Spirituality Matters 2018: May 24th - May 30th

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(May 24, 2018: Thursday, Seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another."

Salt is essential for life in general, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt )

In his commentary on this closing verse of today’s Gospel of Mark, William Barclay made the following observation:

“Here we must take salt in the sense of purity. The ancients declared that there was nothing in the world purer than salt because it came from the two purest things – the sun and the sea. The very glistening whiteness of salt was a picture of purity. So, this will mean, ‘Have within yourselves the purifying influence of the Spirit of Christ. Be purified from selfishness and self-seeking, from bitterness and anger and grudge-bearing. Be cleansed from irritation and moodiness and self-centeredness, and then – and then only – will you be able to live in peace with your fellow men and women.’ In other words, Jesus is saying that it is only the life that is cleansed of self and filled with Christ that can live in real fellowship with others.” (Daily Bible Series, Mark, p. 236)

In a letter of spiritual direction, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Self-love, then, is one of the sources of our disturbance. The other is the importance we give ourselves. Why is it that when we happen to commit some imperfection or sin, we are so surprised, upset and impatient? Without doubt, it is because we thought we were something special, resolute and steady, and therefore, when we discover that in reality we are nothing of the kind and have fallen flat on our face, we are disappointed, and consequently we are vexed, offended and upset. If we really knew ourselves well, instead of being astonished at finding ourselves on the ground we would marvel that we ever manage to remain standing up. That’s the other source of our disquiet: we want nothing but consolation and are taken aback when we see and experience our misery, our nothingness and our weakness.”

Nothing will make us lose our taste for life and love more quickly that self-love. Nothing will help us maintain – and increase – our taste for life and love more quickly than the love of God.

And neighbor!

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(May 25, 2018: Venerable Bede, Priest)
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“Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged.”

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

“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. Above all, do not complain to irascible or fault-finding persons. If there is just occasion for complaining to someone either to correct an offense or restore peace of mind, do so with those who are even-tempered and who really love God. Otherwise, instead of calming your mind said others will stir up worse difficulties and instead of pulling out the thorn that is hurting you they will simply drive it deeper into your foot.” (IDL, Part III, p. 130)

In a letter of spiritual direction, Francis wrote:

“Strong and staunch hearts only complain when there is really something important to complain about, and even then they do not harbor resentment – at least, they do not succumb to fuss and agitation.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 207)

What’s the takeaway from today’s first reading? If you must complain (1) do it for something really important, (2) do it with people who won’t make it worse and (3) move on when you’re done.

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(May 26, 2018: Philip Neri, Priest)
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“Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing a song of praise.”

“Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining down-to-earth popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy.”

“At an early age, Philip abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence, and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next thirteen years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate.”

“As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially, they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome.”

“At the urging of his confessor, Philip was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor himself, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions, and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led excursions to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way.”

“Some of Philip’s followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns!”

“Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety. He was beatified in 1615 and canonized in 1622.” ( https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-philip-neri/ )

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

“As for certain good-humored, joking words, spoken by way of modest and innocent merriment, they belong to the virtue called eutrapelia by the Greeks, which we can call pleasant conversation. By their means we can take friendly, virtuous enjoyment in the amusing situations human imperfections provide us.”

The only thing on par with Philip Neri’s notion of holiness was his appreciation for humor. We see in him a perfect example of how pursuing a life of devotion leaves plenty of room for laughter!

Today, how might we imitate his example today?

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(May 27, 2018: The Most Holy Trinity)
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“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The doctrinal image of the Trinity is a difficult concept to understand. In fact, one might recall being taught that the Trinity is a mystery.

The best way to approach this mystery might be to consider the experience of God. There is no denying that we indeed have a continued experience of God. St. Francis de Sales refers to the experience of the Trinity as an example of God’s continual dialogue with us. For Francis de Sales, we continually experience this Triune God, because he never stops communicating with us through the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. St. Paul said it best in his greeting to the Corinthians which we hear every time we gather for the liturgy: “May the grace and peace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always.”

This notion of three persons and one God is a concept that is difficult to understand. Maybe that is why St. Augustine was one of the first to refer to the dogma as a mystery and why St. Patrick is often depicted as trying to explain the Trinitarian mystery through the use of the three-leafed clover. The notion of a triune God will always be difficult to explain and understand. And maybe that explanation - or the attempt at explanation - is best left to the theologians.

Today is one of the few Sundays of the year when we celebrate a dogma. On this Sunday, Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the mystery of three persons, one God. What we contemplate is the ongoing experience of the Triune God, a God who constantly reveals to us something of what it means to be divine – and by extension, therefore, something of what it means to be human.

Every time we bless ourselves with the sign of the Cross, or when we baptize, or begin Mass, we always do so in the name of the Triune God. There simply is no way to avoid it. On Trinity Sunday and on every Sunday that we gather, we can celebrate the Triune Godhead in a variety of ways, including spending time with the theological concepts of what it means to be Three Persons, One God. Today in particular, that reflection would mean spending time with the notion of a Triune God. Also, one could celebrate today by taking advantage of the offer for continued dialogue with our God as Father…Son…and Spirit.

As we heard in today’s first reading taken the Book of Deuteronomy, God continues to reveal himself to his people. What might this triune God be revealing to us today about not only about what it means to be divine, but also what is also means to be human?

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(May 28, 2018: Monday, Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You may have to suffer through various trials…”

While there is so much more to life than suffering, suffering is indeed an unavoidable part of life. Francis de Sales was keenly aware of this lived reality. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, we read:

“Our Savior himself has declared, ‘By your patience you will win your souls.’ It is a man’s great 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)

That said, Francis de Sales was quite clear: we should not go out of our way looking for trials or afflictions. Life being what it is, trials and sufferings have a nasty habit of looking for - and finding - us! When tough times and situations do come our way, Francis cautions us to avoid getting all worked up by trying to go around, over or under them. We need to walk straight through them as patiently and calmly as we can.

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

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(May 29, 2018: Tuesday, Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Gird up the loins of your mind; live soberly.”

Sobriety is the state of being sober. The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers the following definitions of sober:

  1. Sparing in the use of food and drink; abstemious: not addicted to intoxicating drink; not drunk;
  2. Marked by sedate or gravely or earnestly thoughtful character or demeanor;
  3. Unhurried, calm;
  4. Marked by temperance, moderation, or seriousness;
  5. Subdued in tone or color;
  6. Showing no excessive or extreme qualities of fancy, emotion, or prejudice.
Sobriety is the best remedy for what many people in recovery often refer to as “stinkin’ thinkin’”. People who are intoxicated don’t think clearly; people who are intoxicated suffer from impaired judgment; people who are intoxicated aren’t very realistic.

We can be intoxicated by any number of things, even by things that – on the face of it – appear to be very good! In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales named one such thing that can intoxicate and debilitate us if we are not careful - desire!

“Do not desire things that endanger your soul…Desire neither honors and offices and neither visions nor ecstasies. There is a great danger, self-deceit and vanity in such things. Do not desire faraway things, that is, things that cannot happen for a long time – as many people do – and by so doing wear out and waste their hearts to no purpose and expose themselves to the danger of becoming very discontented. If a young man greatly desires to be established in some position before the proper time, what help, I ask you, does this desire bring him? If a married woman wants to be a nun, to what purpose is it? If I want to buy my neighbor’s property before he is ready to sell it, don’t I waste my time by such desires?” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 37, pp. 217-218)

Lack of sobriety with regards to desires, plans, hopes and dreams can result in our simply spinning our wheels. Not only does “Stinkin’ thinkin’” frustrate us with desires that aren’t healthy or realistic, but it also prevents us from pursuing those desires that are appropriate and achievable! The remedy? Francis wrote:

“A variety of foods – especially if a large amount is eaten – overburdens the stomach and ruins it if it is weak. Don’t overburden your souls with many dreams or desires, neither with worldly ones – which may completely corrupt you – nor with spiritual ones, for they may cause you difficulty. When our soul has been purged and feels free from evil passions. Like a famished person, it longs for many different kinds of pious practices, mortifications, penance, humility, charity and prayer. To have so keen an appetite is a good thing, but you must consider whether you can properly digest all that you want to eat. From among all the desires choose those that you can practice and fulfill at present. Turn them to your best advantage, and this done, God will send you others that you can practice in due time. In this way you will never waste time with useless desires….I give this advice not only to spiritually-minded but to worldly people as well. Without it we will live only in anxiety and confusion.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 37, p. 219)

Do you want to avoid “anxiety and confusion” in the midst of life’s dreams and demands? Then gird up the loins of your mind and live soberly. St. Francis de Sales observed: ‘Do not desire means of serving God that you presently lack; rather, diligently use the means you actually have!’

One day at a time.

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(May 30, 2018: Wednesday, Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you…”

We witness a pretty bold – perhaps, even presumptuous – move on the part James and John in today’s Gospel. The two brothers attempt to wrest from Jesus the promise of granting an open-ended request: “we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you”. Wow! Talk about chutzpah!

Yet, haven’t we been guilty of the same thing? Haven’t we asked Jesus at times for things with the expectation that our request must be granted? Haven’t we prayed at times for our hearts’ desires with little or no consideration that God might have other thoughts or plans? Haven’t there been times when we simply wanted God to give us a blank check? Talk about chutzpah!

In a sermon on prayer, Francis de Sales observed:

“Between meditation and contemplation there is the prayer of petition which is made when – after having considered the goodness of our Lord, His infinite love and His omnipotence we become confident enough to ask for and entreat Him to give us what we desire…True prayer of petition is made by grace, that is, when we ask for something which is not due to us at all and when we ask it of someone who is far superior to us, as God is…The point is absolutely clear: we can – and ought – to ask God for both our temporal and spiritual needs.” (Living Jesus, p. 304)

You know the old adage: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” However, as James and John learned in a very hard way in a very public forum, just because you ask for something doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get! When it comes to prayers of petition, we should (1) have the courage to ask for whatever we want, and (2) we should have the courage to accept whatever God ultimately grants – or doesn’t grant – us.

Are you looking for a prayer of petition to start today and every day? How about this variation on the request of James and John: “We want to do for you whatever you ask of us”.