Spirituality Matters 2018: May 3rd - May 9th

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(May 3, 2018: Philip 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)

Philip and James – as in the case of all the Apostles – preached the Good News of Jesus Christ in order that others might be saved. They spent their lives holding fast to the word of God even as they shared that word with others, to the point of shedding their blood.

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. How might we hold fast to the word preached to us by the quality of our lives lived with others, that is, to help others to have life – and have it abundantly?

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(May 4, 2018: Friday, 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 beyond these necessities…”

In today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles, we see an exercise of what might be called “pastoral discretion”. As growing numbers of Gentiles became disciples of Jesus Christ, apparently some of the more-established Jewish converts were attempting to impose what would have been considered traditional Jewish customs on their Gentile brothers and sisters. Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas were sent to Antioch – boots on the ground – to sort these things out. In the end, they determined that “less was more”. They dispensed with the temptation to load people with burdensome obligations while at the same time establishing a minimum threshold: “Abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals and from unlawful marriage”.

In his own way, Francis de Sales practiced a less-is-more approach to pastoral discretion. In a day when many spiritual guides were (however unintentionally) burdening people who were seeking to live a devout life, with practice after practice after practice, Francis established this minimum threshold: follow the commands and counsels of God carefully, frequently and promptly – his shorthand definition of devotion.

What’s the moral to the story? Following Jesus consists less in carrying heavy burdens and more about only doing what is right – doing good things for God and others carefully, frequently and promptly!

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(May 5, 2018: Saturday, 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 6, 2018: Sixth Sunday of Easter)
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"Love one another as I have loved you."

Jesus taught us about a type of love that is very different from the love we often experience in this world. By His words and by His deeds, He showed us how the Trinity Itself loves. This love is a self-emptying love, a self-sacrificial love, and love so focused on the other that the self is forgotten. In the great Paschal mystery, we see Jesus so absorbed in love of the Father that He willingly sacrificed His very self for this love. His love of the Father's will was all that mattered to him.

St. Francis de Sales is a spiritual master in the school of this love. His great work, Treatise on the Love of God, traces a journey into the very heart of the love of the Trinity. At the very end of this two-volume work, Francis reaches Calvary. For Francis, Calvary is the true academy of love. When the human will surrenders itself to the will of the Father in an act of self-donation, love blossoms. Nothing so enflames the human heart as this act of self-emptying love.

You may ask how St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal can be known for developing a philosophy of life that is optimistic, gentle, humble, and caring, in spite of the fact that it is centered on Calvary. How do joyful friendship and devotion spring from such a source? Yet, this love is exactly what we celebrate today. Easter, the Resurrection and the new life promised by God are ours, when we follow this path. While we will always pass through Calvary, Jesus has shown us that the true end of this sacrificial love is a sharing in the very life of the Trinity Itself. This life, the true destiny of the human spirit, is the love that never ends.

In the garden of the tomb Mary Magdalene thought that the man she met was a gardener- until he pronounced her name – “Mary”. When Jesus spoke he name so intimately, Mary instantly recognized Jesus. This man spoke as Jesus, even if he did not look like Him. To put the Gospel into practice means that we too must speak to others as Jesus spoke to Mary.

We don't have to look far to locate opportunities for self-sacrificial love. As St. Francis de Sales knew so well, they are present in every walk of life and in every situation of life. They come in small, medium and large opportunities. The daily desire and ability to recognize them is a key to holiness. Let us listen to Jesus: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete”.

Enjoy what remains of the Easter Season! Love others as Christ loves us and in so doing make every day a celebration of Easter joy!

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(May 7, 2018: Monday, 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 won’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 stay down or will you get back up?

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(May 8, 2018: Tuesday, 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) may 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: “Do you have to go?” 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! Today, Jesus asks us “Where are you going?”. Where will our steps, conversations and interactions take us? 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. We are in this together.

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(May 9, 2018: Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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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?

The answer - We do when we do our level best to tell the truth, when we do our level best to speak the truth and, when we do our level best to be truthful, truth-filled people.