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?”