymn challenges, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

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(May 27, 2019: Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter)
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“I have told you this so that you may not fall away…”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a ‘heads up.’ Notwithstanding the imminent arrival of the Paraclete, whom Jesus will send from the Father, there will still be tough – and trying – times ahead for them. Jesus wants them to be prepared so that when the tough – and trying – times come they won’t fall away, that is, they don’t give up.

In a letter to a nun (dated August 20, 1607) Francis de Sales wrote:

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

Francis de Sales’ advice to a nun over four hundred years ago is just as relevant today as it was then. Following Jesus – being a servant of God and a temple of the Holy Spirit – will always bring its share of challenges, trials and tribulations. We sometimes fall – we sometimes fail – in the face of these same challenges, trials and tribulations. However, falling down is not the same as falling away - unless, of course, you choose to stay down after falling down.

If you fall – if you fail – in your attempts to “Live + Jesus” just this day, will you say down, or will you get back up?

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(May 28, 2019: Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter)
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"Where are you going…?”

Where are you going?

Where are you going?

Can you take me with you?

For my hand is cold

And needs warmth

Where are you going?

"By My Side" (Godspell, 1971)

For some time now Jesus has been telling his disciples that he will be leaving them in order that the Advocate (a.k.a. the Paraclete) can come to them. As we see in today’s Gospel, Jesus is trying to convince them that it will be better for them if he goes. By all accounts, the disciples are having a hard time believing - or accepting – his reassurances.

Put yourself in their position. Jesus keeps talking about going back to the Father while they’d prefer to ask the question: “Where are you going?” They’d prefer to ask the question: “Can’t you stay?” Either way, they are struggling with the fear of losing Jesus; they are struggling with the prospect of being left alone to fend for themselves.

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

“After Jesus had shown himself for a little while to the disciples, he ascended up to heaven, and at length a cloud surrounded him, took him and hid him from their eyes. Jesus Christ, then, is hidden in heaven in God. Jesus Christ is our love, and our love is the life of the soul. Therefore our ‘life is hidden in God with Christ Jesus, and when Christ who is’ our love and therefore our spiritual life ‘shall reappear’ in the Day of Judgment, we shall also appear ‘with him in glory.’” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

For our purposes, let’s hear the question “Where are you going?” in a slightly different way. Just suppose that now it is Jesus who is asking the question of us! Jesus asks us “Where are you going?” today. Where will our steps, conversations and interactions take us today? At the end of the day will we have drawn any closer to the “Day of Judgment” when we shall “appear with him in glory”?

Regardless, we know one thing for sure: no matter where we go, Jesus doesn’t want us to walk alone. He asks us to take Him with us.

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(May 29, 2019: Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter)
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“The Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth…”

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say all that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. Therefore, you must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purpose, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth.’ If you happen to tell a lie inadvertently, correct it immediately by an explanation or making amends. An honest explanation has more grace and force to excuse us than a lie has…As the Sacred Word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Jesus promises that the “Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth.” How do we know, then, that the Spirit dwells in us? How do other people know that the Spirit dwells in us? We do when we do our level best to tell the truth, when we do our level best to speak the truth, when we do our level best to be truthful, truth-filled people.

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Spirituality Matters 2019: May 16th - May 22nd

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(May 16, 2019: Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter)
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“Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”

In his Conference on Three Spiritual Laws, Francis de Sales remarked:

“Never was there a time when people studied as they do now. Those great Saints (Augustine, Gregory and Hilary whose feast we are keeping today!) and many others did not study much. They could not have done so, writing as many books as they did, preaching and discharging all the other duties of their office. They had, however, such great confidence in God and in God’s grace that they neither placed their dependence nor their trust in their own skill or labor, so that all the great works which they did were done purely by means of their reliance on God’s grace and almighty power. ‘It is You, O Lord,’ they said, ‘who gives us the work and it for you that we work. It is You who will bless our labors and give us a rich harvest.’ Therefore their books and their sermons bore marvelous fruit. By contrast, we who trust in our fine words, in our eloquent language and in our knowledge labor for that which ends up in smoke. We yield no fruit other than vanity.” (Conference VII, pages 116-117)

It is healthy to remind ourselves that however much good we may manage to accomplish today, it is God “who gives us the work”. It is God who helps us to work. It is God who will bring his work in us to completion. In so doing, what we do is to give witness to the goodness of the Lord at work in us and at work among us.

Together, let us sing of the goodness of the Lord! But don’t stop there! Together, let us do – and be – the goodness of the Lord in the lives of one another!

Today!

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(May 17, 2019: Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter)
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“Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

We all have a deep-seated fear. Using the image of musical chairs, we fear that when the music stops, there won’t be a chair for us. Jesus promises that this situation won’t happen because he has prepared a place for each and every one of us. This promise from Jesus is a great remedy for our fear of being left out.

From a Salesian perspective, however, the “place” that Jesus promises to create for us is not found exclusively in heaven; Jesus has also created a unique place, role or niche for each of us here on this earth: a place in which we are called to be sources of his life and his love in the lives of other people.

How will that place – and the people in it – be better for the way we attempt to live our lives today?

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(May 18, 2019: Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter)
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"The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit…”

One of the manifestations of living life in the Spirit is happiness and joy. In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“The virtue of cheerfulness requires that we should contribute to holy and temperate joy and to pleasant conversation, which may serve as a consolation and recreation to our neighbor so as to not weary and annoy him with our knit brows and melancholy faces…” (Conference IV, On Cordiality, Book IV, p. 59)

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal written not long following their first encounter during the Lenten mission that he preached, Francis specifically cites the relationship between joy and religious liberty:

“No loss or lack can sadden one whose heart is perfectly free. I am not saying that it is impossible for such a person to lose his joy, but it will not be for long.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 71)

In a letter to a young novice who attempted to live the life of a Benedictine sister (but who subsequently left the convent) Francis de Sales underscored the importance of being joyful…or, at least, of trying to be:

“Go on joyfully and with your heart as open and widely trustful as possible; if you cannot always be joyful, at least be brave and confident.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 46)

It’s no accident that we Christians frequently refer to the term “Easter joy”. The power of the Resurrection – and the gifts of the Spirit that flow from it– should go a long way in helping us to be – among other things – joyful! Life being what it is, however, we aren’t always joyful people. When we find it difficult to be joyful, let’s do our best to at least be brave and confident.

And perhaps today even find joy in that!

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(May 19, 2019: Fifth Sunday of Easter)
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"God's dwelling is with the human race...God will always be with them."

In Part II, Chapter 2 of his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote: “God is in all things and in all places. There is no place or thing in this world where God is not truly present. Just as where birds fly they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are, we find ourselves in God’s presence.”

Easier said than done.

The truth is that we frequently lose sight of God's abiding, loving, and challenging presence. When we forget this truth we frequently get into trouble: “Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore they do not show him the respect that they do after being told of his presence. However, because they do not actually see him they easily forget his presence, and having again forgotten it, they still more easily forget the respect and reverence owed to him...Likewise, we really know that God is present in all things, but because we do not reflect on that fact, we act as if we did not know this.” (Ibid)

When we forget about God's presence we sin; we fail to give God the respect that God deserves. When we forget about God's presence we sin; we fail to give others the respect that they deserve. We might say: “Out of sight, out of sync.” When we fail to see God we are more likely to think, feel and act in ways that are out of sync with who and how God calls us to be.

The Good News is that remembering God's presence not only provides a potent prescription for avoiding sin but also places tremendous power, possibility and potential at our disposal. Practically speaking, remembering God's presence enables us: to be on our best behavior, to be our best, to live lives of love, to do our part in helping to fashion family, church and community in which every tear is wiped away and to create places and relationships in which there is no more death or mourning, wailing or pain. As one sentence in a sermon suggests, we should: “Give God what is right rather than what is left over.”

In short, remembering that God is always with us empowers us to follow St. Francis de Sales' exhortation: "Wherever we may be, we can and should aspire to live a perfect life.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 3). It empowers us to be who we are, and to be that well, in the service of God and one another.

That's a presence -- and a power -- worth remembering

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(May 20, 2019: Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter)
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“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me…”

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

“When I saw in St. Catherine of Siena’s life so many raptures and elevations of spirit, words of wisdom and even sermons uttered by her, I did not doubt that by the eye of contemplation she had ravished the heart of her heavenly Spouse. But I was equally edified when I saw her in her father’s kitchen, humbly turning the spit, kindling fires, dressing meat, kneading bread and doing the meanest household chores cheerfully and filled with love and affection for God. I do not have less esteem for the humble, little meditations she made during these ordinary, lowly tasks than for the ecstasies and raptures she experienced so often. Perhaps the latter were granted to her precisely because of her humility...I cite her life as an example so that you may know how important it is to direct all our actions – no matter how lowly they may be – to the service of his divine Majesty” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, p. 214)

The Salesian tradition reminds us that great ways of keeping God’s commandments are rare; opportunities to display our love for God in remarkable ways are few and far between. By contrast, opportunities to love God and to keep his commandments in everyday, ordinary ways are legion. It is interesting to consider the possibility that it was St. Catherine’s ability to recognize – and to love – God in the midst of the mundane responsibilities and demands of everyday life that enabled her to recognize – and to love – God – in extraordinary ways!

Today how might we imitate St. Catherine’s example in our approach to the ordinary tasks that will be part and parcel of our experience today?

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(May 21, 2019: Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter)
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“Peace I leave you; my peace I give you…”

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

“God wishes our care to be a calm and peaceful one as we proceed faithfully along the road marked out for us. As for the rest, we should rest in God’s fatherly care, trying as far as is possible to keep our soul at peace, for the place of God is in peace and in the peaceful and restful heart. You know that when the lake is very calm – and when the winds do not agitate its waters – on a very serene night the sky with all its stars is so perfectly reflected in the water that looking down into its depths the beauty of the heavens is as clearly visible as if we were looking up on high. So when our soul is perfectly calm, unstirred and untroubled by the winds of superfluous cares, unevenness of spirit and inconstancy it is very capable of reflecting in itself the image of Our Lord.” (Conference III, On Constancy, pp. 50-51) Why were people able to see reflections of the Father in the person of his son, Jesus? Because in the depths of his soul – in his heart of hearts – Jesus managed to rest in his Father’s care. No matter what happened around him on any given day, Jesus was able to keep himself “calm, unstirred and untroubled”. If we are having trouble seeing reflections of that same Father in ourselves (or others), perhaps it is because we have some work to do in our own efforts to remain “calm, unstirred and untroubled” as we try to “proceed faithfully along the road marked out for us.”

Jesus adds this caveat as he offers peace to his disciples: “I do not give it as the world gives it…” What does this mean?

In broad strokes, many – if not most - of the things that the “world” offers us as sources of peace tend to come from the outside: income, zip code, cologne, clothing, cars, looks, diplomas, etc., etc. As we see in the case of Jesus, true peace comes from the inside!

It has been said that the essence of peace is being comfortable in your own skin. This way of being at peace, in turn, does not result in complacence. In contrast, it unleashes personal power flowing from a person’s clear and convincing sense of identity and purpose. In the ebb and flow that marked Jesus’ life and ministry, he was – remarkably and powerfully – comfortable in his own skin. He was at home with himself and with his Father’s will for him. Jesus’ way of being at peace, in turn, helped him to unleash this same peace – this power – in the lives of those he touched.

Jesus shows us the way to true peace in his own life – not a peace that is passive, but rather, a peace imbued with potential, possibility and power!

How can we experience that peace ourselves – and share that peace with others – today?

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(May 22, 2019: Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter)
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“Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit…” (John 15: 1-8)

From the perspective of St. Francis de Sales, the fruit that first comes to mind when hearing these words from Jesus is the most important fruit of all - charity or the love of God. Of course, this fruit-of-fruits is manifested in a whole host of ways. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The man who possesses charity has his soul clothed with a fair wedding garment which – like that of St. Joseph – is wrought over will all the various virtues. Moreover, it has a perfection which contains the virtue of all perfections and the perfection of all virtues. Hence, ‘charity is patient, is kind. Charity is not envious,’ but generous. ‘It is not pretentious,’ but prudent. ‘It is not puffed up’ with pride but is humble. ‘It is not ambitious’ or disdainful, but amiable and affable. It is not eager to exact ‘what belongs to it’ but is generous and helpful. ‘It is not provoked,’ but peaceful. It ‘thinks no evil’ but is meek. It ‘does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth’ and in the truth. ‘It suffers all things, believes all things’ that are said concerning good to it easily, without stubbornness, contention or distrust. It ‘hopes all’ good things for its neighbor without ever losing hope of procuring his salvation. ‘It endures all things,’ waiting without agitation for what is promised to it…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 8, p. 219)

How well do we remain in Jesus? Well, how patient and kind are we? How humble, amiable and affable are we? How meek, generous and humble are we? How truthful and hopeful are we? How patient and long-suffering are we?

Simply put, how much – and what kind of – fruit do we bear?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: May 9th - May 15th

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(May 9, 2019: Thursday of the Third Week of Easter)
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Do you understand what you are reading?”

This question raised in the today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles puts us in touch with Francis de Sales’ perspective on two gifts of the Holy Spirit: knowledge and understanding.

The Gift of Knowledge

“This divine gift, however, has little to do with mere human learning. The Spirit’s gift of knowledge is essential if we are to make good and effective use of the previous two gifts, if we are to know how to behave towards the God we mean to fear and love. It is about being capable of discerning evil to be avoided and the good to be sought. As the prophet says, offend no more; rather, do what is good. And be at rest always.”

Mere human knowledge only enables us to know the difference between good and evil. The Spirit’s gift of knowledge, by contrast, actually enables us to turn away from what is evil and to put our hands to doing what is good.

Francis concludes with this observation: “There have been saints, to be sure, who were wonderfully wise for all of their ignorance. There have been others, equally as certain, who have been wonderfully ignorant for all of their knowledge.”

The Gift of Understanding

“Understanding is a special enlightenment that enables us to see and penetrate the beauty and perfection of the mysteries of faith. We may listen to sermons, we may read widely; yet we can remain ignorant of these divine mysteries if we lack the gift of understanding. A simple soul, open in prayer, may gain some insight into the mystery of the Blessed Trinity – not to explain it, but to draw from it some secret aspect that can save – because the Holy Spirit has bestowed the gift of understanding. I always maintain that if anyone loses his soul, it is for want of following such mysteries of the faith, for example: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs; blessed are the patient, they shall inherit the land. Who is awake to the beauty of these principles, however, except those whom the Holy Spirit enlightens?”

There is no substitute for the knowledge that helps us to grow in our understanding of the ways of the Lord. However, we must be careful not to allow knowledge to take the place of understanding. While Francis de Sales recognizes the need to know the difference between good and evil (and, by extension, to actually do good and to actually avoid evil), such knowledge only comes to full flowering when we demonstrate our understanding of God’s ways through our practice of the Beatitudes.

Do you understand what you are hearing?

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(May 10, 2019: Friday of the Third Week of Easter)
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“He recovered his strength…”

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

“I entreat you by the love of him whom we both love, of Jesus Christ, to live consoled and peaceful in your infirmities. I glory in my infirmities, says our great St. Paul, so that the power of my Savior may dwell in me. Yes, indeed! Our misery is a as throne to make manifest the sovereign goodness of Our Lord.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 203)

Two men loom large in today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles: Saul (a.k.a. Paul) and Ananias. Each has his share of imperfections. Saul was blind. Initially he was blinded spiritually by his rage against and persecution of the followers of Jesus. Saul was subsequently blinded physically after his encounter with the voice of Jesus along the road to Damascus. For his part, Ananias was reluctant – perhaps, even resentful – at the prospect of welcoming and healing a great persecutor of any men or women who belonged to the Way.

And yet – as imperfect as they were - each played a role in God’s plan of salvation.

In a sermon on the “Failings of the Saints,” Francis de Sales preached:

“With the exception of our Blessed lady, all other creatures contain some imperfections. The man who denies that he has any imperfections is just as much a liar as the man who says that he has no perfections at all. Every man, however holy, has some imperfections; every man, however wicked, has some good points. Made in God’s image, each man reflects something of God’s goodness; made from nothing, each man always carries with him some imperfection.” (Pulpit and Pew, P. 258)

All of us are imperfect people. However, as we see in the cases of Saul (Paul) and Ananias, God asks imperfect people to be instruments of his light, life and love.

How might God like to make his “sovereign goodness” shine through our imperfection today by asking us to be instruments of God’s healing, redeeming and life-changing strength?

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(May 11, 2019: Saturday of the Third Week of Easter)
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“How shall I make a return to the Lord?”

In the first part of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales raises the same question on the context of the “First Meditation: On Our Creation.” After considering all of God’s benefits to us, Francis asks: “What can I ever do to bless your holy name in a worthy manner and to render thanks to your immense mercy?” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 9, p. 54)

Needless to say, Francis de Sales offers some suggestions as to how we might “make a return to the Lord.” These include:

“Give thanks to the Lord. ‘Bless your God, O my soul, and let all my being praise his holy name,’ for his goodness has drawn me out of nothing and his mercy has created me.”

“Offer. O my God, with all my heart I offer you the being you have given me. I dedicate and consecrate it to you.”.”

“Pray. O God, strengthen me in these affections and resolutions.”

How can I make a return to the Lord - by being the person that God has created me to be, and by encouraging others to do the same!

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(May 12, 2019: Fourth Sunday of Easter)
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Remain faithful to the grace of God.”

Paul and Barnabas’ advice to the Church in Antioch to “remain faithful to the grace of God” was sound advice for new believers living in the midst of religious ferment. But what did that pious exhortation practically mean for those who heard it and what does it mean for us today who seek to keep these words of scripture “real” in our lives?

It is a call to Salesian humility and gentleness.

Paul reminds all of us that Christians are called to be faithful. Living in truth about who we are reminds us that we are constantly in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. No one is perfect. We make mistakes and we need to be gentle as we forgive, not excuse, ourselves for them. Perfection allows for no mistakes; faithfulness does not allow us to be conquered by them.

It assumes an ongoing relationship with God in the first place.

How consistent and honest is our prayer life? It’s hard to be faithful to those with whom we never speak.

It demands a new vision.

Remaining faithful to God’s grace calls us to see life, its things and its events, as gifts freely given by a loving, empowering God who is for us and on our side. Our God is a loving Father, a Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep, not an evil hired hand who does not have the flock’s welfare constantly in mind.

It demands flexibility.

Grace, a free gift, cannot be controlled. It can make demands on us and stretch us and lead us to places we never would have gone by ourselves. DeSales once said: “Blessed are those with flexible hearts, for they shall never be broken.” Perhaps we can add: “Blessed too are those of “flexible faithfulness,” for the grace of God will always be there.

Paul and Barnabas’s ministry described in today’s first reading showed flexibility as they turned from their unsuccessful preaching to the Jews towards the more responsive and Spirit-led Gentiles. They looked for and saw the grace of God at work even in the midst of rejection and abuse. On a more humble, but no less important a scale, we are called to that same “flexible faithfulness” as we “preach” the grace of God by the way we live our lives with precision and passion. Paul and Barnabas were filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Our reward can - and will - be no less.

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(May 13, 2019: Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter)
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“Whoever does not enter through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber…”

Jesus wants us to “have life, and to have it to the full” (John 10:10) and he tells us there is a right way and a wrong way to do that. The gateway to that life is through him and through him alone - no workaround or short cut will suffice.

In the first few pages of his book Night, Ellie Wiesel reflects upon the image of heaven offered to him by his mentor Moishe the Beadle: “‘There are a thousand and one gates allowing entry into the orchard of mystical truth. Every human being has his own gate. He must not err and wish to enter the orchard through a gate other than his own. That would present a danger not only for the one entering but also for those who are already inside.’ Thus began my initiation. Together we would read, over and over again, not to learn it by heart but to discover within the very essence of divinity. And in the course of those evenings I became convinced that Moishe the Beadle would help me enter eternity, into that time when question and answer would become ONE.”

From a Salesian perspective, this makes absolute sense. Many people make the mistake of thinking that in order to “have life, and to have life to the full” they must become someone they’re not. Many people make the mistake of believing they must become someone else, while many people make the mistake of trying try to enter “through a gate other than” their own. What would Francis de Sales’ advise? “Be who you are and be that perfectly well.”

In the big scheme of things, Jesus is the one and only gateway to life. Still, Jesus is big enough to accommodate the fact that no two people enter through him in exactly the same way; no two people experience that fullness of life by walking in the exact same footsteps.

Do you want to experience fullness of life on earth? Do you want to experience fullness of life in heaven? Then don’t live someone else’s life.

Today, like Jesus, try to live your own life as best you can.

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(May 14, 2019: Matthias, Apostle)
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“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete…”

In a sermon entitled “Dedicated Hearts,” Francis de Sales stated:

“We might possibly reach a saturation point when it comes to our quest for wealth and honors, but when it comes to loving God, how can we ever say, “I have enough”? No limits can ever be set to our hunger and thirst for Him...’” (Pulpit and Pew, p. 223)

In other words, no matter how happy and joyful we might be, our happiness and joy will always be incomplete unless it includes the love of God. And in what will we find complete joy? In the opinion of St. Francis de Sales, it is experienced through our willingness to be what he describes as a “servant of God.” He wrote:

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

Jesus embodies the fullness of joy. Jesus shows us what a joyful and joy-filled life looks like.

Today, how can we imitate his example today and share His joy – as well as ours – with others?

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(May 15, 2019: Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter)
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“His commandment is eternal life…”

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

“Many men keep the commandments in the same way that sick men take medicine – more from fear of dying in damnation than for the joy of living according to our Savior’s will. Just as some people dislike taking medicine – now matter how pleasant it may be – simply because it is called medicine, so there are some souls who hold in horror things commanded simply because they are commanded. On the contrary, a loving heart loves the commandments. The more difficult they are the sweeter sand more agreeable it finds them since this more perfectly pleases the beloved and gives him greater honor. It pours forth and sings hymns of joy when God teaches it his commandments. The pilgrim who goes on his way joyously singing adds the labor of singing to that of walking, and yet by this increase of labor he actually lessens his weariness and lightens the hardship of the journey. In like manner the devout lover finds such sweetness in the commandments that nothing in this mortal life comforts and refreshes him so much as the precious burden’s of God’s precepts.” (TLG, Book XIII, Chapter 5, pp. 67-68)

Perhaps in this observation from Francis de Sales we can hear the echo of Jesus’ words from Matthew 11: 29 – 30: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

Seeing the commandments of God as strong medicine that cures our sickness can surely weigh us down but seeing the commandments of God as that which keep us healthy can surely lift us up.

How will you see – and experience – God’s commandments today - as burden or bounty?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: May 2nd - May 8th

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(May 2, 2019: Thursday of the Second Week of Easter)
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“The one who is of earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things…"

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say everything that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. Therefore, you must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purpose, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth’…Although we may sometime discreetly and prudently hide and disguise the truth by an equivocal statement, this must never be done except when the matter is important and God’s glory and service clearly require it. In any other such case such tricks are dangerous. As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or slippery soul. No artifice is as good and desirable as plain dealing. Worldly prudence and earthly artifice belong to the children of this world, but the children of God walk a straight path and their heart is without guile. Lying, double-dealing and dissimilation are always signs of a weak, mean mind.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

How can I tell if I am a person “who is of earth” or “who is of heaven”? In the opinion of Francis de Sales, look no further than the kind of words that come out of your mouth.

Of what kind of things – and values – will you speak today?

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(May 3, 2019: Phillip and James, Apostles)
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“Hold fast to the word I preached to you…”

In a letter to Andre Fremyot, Archbishop-elect of Bourges, which dealt with the topic of “Practical Preaching,” St. Francis de Sales wrote the following about the purpose of preaching:

“What end should a person have in view when preaching a sermon? The aim and intention should be to do what our Lord told us when he came into this world to do: ‘I have come so that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.’ The preacher’s object, then, is that sinners who are dead through sin may come to life again with a life that looks toward right doing and that the good – who possess spiritual life within them – may have it yet more abundantly, may become more and more perfect…So the preacher should say to himself when he is in the pulpit: “I have come so that these people here may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (Pulpit and Pew: A Study in Salesian Preaching, pp. 37 – 38)

While not all of us are called to preach from a pulpit, all of us are called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ through our actions. When we preach to others through the lives we attempt to live, do they find themselves a more – or less – abundant life?

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(May 4, 2019: Saturday of the Second Week of Easter)
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Do not be afraid...

“Terrible thing, to live in fear. Brooks Hatlen knew it. Knew it all too well. All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won't have to be afraid all the time…” (Morgan Freeman as Ellis Boyd Redding in The Shawshank Redemption.)

It isn’t all-together clear why the disciples were afraid in the selection from John’s Gospel. Was it the darkness? Was it the strong wind? Was it the appearance of Jesus? Regardless of the answer, they were fearful, but before their fear could get the upper hand, they suddenly discovered that they were safe.

In a letter he wrote to an ‘unnamed gentleman, Francis de Sales made the following observation:

“Mistrust of our strength is not a lack of resolve, but a true recognition of our weakness. It is better to distrust our capacity to resist temptation than to be sure that we are strong enough to do so, so long as we don’t count on from our own strength we don count on from the grace of God. This is how it happens that many persons who very confidently promised to do marvels for God failed when under fire, whereas many who greatly mistrusted their own strength and were afraid they would fail accomplished wonders when the time came, because the great awareness of their own weakness forced them to seek God’s help to watch, pray and be humble, so as not to fall into temptation…God, who does nothing in vain, does not give us either strength or courage when we don’t need them, but only when we do. He never fails us. Consequently, we must always hope that He will help us if we entreat Him to do so…Many are afraid before the skirmish, but the actual danger fills them with courage. We must not be afraid of fear. So much for that!” (LSD, p. 181)

What is there to fear? Great question! Perhaps that is the first step to avoid living in fear: to name what it is that you are tempted to fear. Perhaps the second step to avoid living in fear is to believe that God will give you the strength or courage you need to deal with your fears when you need it.

And not when you don’t!

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(May 5, 2019: Third Sunday of Easter)
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When you grow old someone else will lead you where you do not want to go."

Let's face it: we'd like to be in charge of our own lives. We like to do what we want, when we want, where we want and how we want. Given a choice, we would prefer to be the masters of our own destiny. Nowhere is this so obvious than in our teenage years and in our experience as young adults.

This touches every dimension of life: even our spiritual life. St. Francis de Sales wrote the following to St. Jane de Chantal: “Young apprentices in the love of God gird themselves; they take on the mortifications that they think are good; they choose a penance of their liking; they choose resignation and devotion of their own design.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 203)

However, gradually, a funny thing - and, sometimes, a not-so-funny thing - happens. We begin to learn some hard lessons about life. We learn that we don't have absolute control; we learn that we don't always have the first word, let alone get the last one. We learn that some of the best things in life are not of our own making, but are the designs of others.

This, too, applies to every dimension of our lives, including the spiritual: “The older masters of the trade allow themselves to be bound and girt by others, submitting to the yoke given to them by others, and finding themselves following the kinds of roads that they would not choose by their own inclinations. They stretch forth their hands: they willingly allow themselves to be governed by a will other than their own...this is how to give glory to God.” (Ibid)

Francis de Sales offers touching insight into his own struggle with this truth in a letter to Sr. Marie Ammie: “I am a poor, frightened little creature, the baby of the family, timid and shy by nature and completely lacking in self-confidence. That is why I should like people to let me live unnoticed and all on my own according to my own inclination." He continued: "When I was young and still had very little understanding I already lived like this; but although according to my temperament I am shy, nervous and timid as a mole, I want to make a good try at overcoming my natural preferences and, little by little, learn to do everything...that God has laid upon me.” (Selected Letters, page 242)

One might say that he secret to happy, healthy and holy living is to embrace the wisdom of age with the passion of our youth: to follow God's will for us rather than to stubbornly cling to our own, but to do this as passionately and persistently as if it were naturally or clearly our own preferences that we were pursuing.

This is not weakness: no, this is real strength. Christ's willingness to follow the will of his Father for him - difficult as it frequently was - unleashed in Jesus incredible power for life and love, justice and peace, healing and reconciliation. The promise of Easter is that the same power is available to us, provided that it is God's plan, not ours, which we follow.

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(May 6, 2019: Monday of the Third Week of Easter)
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Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord...”

In today’s Gospel the question is asked of Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” The answer is found in the antiphon to today’s Responsorial Psalm: “Follow the law of the Lord.”

What does it look like when we follow the law of the Lord? In the mind of St. Francis de Sales, the answer is: “Living a life of devotion.”

“Devotion is simply that spiritual agility and vivacity by which charity works in us or by the aid of which we work quickly and lovingly. Just as the function of charity is to enable us to observe all of God’s commandments (the law of the Lord) in general and without exception, so it is the part of devotion to enable us to observe them more quickly and diligently.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

Devotion enables us to follow the law of the Lord. Devotion enables us “to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired.”(Ibid) Such devotion enables us to experience the blessings of life for ourselves; this same devotion enables us to be a blessing in the lives of others.

How might we follow the law of the Lord today?

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(May 7, 2019: Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter)
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What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?

Jesus was constantly bombarded with requests for signs. People were constantly looking for reasons to put their faith in Jesus, but they wanted him to perform wonders and miracles in order to be convinced. In the event, Jesus gave people more than enough signs for believing in him. Unfortunately, those signs fell on the deaf ears, blind eyes and hard hearts of people who were basically saying to Jesus: “Sure, but what have you done for me lately?”

Aren’t we sometimes guilty of asking God for a favor, a sign or a wonder in order that we might really, really believe in him? Notwithstanding God’s proven track record of mercy and generosity in our regard, aren’t we sometimes guilty of saying to God, in effect: “Sure, but what have you done for me lately?”

What remedy can we apply to the temptation of constantly asking God for signs in order that we might believe in him? How about asking the question, “What signs can we do in order that others may see and believe in him?” How can we live our lives in ways that help others to believe in God? Rather than asking for signs, we should be asking to be signs in other people’s lives!

What have we done for God – or others – lately

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(May 8, 2019: Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter)
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I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger or thirst…”

In a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde (dated August 24, 1613), Francis de Sales wrote:

“As your heart continues receiving its Savior more often (in Communion) it would also continue being more perfectly converted to him. During the twenty-five years that I have been serving souls, experience has given me an insight into the all-powerful virtue of the Divine Sacrament for confirming hearts in the way of goodness, preserving them from evil, consoling them, and in a word, making them god-like in this world, provided that they are moved by a right faith, by purity and devotion.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, Chapter 29, pp. 215)

Jesus is the bread of life. Whoever comes to him – whoever receives him – will never hunger. Whoever believes in him – whoever receives him – will never thirst: with, perhaps, one exception.

The hunger and thirst to follow Jesus’ example in doing what is good!

* * * * *

Spirituality Matters 2019: April 25th - May 1st

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(April 25, 2019: Thursday of the Octave of Easter)
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“He showed them his hands and his feet.”

Following Jesus' crucifixion, the apostles were afraid. Their fear was quite understandable - perhaps even prudent - when you consider the real possibility that they would suffer the same death as Jesus if they were identified as his followers.

Jesus breaks into their lives in the midst of their fears. He attempts to calm their fears. He challenges them to be at peace by showing them his hands and his feet. Given the horrible wounds visible in both places, one might say that this is quite a strange way to dispel anxiety and grief.

Despite the power and glory of the resurrection, Jesus still bore the legacy of pain, disappointment, rejection, humiliation, suffering and death on his body. Herein lay the promise and the hope that Jesus offered: pain, suffering and loss - notwithstanding the scars that they leave - need not be the last word for those who believe in the love of God.

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, denial and discomforts we meet.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Pt III, Chap 3)

All of us have experienced pain and suffering. All of us bear the wounds of failure, betrayal, deception, disappointment, and loss. Our hearts, our minds, our memories - our souls - have the scars to prove it. Out of fear of being hurt further, like the apostles, we sometimes lock ourselves away in some small emotional or spiritual corner of the world, living in fear of what other pain or disappointments may come our way. We withdraw from life. In effect, we die with no hope of resurrection.

Jesus shows us that while we, too, have been wounded by life, the scars of pain, rejection, misunderstanding and mishap do not need to have the last word. We may, indeed, be permanently affected by things both unfortunate and unfair, but these need not rob us of the power and promise of recovery, of renewal - of resurrection - unless we allow ourselves to be defeated by the nails of negativity, by the lance of loss.

The scars of our humanity are a part of our past and a part of our present. They need not, however, determine the course of our future. Let's keep things in perspective. St. Francis de Sales remind us: "Look often on Christ, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, and overwhelmed by every kind of weariness, sorrow and labor."

Jesus not only survived but he also thrived! His faith, his passion, his resilience and his love, indeed, had the last word in his life.

Today won't you let his words have the same effect in your life?

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(April 26, 2019: Friday of the Octave of Easter)
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“Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples...”

Familiar with the term “one-hit wonder?”

“A one-hit wonder is a person or act known mainly for only a single success. The term is most often used to describe music performers with only one hit single. Because one-hit wonders are often popular for only a brief time, their hits often have nostalgic value and are featured on era-centric compilations and soundtracks to period films. One-hit wonders are normal in any era of pop music, but are most common during reigns of entire genres that do not last for more than a few years.” (Wikipedia)

When it comes to post-Resurrection appearances, Jesus was no one-hit wonder. Between the time of his Resurrection and his Ascension, Scripture records at least ten distinct appearances at different places, in different times and to different people. Jesus spoke to, ate and drank (even cooked) with and embraced a wide swathe of people during these appearances – some small and intimate, others large and public.

Today’s Gospel account from John recounts a small, more intimate appearance that Jesus makes to seven people. We are told that this was the “third time” Jesus was revealed to his disciples. Peter and the others go fishing but their efforts leave them empty-handed. Suddenly Jesus (initially unrecognized) appears and calls to them from the shore, directing them to cast their nets in a different place. Overwhelmed with the number of fish that they subsequently catch, Peter apparently is struck by the sense of déjà vue – he becomes eerily conscious of the almost-identical circumstances associated with his very first encounter with Jesus three years before. From that moment on, there is no question in his mind that “it is the Lord.”

Our Catholic-Christian tradition contains countless accounts of how the Risen Jesus continues to reveal himself unexpectedly in the lives of ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. Put another way, when it comes to post-Resurrection appearances, the hits keep coming.

How might the Risen Jesus reveal himself to you today?

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(April 27, 2019: Saturday of the Octave of Easter)
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“Observing the boldness of Peter and John…ordinary men.”

Many of us have been brought up to believe that boldness is something that we should eschew. This may be especially true for those who have ever been addressed at some point in their lives as a “bold, brazen article!” Such a description is certainly not an accolade that folks would normally seek!

Peter and John were bold: so bold as to identify themselves as the “companions of Jesus,” so bold as to proclaiming in Jesus “the resurrection of the dead,” and so bold as to heal a crippled man in the name of Jesus. Even after being detained, interrogated and ordered by the Sanhedrin to stop speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus – or else – Peter and John told them flat out that they would continue to speak about what they “had seen and heard” with vim and vigor, apparently without much – if any – care or concern about their own health, wealth or welfare. There can be no doubt that the Pharisees, Scribes and Elders might have considered Peter and John to be – in their own way – “bold, brazen articles!” No surprise here, if you consider that these same Pharisees, Scribes and Elders had formed the same opinion of Jesus.

It’s probably safe to say that on most days we preach and practice the Gospel in measured, discrete and considerate ways. We’re not trying to make waves; we’re not trying to draw crowds; in fact, we might actually be trying to ‘stay below the radar.’ But there are times in our lives when it is both fitting – and perhaps even imperative – that we proclaim and preach the Gospel in ways that other people might consider bold, perhaps even brazen!

In those moments, do we – ordinary men and women that we are – have the courage to identify ourselves as the “companions of Jesus?” 

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(April 28, 2019: Second Sunday of Easter)
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“Doubting Thomas” is an image—a moniker—that remains part of our language nearly two thousand years after the (in) famous post-Resurrection interaction between St. Thomas the Apostle and the risen Jesus.

We know by now that St. Francis de Sales drew upon many sources in order to proclaim the redeeming and transforming nature of God’s love. No surprise, then, that the “Gentleman Saint” gleans some valuable insights and lessons from the life—and the most well-known moment in the life—of this Apostle.

In a sermon preached at the Visitation community in Lyons a week before his own death, St. Francis de Sales began: “Historians of our day, when they discuss famous people, have a habit of hiding the truth and drawing a veil over evil, making these authors far from trustworthy. By contrast, the Holy Spirit speaks the truth without fear or favor. It is the normal practice of Holy Scripture to reveal frankly the sins of many very holy people. When the Spirit wishes to point to the forgiveness of Mary Magdalene, or to the tears of St. Peter, or to the conversion of St. Paul, for example, it recalls their faults before recognizing their repentance. It is the same with St. Matthew and others, especially St. Thomas.”

Not to be too hard on “Doubting Thomas,” Francis de Sales quickly reminds us that the “gravity of his fault only throws into even greater relief the infinite mercy of God compared to the unworthiness of sinners. Gods reigns in our wretchedness, so Scripture tells us.”

Doubtless we can all relate!

So, what are the lessons that Francis de Sales gleaned from the story of St. Thomas? “His first mistake was his failure to be present with the others. It is important to notice that no person achieves perfection in one leap, but bit by bit; similarly, no one falls from grace in a moment, but by little faults is led to greater. It is not for us to make light of being absent from the community at prayer or other exercises; if St. Thomas had been with the other apostles, he would have been a saint and a believer eight days sooner. Don’t think that a few days more or less make little difference: moments are precious, and we should hoard them.”

What was Thomas’ second mistake? “His refusal to believe when his companions told him: We have seen the Lord. He should have pressed the other apostles about the Savior’s appearance, and rejoiced with them at their good fortune. The pity is that he did just the opposite, and even went so far as to refuse to admit that he was in the wrong anywhere. All of us share this fault: if we make a mistake, we are unwilling to admit it. The one who makes excuses is his or her own accuser…”

What was his third mistake? Thomas “became stubborn and made wild, obstinate statements...St. Thomas was simply carried away by his passions: such behaviors, theologians tell us, can lead to mortal sin.”

And yet, for all that, God was not finished with Thomas. Because of God’s boundless mercy, this doubting apostle got a second bite at the apple. Jesus appeared to Thomas, and “he placed his fingers into the sacred wounds of his Savior.” And this one who had so strenuously doubted became a great herald of the Risen Christ...and was martyred for his faith.

Unlike Thomas, we need to take even more on faith. We don’t have the same luxury that St. Thomas did as he saw Jesus with his own eyes, both before and after Calvary. Nevertheless, for all our doubts or stubbornness we can nevertheless be transformed by the eyes of faith.

For many of us seeing is – indeed – believing. May others believe in Jesus’ love for them by what they see in us!

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(April 29, 2019: Monday of the Second Week of Easter)
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“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness…”

Many of us have been brought up to believe that boldness is something that we should eschew. This unfortunate situation may be especially true for those who have ever been addressed at some point in their lives as a “bold, brazen article”! Certainly not an accolade that folks would normally seek!

Not so for Peter and John. No sooner had they been released from imprisonment that they resumed proclaiming the Good News publicly with vim and vigor, apparently without much – if any – care or concern about their own health, wealth or welfare. There can be no doubt that the Pharisees, Scribes and Elders might have considered Peter and John to be – in their own way – “bold, brazen articles”! Then again, these same Pharisees, Scribes and Elders had the same opinion of Jesus.

It’s probably safe to say that on most days we preach and practice the Gospel in measured, discrete and considerate ways. We’re not trying to make waves; we’re not trying to draw crowds. But there are times in our lives when it is both fitting – and perhaps even imperative – that we proclaim and preach the Gospel in ways that other people might consider bold, perhaps even brazen!

In those moments, do we have the courage to do so?

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(April 30, 2019: Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter)
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"The community of believers was of one heart and mind...”

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

“‘By the Word,’ St. John said, that is, by that eternal Word who is the Son of God, ‘all things were made.’ Therefore, since this Word is most simple and most single, it produces all the variety among things. Since it is unchanging, it produces all changes that are good. Finally, since it abides eternally, it gives to all things their succession, changes, order rank and season.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 2, p. 106)

Saint Francis de Sales reminds us of one very important aspect of any community and/or family - diversity! While the early Christian “community of believers” may have been of one heart and mind, it’s difficult to imagine that this could be achieved without its share of challenges, conflicts and controversy. The fact that community always has its share of diversity begs the question: “What distinguishes a community that is “of one heart and mind” from one that is not? Perhaps it’s the ability – and the willingness – to agree on the things or values in life that really matter in order to build consensus around the issues that are really worth honoring as non-negotiables.

Today how might God call you to be “of one heart and mind” with others?

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(May 1, 2019: Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter)
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“Whoever lives the truth comes to the light so that his works may be clearly seen…”

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! As yet we do not see his face in the clear day of glory, but as it were in the first dawn of the day. If divine truths are so sweet when proposed in the obscure light of faith, O God, what shall those truths be like when we contemplate them in the noonday light of glory! We will see God manifest with incomprehensible clarity the wonders and eternal secrets of his supreme truth and with such light that our intellect will see in its very presence what it had believed here below!” (TLG, Book III, Chapter 29, pp. 189-190)

Living in the light of God’s truth enables us to see clearly God’s works in our lives. May our attempts at living in the light of God’s truth also enable other people to see clearly our works in their lives! After all, while we do walk by faith, we also walk by sight!

What do people see in me that gives witness to the truth of what God sees in all of us?

Spirituality Matters 2019: April 18th - April 24th

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(April 18, 2019: Holy Thursday)
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“Do you realize what I have done for you?”

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

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that he wills all of us to be saved that no one can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose he made us ‘in his own image and likeness’ by creation, and by the Incarnation he has made himself in our image and likeness, after which he suffered death in order to ransom and save humankind. He did this with so great a love...” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

While we may not be “ignorant” of what God has done for us (beautifully ritualized in the upper room at the Last Supper and dramatically demonstrated on the hill of Calvary) how much time – on any given day, in any given hour – do we spend reminding ourselves of how “great a love” God has for us?

Even to this very moment!

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(April 19, 2019: Good Friday)
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“He learned obedience from what he suffered…”

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

“Our Savior himself has declared, ‘By our patience you will win your souls.’ It is man’s greatest happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls. 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 meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered. He learned to listen to the voice of his Father by his practice of endurance, that is, through his willingness to see things through to the end. In so doing, he experienced the happiness and joy that even his suffering and death could not vanquish.

What kind of cross – be it injury, denial or discomfort – might God ask us to carry today? Are we up to the task?

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(April 20, 2019: The Vigil of Easter)
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"God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good…”

In 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 the Church – to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to one’s position and vocation…” (Part I, Chapter 3, p. 43)

Even before God created things – including us – God intended to underscore his love for the created order by becoming one of us in the person of his Son. Francis de Sales believed that it was the Incarnation that became the motivation for Creation. Thus, Creation made possible the ultimate expression of God’s love for the universe: the Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ. Because of “The Fall” the Incarnation took on an additional purpose: to save us from our sins.

Tonight’s readings from Scripture testify to the fidelity of God’s creative, Incarnational and redeeming love. Throughout all the ups and downs of human history, one constant has remained: God’s love for us. A love to the death…a love all about life.

Today, how can we show our gratitude for so wonderful – and faithful – a love? The answer -  by bringing forth the fruits of devotion! In so doing, we continue the creative, Incarnational and redemptive action of the God who loved us before the creation – and redemption – of the world.

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(April 21, 2019: Resurrection of the Lord)
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“The death and passion of our Lord is the sweetest and the most compelling motive that can animate our hearts in this mortal life…The children of the cross glory in this, their wondrous paradox which many do not understand: out of death, which devours all things, has come the food of our consolation. Out of death, strong above all things, has issued the all-sweet honey of our love.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 12, Chapter 13)

This, indeed, is the central mystery of our faith. Jesus, allowing himself to be consumed with passion and swallowed by death has, in turn, conquered death once and for all with the passion that is the power of eternal life.

Christ’s pathway of passion, death and resurrection was personal; it was unique. It had been fashioned by the Father from all eternity. Jesus was faithful to God’s vision for him. Jesus embraced his vocation as the humble, gentle Messiah. Jesus suffered the pain of death. Jesus experienced the power of rising again.

God has fashioned a personal path for each of us from all eternity.  Each of us has a unique role to play in the Father’s never-ending revelation of divine life, love, justice, peace and reconciliation. Still, the way to resurrection is the way of the cross – the way of giving up, of letting go, of surrendering all things, thoughts, attitudes and actions that prevent us from embodying the passion of Christ: the passion for all that is righteous and true.

Francis de Sales offers this image in Book 9 of his Treatise on the Love of God: “God commanded the prophet Isaiah to strip himself completely naked. The prophet did this, and went about and preached in this way for three whole days (or, as some say, for three whole years). Then, when the time set for him by God had passed, he put his clothes back on again. So, too, we must strip ourselves of all affections, little and great, and make a frequent examination of our heart to see if it is truly ready to divest itself of all its garments, as Isaiah did. Then, at the proper time we must take up again the affections suitable to the service of charity, so that we may die naked on the cross with our divine Savior and afterwards rise again with him as new people.”

Be certain of one thing - the daily dying to self that is part of living a passionate life is not about dying, stripping and letting go for its own sake. The goal is that we are may be purified to live more faithfully and effectively lives of divine passion. God does not desire that we die to self out of self-deprecation. God desires that we die to self in order that, ironically, we may become more of the person God calls us to be.

“Love is as strong as death to enable us to forsake all things,” wrote St. Francis de Sales. “It is as magnificent as the resurrection to adorn us with glory and honor.”

This glory and honor is not just reserved for heaven. To the extent that we die a little each day and experience the fidelity of God’s love in the midst of all adversity, trials, struggles and “letting go” - something of these gifts can be ours even here on earth.

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(April 22, 2019: Monday of the Octave of Easter)
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“Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed…”

There is no doubt that there were some folks who - after listening to Peter preach about Jesus the Nazorean on the day of Pentecost - might have asked themselves the question: “What, is he crazy?”

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

“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 will raise a host of objections which they consider very prudent and charitable. They will tell you that you will become depressed, lose your reputation in the world, be unbearable, and grow old before your time, and that your affairs at home will suffer.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 1, p. 235)

When we attempt to proclaim – be it in words or deeds – the power and presence of the Risen Jesus in our lives, we shouldn’t be shocked if some folks think we are crazy. For that matter, there may be some days when we also begin to wonder if we aren’t crazy too! Recall the words of St. Francis de Sales who ends this first chapter from Part IV of his Introduction to the Devout Life with this exhortation:

“All this is mere foolish, empty babbling. These people aren’t interested in your health or welfare. ‘If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hates you,’ says the Savior. We are crucified to the world and the world must be crucified to us. The world holds us to be fools; let us hold the world to be mad.”

If people think you’re crazy, then let it be for all the right reasons – most importantly, due to the effects of the love of the Risen Lord in your life!

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(April 23, 2019: Tuesday of the Octave of Easter)
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"Why are you weeping?”

In a letter written to Marie Bourgeois Brulart (of Dijon, wife of Nicolas Brulart who became president of the parliament of Burgundy in 1602), Francis de Sales wrote:

“Mary Magdalene is looking for Our Lord and it is Him she holds; she is asking for Him, and it is Him she asks. She could not see Him as she would have wished to see Him; that is why she is not content to see Him in this form and searches so as to find Him in some other guise. She wanted to see Him in robes of glory and not in the lowly clothes of a gardener; but all the same, in the end she knew it was Jesus when he called her by name.”

“You see, it is Our Lord in His gardener’s clothes that you meet every day in one place and another when quite ordinary occasions come your way. You would like Him to offer you different and more distinguished ones, but the ones that appear the best are not necessarily in fact the best. Do you believe that He is calling you by name? Before you see Him in His glory He wants to plant many flowers in your garden; they may be small and humble, but they are the kind that please Him. That is why He comes to you clothed in this way. May our hearts be for ever united to His and our will to His good pleasure! Be of good cheer and let nothing dismay you.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 136)

Sometimes the reason that we experience sadness and grief in our lives is not because we can’t find the Risen Jesus, but rather, because the Risen Jesus doesn’t always present himself to us in ways that we prefer or expect. As Mary Magdalene herself discovered we can never predict the situations or circumstances in which Jesus will call us by name.

Regardless of how Jesus may appear to us today, will we recognize His voice should he call us – however unexpectedly – by name? In the meantime, “be of good cheer and let nothing dismay you.”

Alleluia!

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(April 24, 2019: Wednesday of the Octave of Easter)
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“The disciples recounted how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of bread…”

“Breaking bread” - we see it in the practice of sharing food; we see it in the practice of sharing drink; we see it in the practice of sharing a meal. These events are quite simple, but it is in the context of such a common, ordinary, and everyday human experience that the Risen Christ chooses to reveal himself.

Of course, the experience of “breaking bread” isn’t limited to sharing physical food and drink. It speaks of relationship, intimacy, welcoming another, of being home with another and of sharing who we are with others and allows them to share who they are with us.

In today’s Gospel we need to realize that the two unnamed disciples were communicating with Jesus – were in communion with Him – hours before they actually sat at table with Him. And that “breaking bread” – that communication and communion – brings with it illumination and awareness. As Francis de Sales himself observed, “After the disciples at Emmaus communicated, ‘their eyes were opened.’” (On the Preacher and Preaching, p. 26)

In the space of any given week how many times do we ‘break bread” with others? How often do we stop to think how the Risen Christ may be trying to reveal something of who He is – and who we are – in the context of these common, ordinary and everyday human experiences in extraordinary ways?

How might our eyes need to be opened today by the experience of communication and communion?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: April 11th - April 17th

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(April 11, 2019: Thursday, Fifth Week of Lent)
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“I am making you the father of a host of nations…”

 In a conference (on “Hope”) he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation, St. Francis de Sales remarked:

“Among the praises which the saints give to Abraham, St. Paul places this above all the others: that Abraham believed in hope even against hope. God had promised him that his seed should be multiplied as the stars of the heaven and the sand on the seashore, and at the same time he received the command to slay his son Isaac. Abraham in his distress did not, however, lose hope, but hoped, even against hope, that if he obeyed the command and slew his son, God would not fail to keep His word. Truly, great was his hope, for he saw no possible foundation for it, except the promise which God had given him. Ah, how true and solid a foundation is the word of God, for it is infallible!” (Conference VI, pp. 88 – 89)

What does it really mean when we hope for something? The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines hope as “to wish for something with the expectation of fulfillment.”  It defines the theological virtue of hope as “the desire and search for a future good, difficult, but not impossible, to attain with God’s help.” From a theological point of view, there is much more to hope than mere wishful thinking.

In the opinion of St. Francis de Sales, we cannot fully understand the virtue of hope without also understanding the practice of aspiration. In Book Two of his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales distinguishes one from the other: “We hope for those things that we expect to gain through the aid of another, whereas we aspire to those things that we expect to gain through our own resources and our own efforts.” Of the relationship between these two practices, Francis wrote: “Just as those who would try to hope without aspiring are cowardly and irresponsible, so too, those who try to aspire without hoping are rash, insolent and presumptuous.” (Chapter 17)

As people of faith, we hope when we realize that the good things for which we wish ultimately depend on the grace of God.  As people of faith, we aspire when we recognize that the good things for which we wish also depend on our own efforts.

Hope against hope, Abraham believed in God. But Abraham also put his belief – and his hope – into action.

Today can the same be said of us?

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(April 12, 2019: Friday, Fifth Week of Lent)
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“I hear the whisperings of many…”

The more things change, the more they stay the same, especially when it comes to one of the most common kind of all whisperings.

Slander.

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

“Rash judgment begets uneasiness, contempt of neighbor, pride, self-satisfaction and many other extremely bad effects. Slander, the true plague of society, holds first place among them. I wish that I had a burning coal taken from the holy altar to purify men’s lips so that their iniquities might be removed and their sins washed away, as did the seraphim who purified Isaiah’s mouth. The man who could free the world of slander would free it if a large share of its sins and iniquity.”

“Slander is a form of murder. We have three kinds of life: spiritual, which consists in God’s grace; corporeal, which depends on the body and soul, and; social, which consists in our good name. Sin deprives us of the first kind of life, death takes away the second and slander takes away the third. By the single stroke of his tongue the slanderer usually commits three murders. He kills his own soul and the soul of anyone who hears him by an act of spiritual homicide and takes away the social life of the person he slanders.”

“I earnestly exhort you, never to slander anyone either directly or indirectly. Beware of falsely imputing crime and sins to your neighbor, revealing his secret sins, exaggerating those that are obvious, putting an evil interpretation on his good works, denying the good that you know belongs to someone, maliciously concealing it or lessening it by words. You would offend God in all these ways but most of all by false accusations and denying the truth to your neighbor’s harm. It is a double sin to lie and harm your neighbor at the same time.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 29, pp. 201-202)

What else need be said? Or, more to the point – what should no longer be said?

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(April 13, 2019: Saturday, Fifth Week of Lent)
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"I will be their God, and they will be my people."

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales 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 you shall be built, O 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, which will be his virgin spouse and true spiritual Israelite woman. As you see ‘it was not by’ any merit of ‘works that we did ourselves, but according to his mercy that he saved us.’ It was by that ancient – rather, that eternal – charity which moved his divine providence to draw us to himself. If the Father had not drawn us, we would never have come to the Son, our Savior, nor consequently to salvation.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 9, pp. 123-124)

God’s eternal charity – that is, God’s eternal love – makes us his people. We have done nothing to merit such an honor. It is an absolutely unearned gift. And despite our individual – and collective – sins, failings and infidelities, God demonstrates that – unlike us – he is never fickle and always faithful. God always has been, is and will be our God, and we always have been, are and will be God’s people.

What can we do – just this day – to say “thank you” to God for his fidelity to – and love for – us?

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(April 14, 2019: Palm/Passion Sunday)
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“The passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ…”

The Passion of Jesus is certainly an account of the end of his earthly life. But the Passion of Jesus is also something that was demonstrated every day of his earthly life.

  • A passion for human justice.

  • A passion for divine justice. 

  • A passion for doing what is right and good. 

  • A passion for challenging others to promote the same.

In his Treatise on the Love of God (Book 10, Chapter 16), St. Francis de Sales identifies three levels of such passion:

First, we can have a passion for correcting, censuring and reprimanding others. This is perhaps the easiest because it does not necessarily require those who are passionate about righteousness to actually perform acts of justice themselves. This form of zeal, obviously, can be very attractive because the focus is on what others are not doing. On the other hand, it can become a classic case of "do as I say, not as I do," because it does not require us to live in a just manner ourselves.

Second, we can be passionate "by doing acts of great virtue in order to give good examples by suggesting remedies for evil, encouraging others to apply them, and doing the good opposed to the evil that we wish to eradicate.” “This holds for all of us," remarks de Sales, "but few of us are anxious to do so." Sure, it requires work and integrity on our part. We can't simply talk the talk; we must also walk the walk.

"Finally, the most excellent exercise of passion consists in suffering and enduring many things in order to prevent or avert evil. Almost no one wants to exercise this passion." This passion is willing to risk everything for what is righteous and just, even life itself. "Our Lord's passion appeared principally in his death on the cross to destroy death and the sins of humanity," wrote St. Francis de Sales. To imitate Jesus' zeal for justice is "a perfection of courage and unbelievable fervor of spirit."

Jesus certainly challenged the injustice of others. Jesus was willing to promote justice through his own good example. Most important, Jesus was willing to go the distance in his passion for justice, even at the cost of his own life.

Passion Sunday - for that matter, every day - begs the question: How far are we willing to go in our passion for justice, that is, for what is right and good? 

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(April 15, 2019: Monday of Holy Week)
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“Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my Spirit…”

Obviously, Jesus is the servant whom God upholds. Obviously, Jesus is God’s servant. Obviously, Jesus is one upon whom God has put his Spirit.

Not so obvious? You, too, are the servant that God upholds. You, too, are God’s chosen one. You, too, are one upon whom God has put his Spirit.

How might you be pleasing – not only to God, but also to other people – today?

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(April 16, 2019: Tuesday of Holy Week)
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"The Lord called me from birth; from my mother’s womb he gave me my name...”

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

“Consider that a certain number of years ago you were not yet in the world and that your present being was truly nothing. My soul, where were you at that time? The world had already existed for a long time, but of us there was yet nothing. God has drawn you out of that nothingness to make you what you now are and he has done so solely out of his own goodness and without need of you. Consider the nature God has given you. It is the highest in this visible world. It is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.” (Part I, Chapter 9, p. 53)

From all eternity God chose to create us out of nothing and to make us something…to make us someone. What return can we make other than to stand in awe of God’s generosity towards us?

And to live accordingly!

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(April 17, 2019: Wednesday of Holy Week)
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“The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue that I might know how to speak to the weary…”

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

“‘If a man does not offend in word, he is a perfect man,’ says St. James. Be careful never to let an indecent word leave your lips, for even if you do not speak with an evil intention those who hear it may take it a different way. An evil word falling into a weak heart grows and spreads like a drop of oil on a piece of linen cloth. Sometimes it seizes the heart in such a way as to fill it with a thousand unclean thoughts and temptations. Just as bodily poison enters through the moth, so what poisons the heart gets in through the ear and the tongue that utters it is a murderer. Perhaps the poison the mouth casts forth does not always produce its effect because it finds its hearers’ hearts guarded by some protective remedy. Still it was not for want of malice that it did not bring about their death. No man can tell me that he speaks without thinking.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 26, pp. 194-195)

People who are weary – people who are tired – people who are worn down – are especially vulnerable to the words that others speak to them.

How will we speak to the weary today?

Spirituality Matters 2019: April 4th - April 10th

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(April 4, 2019: Isidore, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
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“I see how stiff-necked these people are…”

Regardless of what words you use – stiff-necked, obstinate, bull-headed, strong-willed – all of us have at least one thing in common with the Israelites described in to today’s selection from the Book of Exodus.

Stubbornness!

In a letter to Peronne-Marie de Chatel (one of the three women who joined Jane de Chantal at the first Visitation in 1610), Francis de Sales wrote:

“Truly, you are right when you say there are in you two men, or rather, two women. One is a certain Peronne who is a bit touchy, resentful and ready to flare up if anyone crosses her; this is the Peronne who is a daughter of Eve and therefore bad-tempered. The other is a certain Peronne-Marie who fully intends to belong totally to God, and who, in order to be all His, wants to be most simply humble and humbly gentle toward everyone; this is the Peronne-Marie who is a daughter of the glorious Virgin Mary and therefore of good disposition. These two daughters of different mothers fight each other. The good-for-nothing one is so mean that the good one has a hard time defending herself; afterward, the poor dear thinks she has been beaten and that the wicked one is stronger than she. Not at all, my poor dear Peronne-Marie! The wicked one is not stronger than you, but she is more brazen, perverse, unpredictable and stubborn...” (LSD, pp. 164-165)

Most days we already have enough on our plates trying to deal with our own stubbornness without even considering the stubbornness of others. In what ways are we stiff-necked? What are the issues and concerns about which we are obstinate? What are the things about which we are bull-headed? How does our stubbornness get in the way of our relationships with God and others, and perhaps, even my relationship with myself?

Yes, there’s something of both “Peronne-Marie’s” inside each and every one of us. Which one will get the upper hand today?

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(April 5, 2019: Vincent Ferrer, Priest)
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“Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us…”

“Obnoxious” is defined as “very annoying or objectionable; offensive or odious.” Synonyms include words like abhorrent, abominable, detestable, disagreeable, disgusting, dislikable or dislikeable, foul, hateful, horrid, insufferable, loathsome, nasty, nauseating, objectionable, obscene, odious, offensive, repellent, reprehensible, repugnant, repulsive, revolting, sickening and unpleasant.

Do you get the idea?

So, why is the just person persecuted for, well, being just? Often times it is simply because one person’s attempts to do the right thing may shine a spotlight on – however unintentionally – other people’s failure to do the right thing. Of course, we find the perfect example of this dynamic – you know, ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ – in none other than the life and ministry of Jesus himself. Jesus was far less concerned about pointing out others’ wrongdoings; he was more concerned about doing what was right. But on the other hand, Jesus was more than willing to call people out on their bad behavior and much more interested in showing people the path to living a good life. In other words, Jesus didn’t invest much time or energy in laying guilt trips on other people. Other people pretty much did that all by themselves. But, rather than experience the guilt as an invitation to make a change in their lives, Jesus’ enemies experienced the guilt as a reason for discrediting, opposing and – ultimately – getting rid of him.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, 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 meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Perish the thought, but it is possible that someone you encounter today may find you to be obnoxious. Of course, that could be because you are doing something wrong. On the other hand, it could be because you are doing something right. That’s unfortunate, because in a perfect world doing the right thing would never be obnoxious to anyone.

Of course, this isn’t a perfect world!

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(April 6, 2019: Saturday, Fourth Week of lent)
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"Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?"

We addressed this yesterday, but some things bear repeating. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, 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 meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

The unvarnished anger, resentment and jealously of the Pharisees is on public display in today’s Gospel. Not satisfied with merely bad-mouthing Jesus, they also ridicule anyone who would have the audacity to believe – that is, to accept – Jesus’ message. Their blind, smug belief in themselves – and their disdain for the common man – render the Pharisees totally impervious to considering how God’s plan of salvation might differ from their preconceived notions of God’s plan, to say nothing of Jesus’ role in it. Even Nicodemus – one of their own – gets thrown under the bus for daring to suggest that they should reconsider their perspective; or, at the very least, they should give Jesus a fair hearing.

Yesterday, we considered how others might find us obnoxious for doing what is right. Today, we might ask ourselves this question: do we ever find people who do the right thing obnoxious to us?

The truth is there might be something of the Pharisees in all of us.

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(April 7, 2019: Fifth Sunday of Lent)
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"For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things..."

In her book Praying Our Goodbyes, Joyce Rupp writes:

“Goodbyes are a part of every single day. Sometimes we choose them, sometimes they choose us. Usually they are small, not so significant losses that do not pain us very much, but at times they are deep, powerful, wounding experiences that trail around our hearts and pain inside of us for years.”

“Goodbyes, especially the more intense ones, cause us to face the ultimate questions of life: Why is there suffering? Where am I headed? What are my most cherished values? What do I believe about life after death? Goodbyes create a certain space in us where we allow ourselves room to look at life in perspective and to gradually discover answers to some of those questions about life. We also learn a great deal about the significant others in our lives; we learn who is willing to walk the long road with us, whose heart always welcomes us no matter what, who loves us enough to stand with us in good times and in bad, who is willing to love us enough to speak the truth for us or to us. Goodbyes, when reflected upon in faith, can draw us to a greater reliance upon the God of love, our most significant other.” (p. 10; 12)

There is no doubt – because he tells us so – that Paul experienced a great deal of loss and change in his life. But his losses did not leave him with nothing. Rather, his losses helped him to realize one thing that he could never lose in the midst of all the give-and-take that comes with life – the love of Jesus Christ.

Of course, that’s not to say that the love of Jesus shielded Paul from the pain that comes from the inevitable changes and losses of life. After all, Paul tells us that he still struggles to forget what has been left behind. But the love of Jesus helps Paul to make sense of what has come – and gone - before, thus enabling him to focus on what lies ahead, to turn his attention on what is still to come.

Paul’s losses and goodbye’s helped him to recognize in Jesus the most significant, dependable and loving “other” in his life.

What are our losses? How are we dealing with change? Where are our “goodbye’s” taking us?

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(April 8, 2019: Monday, Fifth Week of Lent)
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“It’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up.”

“After the Watergate break-in, ‘quick action, resolution on the spot,’ could have saved President Nixon, said Prof. Michael Useem, an expert in business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

‘It was the inaction, the cover-up, that absolutely ruined his reputation in history forever,’ he said. Since the Nixon administration, a mantra repeated during many scandals has been, ‘It's not the crime, it's the cover-up.’” (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/01/business/choosing-whether-to-cover-up-or-come-clean.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm)

In today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel, we are presented with what might be considered as the Watergate scandal of the Old Testament: the story of Susanna. In short, two elders of the people attempted to have their way with her – the crime. When she resisted, they accused her of adultery – the cover-up. In effect, they sinned against Susanna twice by (1) attempting to physically assault her, and (2) by falsely assaulting her reputation. In the end, their crime – and perhaps even more so, the cover-up – results in their paying the ultimate price – death.

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

“A soul that has consented to sin must have horror for itself and be washed clean as soon as possible out of the respect it must have for the eyes of God’s Divine Majesty who sees it. Why should we die a spiritual death when we have this sovereign remedy at hand?” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 19, p. 111)

Anyone can make a mistake. Why make it worse for yourself or others by covering it up?

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(April 9, 2013: Tuesday, Fifth Week of Lent)
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“We have sinned in complaining against the Lord…”

How quickly we forget.

In the first reading today from the Book of Numbers, we witness the complaining, whining and moaning of the Israelites as they continued their journey toward the Promised Land. Sure, the trek had been laborious; sure, the conditions were challenging; sure, the food and drink was less than desirable. But despite the fact that God had liberated them from the yolk of Egyptian slavery and oppression, the Israelites’ gratitude had clearly waned. Not only had they forgotten what God had done for them, but they also appear to have presumed that the pathway to freedom would be easy.

Dr. M. Scott Peck will probably be best remembered for the opening statement in his book The Road Less Travelled. The first chapter begins with these words: “Life is difficult.” Throughout much of his book the author maintains that a significant amount of human pain and grief is not the result of difficulties, but rather, much of the suffering and frustration that we experience is the direct result of our tendency to complain about life’s difficulties and our attempts to avoid them altogether. Such complaining and avoidance can lead to – among other maladies – a case of chronic ingratitude.

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

“Complain as little as possible about the wrongs you suffer. Undoubtedly a person who complains commits a sin by doing so, since self-love always feels that injuries are worse than they really are…In the opinion of many – and it is true – constant complaining is a clear proof of lack of strength and generosity. (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 130)

On some level, we can all relate to the Israelites. We’ve all experienced tough times. We’ve all gotten bad breaks. We’ve all had our share of difficulties and disappointments. We’ve all had moments when we felt that the road to happiness shouldn’t take so much time, effort and energy. But we also know from our own experience that chronic complaining is toxic. It poisons our perceptions and perspectives, and it ultimately does nothing to address or reduce whatever difficulties we may be facing, be they real and/or imagined. In fact, chronic complaining simply makes things worse – for us, as well as for those around us.

Do you suffer from chronic complaining? If you do, then today try applying the surest remedy of all.

Gratitude!

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(April 10, 2019: Wednesday, Fifth Week of Lent)
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“The truth will set you free…”

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

“Our free will is never as free as when it is a slave to God’s will, just as it is never as servile as when it serves our own will. It never has so much life as when it dies to self, and never so much death as when it lives to itself. We have the liberty to do good and evil, but to choose evil is not to use but to abuse this liberty. Let us renounce such wretched liberty and subject forever our free will to the rule of heavenly love. Let us become slaves to dilection, whose serfs are happier than kings. If our souls should ever will to use their liberty against our resolutions to serve God eternally and without reserve, Oh, then, for love of God, let us sacrifice our free will and make it die to itself so that it may live in God! A man who out of self-love wishes to keep his freedom in this world shall lose it in the next world, and he who shall lose it in this world for the love of God shall keep it for that same love in the next world. He who keeps his liberty in this world shall find it a serf and a slave in the other world, whereas he who makes it serve the cross in this world shall have it free in the other world. For there, when he is absorbed in enjoyment of God’s goodness, his liberty will be converted into love and love into liberty, a liberty infinitely sweet. Without effort, without pain, and without any struggle we shall unchangingly and forever love the Creator and Savior of our souls. (Treatise 12: 10, pp- 277-278)

The Salesian tradition holds this truth about human freedom: it is not about being able to do whatever we want – that isn’t freedom, that’s license. True human freedom is about being able to do whatever it is that God wants us to do.

How might this truth set you free today?

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Spirituality Matters 2019: March 28th - April 3rd

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(March 28, 2019: Thursday, Third Week of lent)
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“If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts…”

If you ask a group of people the question, “What is the worst thing that can happen to the human heart?” many folks will almost instinctively respond by answering, “When it breaks.”

However painful a broken heart may be, there is actually something far worse than can happen to a human heart - “When it hardens.”

The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah cites some characteristics or qualities frequently associated with hardening of the heart. These include:

  • Not paying attention or heed
  • Being disobedient
  • Turning ones back on God and others
  • Being stiff-necked
  • Not listening
  • Not answering
  • Being unfaithful
And in the case of today’s Gospel, we witness a particularly toxic variation on hardening of the heart: refusing to acknowledge the power of God at work in the lives of others, refusing to acknowledge that God can choose to work in the lives of others that often confound – and contradict – worldly wisdom.

Nobody wants a broken heart! However, a broken heart can serve as a kind of spiritual pulse. Wounded as we might be, at least it can remind us that we are still alive! By contrast, a hardened heart ultimately leads to one thing and one thing only - death.

If you hear God’s voice today, with what kind of heart will you listen?

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(March 29, 2019: Friday, Third Week of Lent)
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“Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good…”

The words taken from the Book of the Prophet Hosea are an invitation for Israel to turn away from its collective hardness of heart and to turn their hearts back to where they belong - God. Hardness of heart – stubbornness of will, coldness of spirit – has brought ruin upon Israel. Through the prophet, God invites Israel to experience once again the fullness and fruitfulness that comes from refusing to place other gods before Him.

Hosea challenges Israel to believe that God is fully prepared to forgive all their iniquity. God will forgive them their sins. Israel is assured that God is once again willing to accept offerings from the people. God will accept their sacrificial goods.

On an entirely different level, however, these same words from Hosea cut both ways. After all, doesn’t God expect us to forgive the iniquities of others? Doesn’t God expect us to accept the good in others?

How can we forgive and accept others today, just as God forgives us and accepts the good in us…for all eternity?

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(March 30, 2019: Saturday, Third Week of Lent)
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"O God, be merciful to me, a sinner..."

We are told in today’s Gospel that the man who identified himself as a sinner – and who asked for the mercy of God – is the one who “went home justified,” unlike the Pharisee who in his smug self-absorption thanked God for making him better than most other people. While the latter puffed himself up, the former wasn’t necessarily putting himself down, but rather, he was simply speaking the truth.

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

“Nothing can so effectively humble us before the mercy of God as the multitude of his benefits. Nor can anything so much humble us before the justice of God as the enormity of our innumerable off3enses. Let us consider what God has done for us and what we have done against Him; and as we reflect upon our sins – one by one – so let us consider his greater graces in the same order. What good do we have which we have not received from God? And if we have received it, why should we glory in it? On the contrary, the lively consideration of graces received makes us humble, insofar as knowledge of these graces should excite gratitude within us.” ( Select Salesian Subjects, 0048, p. 12)

The Pharisee and the tax collector are a study in contrast: one’s accounting of God’s graces in his life left him arrogant and aloof, whereas another’s accounting of God’s graces in his life left him humble and grateful.

Who would you rather be today?

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(March 31, 2019: Fourth Sunday of Lent)
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"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them..."

Thus is the resentment leveled against Jesus in today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke. In response, Jesus proceeds to tell the Pharisees and scribes a parable: the parable of the prodigal son.

The word “prodigal” is defined as “rashly or wastefully extravagant.” Well, that certainly describes the younger son to a tee. After all, he demands an inheritance (to which, as the younger son, he was not entitled) and promptly blows his entire fortune – with all of his supposed friends – on irresponsible living.

The word “prodigal” is also defined as “lavish in giving.” Well, that certainly describes the father. After all, not only does he not rub his younger son’s face in his failure – or treat him like a slave - but he also welcomes him back, forgives him and restores his place and position in the family.

The word “prodigal” is also defined as “lavish in yielding.” Well, that certainly describes the older son, or more to the point, the older son’s struggle. The story ends with the father begging the older brother to let go of his resentment – to set aside his anger – toward his younger brother’s return as well as toward his father’s lavish celebration of the younger brother’s return.

Taken together, Jesus is the ultimate “Prodigal Son.” What could be more yielding than Jesus’ willingness to take on the fullness of our humanity? What could be more lavish than Jesus’ teaching, preaching, forgiving, and healing day in and day out? What could be more extravagant than Jesus’ laying down his very life for us?

It turns out that – as far as God is concerned – there are many ways of being extravagant, lavish, giving and yielding in our relationships with others. How might God be inviting us to be his “prodigal” sons and daughter today?

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(April 1, 2019: Monday, Fourth Week of Lent)
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“The man believed what Jesus said to him...”

In today’s Gospel, a royal official – whose name we never learn – asked Jesus to save his son, who was apparently near death. Obviously, this was going to involve some travelling on Jesus’ part (upwards to a full day, as it turned out!), insofar as the official asked Jesus to “come down” – presumably, to their home – and heal his son. Much to the surprise of the official, Jesus simply tells him – without making the trip to actually visit the boy – that his son has already been saved.

And the official “believed what Jesus said to him.” In other words, he took Jesus at his word…and headed home.

You don’t think it’s a big deal? Then put yourself in the official’s position. Can you imagine what was going through his mind, minutes - then hours - after beginning his long walk back home? He had lots of time to second-guess his decision to simply believe Jesus’ statement. “What was I thinking about?” “Am I crazy?” “Should I have insisted that he come with me?” “Was I stupid to believe him?” “What if my son has died by the time I get home?” “Did I let my son – and my family – down?” “Have I failed?”

Talk about faith! A faith, as it turns out, for which he and his entire family were richly rewarded.

St. Francis de Sales once wrote:

“Believe me, God who has led you up until now will continue to hold you in His blessed hand, but you must throw yourself into the arms of His providence with complete trust and forgetfulness of self. Now is the right time. Almost everyone can manage to trust God in the sweetness and peace of prosperity, but only his children can put their trust in Him when storms and tempests rage: I mean to put their trust in Him with complete self-abandonment.” (Select Salesian Subjects, 0130, p. 28)

When it comes to “complete trust and forgetfulness of self” the standard doesn’t get much higher than the one set by the royal official in today’s Gospel.

How does our trust in God today – especially in the midst of our own “storms and tempests” – measure up?

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(April 2, 2019: Tuesday, Fourth Week of Lent)
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“Wherever the river flows, every sort of living…creature shall live…”

Water, water everywhere! That’s how we might summarize the images from today’s reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah! The suggestion, of course, is that the reach of God’s power knows no borders or bounds.

In a letter to Mademoiselle de Soulfour, Francis de Sales likewise used the image of water. He wrote:

“Remind yourself that the graces and benefits of prayer are not like water welling up from the earth, but more like water coming down from heaven; therefore, all our efforts cannot produce them, though it is true that we must ready ourselves to receive them with great care, yet humbly and peacefully. We must keep our hearts open and wait for the heavenly dew to fall.” (LSD, p. 100)

Regardless of whether it flows up from the earth or falls down from the heavens, what’s more important is to remind ourselves that the water of God’s love is welling up inside each and every one of us and is meant to be shared with all those around us.

Today let it flow!

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(April 3, 2019: Wednesday, Fourth Week of Lent)
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“The Lord is gracious and merciful…”

Gracious. Merciful. These two attributes are deemed synonymous with God in today’s responsorial psalm. And as it turns out, these same attributes – and others like them – are very much a part of the Salesian tradition.

In the book Francis de Sales, Jane de ChantalLetters of Spiritual Direction, we read:

“Chief among the Salesian virtues – and the one that belongs distinctively to this tradition, rather than to the wider contemplative heritage – is douceur. A difficult term to translate, douceur has been rendered in English as ‘sweetness,’ ‘gentleness,’ ‘graciousness,’ ‘meekness, and ‘suavity.’ None of these translations do it full justice. Douceur is a quality of person that corresponds to the light burden offered by the Matthean Jesus to those otherwise heavily-laden. It connotes an almost maternal quality of serving others that is swathed in tender concern. Salesian douceur also suggests a sense of being grace-filled and graceful in the broadest use of the term. This gracefulness extends from external demeanor – polite manners and convivial disposition – to the very quality of a person’s heart, that is, the way in which a person is interiorly ordered and disposed…stressing the harmony, beauty and grace of the whole person and which de Sales saw as reflecting the beauty and harmony of God.” (pp. 63-64)

God is indeed gracious and insofar as we are made in God’s image and likeness, how can we imitate that graciousness today in the hope of reflecting something in our own lives of “the beauty and harmony of God?”

Spirituality Matters 2019: March 21st - March 27th

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(March 21, 2019: Thursday, Second Week of Lent)
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“Remember that you received what was good during your lifetime…”

The parable in today’s Gospel does not require a great deal of explanation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is a warning - a stern warning. Acts have consequences; choices have ramifications; decisions have results. What goes around comes around.

However, take note of one detail in the story: the rich man who “dressed in purple and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day” is not condemned because of his good fortune – he is condemned because of his failure to share his good fortune with someone less fortunate.

Lent is a good time to reflect upon all the good – all the blessings – that God continues to shower upon us. Lent is also a good time to consider how good we are – or aren’t – at sharing our goods with others.

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(March 22, 2019: Friday, Second Week of Lent)
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“When his brothers saw that their father loved him best…they hated him…”

This is a famous story from the Book of Genesis. It is a story of family feud. It is a story of internecine jealousy. It is a story of unspeakable betrayal.

And in the end, it is a story of God’s unpredictable providence!

Joseph is his father’s favorite; his older brothers hate him for it. Blinded by their resentment and envy, they plot to murder Joseph. At the last moment, however, Reuben has second thoughts. He proposes that they essentially leave their brother to die in the desert (hoping that he might subsequently rescue his brother). At first blush, it seemed that Reuben’s plan might work after all until a caravan of foreigners appeared. The plan is changed again: the brothers – even Rueben, by all accounts – decide to sell Joseph into slavery. This provides the brothers with an out: they don’t actually take Joseph’s life, but they can get Joseph out of their lives nonetheless.

Twenty years later Israel finds itself in the grip of a devastating famine. At the end of their respective ropes, Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt with the hope of finding food and shelter. Imagine their surprise – and shame - when they find themselves face-to-face with the brother whom they had sold into slavery, presumably unto death.

There is a great mystery here to be considered. Absent his brothers’ treachery, Joseph’s kin – and presumably, Joseph himself – might have all been consumed by the famine that swept through Israel twenty years after selling their brother into slavery. How could anyone have anticipated that an act of betrayal could turn into a tale of salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation?

What’s the moral to the story? Sometimes in life good things happen for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes in life even the most loathsome of intentions can produce inspired turn-of-events. Simply put, God can make miracles out of the worst of circumstances.

Today reflect on this question: are they any examples of such experiences in your own life?

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(March 23, 2019: Saturday, Second Week of Lent)
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"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them..."

Thus is the resentment leveled against Jesus in today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke. In response, Jesus proceeds to tell the Pharisees and scribes a parable: the parable of the prodigal son.

The word “prodigal” is defined as “rashly or wastefully extravagant.” Well, that certainly describes the younger son to a tee. After all, he demands an inheritance (to which, as the younger son, he was not entitled) and promptly blows his entire fortune – and all of his supposed friends – on irresponsible living.

The word “prodigal” is also defined as “lavish in giving.” Well, that certainly describes the father. After all, not only does he not rub his younger son’s face in his failure – or treat him like a slave - but he welcomes him back, forgives him, and restores his place and position in the family.

The word “prodigal” is also defined as “lavish in yielding.” Well, that certainly describes the older son, or more to the point, the older son’s struggle. The story ends with the father begging the older brother to let go of his resentment – to set aside his anger – toward his younger brother’s return as well as toward his father’s lavish celebration of the younger brother’s return.

Is there anything in that story to which you can really relate at this point in your life? Is there anyone in the parable with whom you can most closely empathize?

What is your answer? Why?

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(March 24, 2019: Third Sunday of Lent)
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“The place where you stand is holy ground...”

“Holy ground.” The term conjures up images of mountaintops shrouded in smoke, sanctuaries illuminated by candlelight, grand churches with vaulted ceilings and ancient monasteries in remote locations. Such places may indeed provide the opportunity to stand on “holy ground,” but there’s a lot more to “holy ground” than meets the eye.

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

“There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly they always encounter the air, so too, whoever we go – or wherever we are – God is truly present…Thus you must say with your whole heart and in your heart, ‘O my heart, my heart, God is truly here!’ Remember that God is not only in the place where you are but is also present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit. Just as the soul is diffused throughout the entire body and is therefore present in every part of the body – but especially in the heart – so also God is present in all things but always resides in a special manner in your spirit. For this reason David calls him ‘the God of his heart,’ and St. Paul says that ‘we live, and move and are in God.’ Therefore in consideration of this truth excite in your heart great reverence toward God who is so intimately present in you.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, pp. 84-85)

Today, do you want to stand on “holy ground”? Then look in a mirror!

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(March 25, 2019: Annunciation of the Lord)
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“Ask for a sign from the Lord your God…”

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance of making such a request of God? Who wouldn’t say “yes” to the opportunity for God to display His power for us and/or for someone whom we love? Yet, in today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Ahaz balks when given the opportunity of a lifetime and he takes a pass. He backs away, saying, “I will not tempt the Lord.”

What’s up with that? Perhaps Ahaz’s reluctance is rooted in his intuition that signs from the Lord often require changes in the one who asks for the sign in the first place! Under those circumstances, his circumspection makes a whole lot more sense. Remember the admonition? “Be careful what you pray for…”

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

“Devout discussions and arguments, miracles and other helps in Christ’s religion do indeed make it supremely credible and knowable, but faith alone makes it believed and known. It brings us to love the beauty of its truth and to believe the truth of its beauty by the sweetness it diffuses throughout our will and the certitude it gives to our intellect. The Jews saw our Lord’s miracles (signs) and heard his marvelous doctrines, but since they were not disposed to accept the faith, that is, since their wills were not susceptible to the sweet and gentle faith because of the bitterness and malice with which they were filled, they remained in their infidelity. They saw the force of the proof but they did not relish its sweet conclusion…” (TLG, II, Chapter 14, pp. 139 – 140)

Of course, God has been giving us signs of his love for us - regardless of whether we have asked for them or not - from the very beginning of time. Creation, itself – through which we were made in God’s image and likeness - is the first and fundamental sign of God’s love for us. As today’s Gospel reminds us, Jesus is the great reaffirmation of that first and fundamental sign of divine love, because Jesus not only redeems us, but through Jesus God also made himself in our image and likeness.

If you are so moved, feel free to ask God for a sign of his love and care. However, it is better that we be more moved to be signs of God’s love and care in the lives of one another.

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(March 26, 2019: Tuesday, Third Week of Lent)
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“Let our sacrifice be in your presence today…”

This line from the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel would suggest that it is possible to sacrifice something without being in God’s presence. But - as we heard so clearly and convincingly from St. Francis de Sales yesterday - it is not possible to sacrifice something apart from God’s presence because there is no place in this world in which God is not truly and fully present.

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

“Although faith assures us of God’s presence we forget about him and behave as if God were far distant from us because we do not see him with our eyes. We really believe that God is presen5t in all things, but because we do not reflect on this fact we act as if we did not believe it.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)

Whatever we might choose to offer to God today – regardless of what it is that we may want to sacrifice for God today – just remember our offerings and sacrifices are not intended to draw God’s attention to us. Rather, our offerings and sacrifices are designed to draw our attention to God!

Over and over again!

Spirituality Matters 2019: March 14th - March 20th

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(March 14, 2019: Thursday, First Week of Lent)
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“Ask and it will be given to you…”

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

“If a man prays to God and perceives that he is praying, he is not perfectly attentive to his prayer. He diverts his attention from God to whom he prays in order to think of the prayer by which he prays. A man in fervent prayer does not know whether he prays or not, for he does not think of the prayer he makes but of God to whom he makes it.” (TLG, Part IX, Chapter 10, p. 122)

If Jesus invites us to ask for things in prayer, who are we to refuse him? However, we need to be open to the fact that God may not always give us what we want in ways that we want. God indeed answers our prayers, but not always in ways to our liking.

For his part, Francis de Sales asks us for something. When it comes to prayer, he asks us to be less concerned about the things for which we ask and more focused upon the person to whom we bring our requests. After all, what could be better than any one thing that God might give us when compared with what God has already given us in the person of his Son?

Himself!

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(March 15, 2019: Friday, First Week of Lent)
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“If the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, St. Francis de Sales observed:

“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 that have no need for 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 that if we had never had leprosy. This is to the end that God’s majesty, as he has ordained for us as well, should not be ‘overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good’… (TLG, Book II, Chapter 5, pp. 115 – 116)

This display of God’s generosity is nothing if not breathtaking. God loves us so much that not only does God not hold our sins against us if we should repent from our evil ways - God goes even further by applying his grace to our repentance in ways that can transform us into something more beautiful than if we had never committed sin in the first place! How generous is God? God can even turn our sins into a means of our salvation if we but trust in his unconditional and abiding love for us. But should this really surprise us? After all, have you ever noticed that some of the greatest of saints started out by being the greatest of sinners?

Are there any ways in which you are disfigured by the leprosy of sin? Don’t be ashamed. Rather, be assured that God can transform your spiritual disfigurement into something – actually, someone – far more beautiful than you could ever have believed possible.

And God will affect something of this transformation even today!

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(March 16, 2019: Saturday, First Week of Lent)
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"Be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul..."

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

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to the 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 good but also do this carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Indeed, “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!”

Carefully, frequently and promptly!

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(March 17, 2019: Second Sunday in Lent)<
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“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

Those who recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah certainly do their level best to “listen to him.” Of course, disciples of Jesus can’t limit discipleship to merely listening to him. They have to put into action what Jesus says to them. They have to imitate him; they have to follow his example.

We certainly hear an example of this in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He encourages this community of Christians – followers of Jesus – to not only listen to what Paul has to say, but also to imitate his example of how to put the Good News of Jesus Christ into action. The specific advice that Paul offers to the Philippians includes:

  • Conducting themselves in accord with the example that Paul and others have attempted to provide
  • Avoiding any temptation to participate in shameful activities
  • Eschewing the practice of filling their minds with earthly things
  • Acting as citizens of heaven
  • Conforming their earthly bodies to Jesus’ glorified body
  • Standing firm in the Lord.
By all means let us listen to the Lord today. But remember this: just as talk can be cheap, so, too, can listening be if it fails to lead to a change of mind, heart soul and spirit…in ways that can be experienced by others.

Are you listening?

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(March 18, 2019: Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful…”

What does it mean to be merciful as the Father is merciful? As the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel suggests, it is about being generous – by being loyal. Daniel wrote: “Lord, great and awesome, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those people who love you and observe your commandments!” Daniel then proceeds to remind his audience that the Lord also keeps his merciful covenant with those people who rebel against God’s commandments and laws through sin, evil and wickedness. Of course – as we know from our own experience - there is something of both within each one of us – we who both obey and disobey God’s commandments. And still, for all that, God remains loyal to us in good times, in bad times and in all the times in between. God stands by us in all things. God loves us no matter what. God is, after all, “compassion and forgiveness.”

Of course, God’s mercy, generosity and fidelity come with some pretty high expectations. God’s forgiveness should lead us to practice compassion, not complacence. As God doesn’t judge us, so we should not judge others! As God doesn’t condemn us, so we should not condemn others! As God forgives us, so we should forgive others! As God gives to us, so we should give to others! The measure with which we measure to others should measure up to how generously God measures to us…in all kinds of times, places and situations!

Would you like to be “great and awesome” in the eyes of God? Then try to do your level best to be merciful to others today as God is clearly merciful to you!

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(March 19, 2019: Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“Joseph her husband was a righteous man…”

In a conference (The Virtues of St. Joseph) he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation, St. Francis de Sales remarked:

“Now, our glorious St. Joseph was endowed with four great virtues (constancy, perseverance, strength and valor) and practiced them marvelously well. As regards his constancy, did he not display it wonderfully when seeing Our Lady with child, and, not knowing how that could be, his mind was tossed with distress, perplexity and trouble? Yet, despite all, he never complained, he was never harsh or ungracious towards his holy Spouse, but remained just as gentle and respectful in his demeanor as he had ever been…” (Living Jesus, p.184)

Joseph experienced more than a little turmoil in his role as husband and father of the Holy Family. However, being the just and righteous man that he was, Joseph never took out his frustrations on his wife or on his son. Rather, he accepted life’s ups and downs as expressions of God’s will for him.

And so, we pray: God grant us the grace to imitate the example of St. Joseph. Help us to take whatever comes in life without taking it out on others – especially on those we love the most.

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(March 20, 2019: Wednesday, Second Week of Lent)
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“What do you wish…?”

“What’s in it for me?” On some level that’s essentially what the mother of James and John is asking Jesus in today’s Gospel story. Whether her sons put her up to it or she came up with it all by herself, she is basically asking, “Why should my sons follow you? What’s the pay-off?” On the face of it, her request is perhaps reasonable, given Jesus’ prediction of his own falling out with the chief priests and the scribes that will lead to his being condemned, mocked, scourged and crucified. She wants some guarantee that her boys will have something to show for their trouble that she intuits will invariably come.

Really – what mother wouldn’t be concerned?

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, 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 meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

There is no way around it – the experience of enduring injuries, denials and discomforts is part-and-parcel of the life that comes with drinking the chalice from which Jesus drinks. Following Jesus – he who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – isn’t all smiles and sunshine. And somewhere deep down inside the mother of James and John whispers to us variations of her question to Jesus: “Why are you following Him? What’s in it for you? What do you hope to get out of this?”

“Must good be repaid with evil?” Some days it sure feels that way! Be that as it may, why do we continue to follow Jesus? Why do we drink from the chalice from which He drank?

Today ask yourself the question: “What’s in it for me?”