Spirituality Matters 2018: May 31st - June 6th

* * * * *
(May 31, 2012: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
* * * * *

“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 offer assistance to 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?

* * * * *
(June 1, 2018: Justin, Martyr)
* * * * *

“Be serious and sober-minded…”

Recall that on Tuesday we considered the issue of sobriety: the importance of being clear minded, of seeing ourselves and others as we really are, and of being grounded in reality. On this day, when we acknowledge the sacrifice made by Justin Martyr, it is appropriate to revisit yet again Francis de Sales’ counsel regarding desires. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, we read:

“Do not desire crosses except in proportion to the way in which you have patiently carried those already sent to you. It is an abuse to desire martyrdom while lacking the courage to put up with an injury. The enemy often supplies us with great desires for absent things that we may never encounter in order to divert our minds from present things which, small as they may be, we might obtain great profit. While in our imaginations we picture ourselves doing battle with great monsters in Africa, for want of vigilance we allow ourselves to be slain by little serpents that actually lie in our path…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 37, p. 218)

It’s tempting sometimes to engage in “what if’s”, especially when we catch ourselves imagining how we might do heroic things for the sake of the Gospel. What if I were persecuted for my faith? What if I were arrested for being a Christian? What if I were asked to lay down my life for Christ? While such imaginings may be entertaining – and perhaps even noble – what if all these “what if’s” simply prevent us from recognizing the countless opportunities God gives us every day to do simple, ordinary and little good things for others?

Get serious. Be realistic. While we should admire and emulate the martyrs, odds are we won’t be called to give our lives for Christ in the dramatic fashion that they did. Rather we will be called to live our lives for Christ in ways that – while far less dramatic – are no less heroic.

How? By sharing our lives with others each and every day.

* * * * *
(June 2, 2018: Saturday, Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“By what authority are you doing these things…?”

We see in today’s Gospel a typical tactic employed by those who take umbrage with others. If they can’t refute what others do, they’ll attempt to refute their authority for doing so.

Jesus didn’t ask permission to do good things. He simply did them, regardless of the consequences. Tragic, indeed, that his enemies attempted to use his good deeds as evidence of wrongdoing!

We’ve all heard the expression: “No good deed goes unpunished”. Today’s Gospel reminds us that in a perfect world, doing good should be applauded and rewarded. However, insofar as we do not live in a perfect world, we shouldn’t be shocked that doing good may sometime bring its share of resistance and hostility.

By any means – by all means – do good things. Just be certain that you are doing that good for God’s glory, and not your own glory.

* * * * *
(June 3, 2018: Body and Blood of Christ))
* * * * *

“He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.’”

During the Easter season there is a gradual but purposeful shifting of attention away from the physical, corporeal presence of Jesus in the midst of His apostles and disciples toward His Real Presence in the community that bears His name - Christian. In the Gospels of Easter, Jesus' resurrected, glorified body was frequently not immediately recognized by those who knew Him. In fact, Mary Magdalene thought He was the gardener. Jesus ate cooked fish with his disciples on the lake shore as if to underscore his physical reality - human beings eat and ghosts do not. Doubting Thomas put his hands and fingers into the physical holes left by the nails and the spear, and yet Jesus came into that room without coming through the door! As if to conclude this process of refocusing, this shifting of our attention, eventually the physical body of Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight”.

Today, on this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we return to the Upper Room for the Last Supper and we rightly focus on the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus in His Sacred Body and in His Precious Blood. Our Church has a long and hallowed tradition for awesome reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. This tradition is right and fitting. But always, in addition, the Eucharistic Presence must be related to how we are transformed in ourselves as we assimilate the Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies and into our lives. We believe that we become more and more like Jesus Whom we receive in Holy Communion. We believe that Jesus indwells in our community of faith. Jesus is just as really present in our “gathering of two or three in His Name” as He is in the Word of God or in the Sacred Host and Precious Blood. Each presence is a different mode of presence but each is really and truly the Presence of the Lord Jesus.

And so, we ought to esteem in ourselves those qualities that make us unique and which allow us to contribute uniquely to enfleshing the Body of Christ in the midst of our brothers and sisters - especially those most in need. Saint Francis de Sales often reminds us to be ourselves, “Don't long to be other than who you are, but desire to be thoroughly who you are. Believe me, this is the most important and least understood point in the spiritual life. Be who you are and be that well.”

This advice is not meant to encourage complacency about our faults; rather, it is to affirm our inestimable value in God's eyes and to encourage us to develop our unique talents and gifts for the building up of God's kingdom and the betterment of the lives of those we touch. For some around us, we will be the medium, the ‘matter’ through which they see the face of Jesus. Ours will be the hands that reach out to help, but those we serve will see the hands of Jesus. We will in a real sense become the Body and Blood of Christ and we will “lend ourselves” to Christ for Him to work through us - His Body and Blood.

* * * * *
(June 4, 2018: Monday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion...”

Life and devotion. Devotion and life. For St. Francis de Sales, these two manifestations of God’s divine power are one in the same. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he observed:

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet is not always love as such. Inasmuch 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 good but also to do good carefully, frequently and promptly it is called devotion…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 flights…To be good we must have charity, and to be devout – in addition to charity – we must have great ardor and readiness in performing charitable actions.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

What is the fullness of life? Simply put, the fullness of life is the true love of God. How do we manifest this true love of God? Not simply by doing good (although that is a good start) but by doing good carefully, frequently and promptly.

Today, how will you make use of the gift of God’s divine power today in ways that give life and lead to devotion?

* * * * *
June 5, 2018: Tuesday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time))
* * * * *

“Consider the patience of our Lord as salvation…”

If one took a survey of the things that people most frequently confess in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, “losing patience” would probably be near the top of the list. In addition, it is the experience of “losing patience” that often leads to many other things frequently confessed in this Sacrament: e.g., taking God’s name in vain, using obscene language, saying something hurtful and/or doing something hurtful.

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

“‘For you have need of patience that, doing the will of God, you may receive the promise,’ says the Apostle. True enough, for our Savior himself has declared, ‘By your patience you will win your souls. ‘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…Do not limit your patience to this or that kind of injury and affliction. Extend it universally to all those God will send you or let happen to you.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Jesus encountered his share of injuries and afflictions during the course of his public ministry, and, no doubt, he also experienced the frustration that comes with those same injuries and afflictions. Yet, Jesus seems to have never lost his cool when dealing with difficult people, situations or circumstances, other than when he drove the money-changers out of the temple. He clearly demonstrated an ability to keep the upper hand over his emotions.

We are called to “Live Jesus!”. We are called to continue Jesus’ saving work in our own day. Have you ever stopped to consider that one of the most practical ways of imitating Christ is to follow His example of patience?

And win our souls in the process?

* * * * *
(June 6, 2018: Wednesday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“I am grateful to God…”

How often do we say “thank you” to God? How often do we take time out to remind ourselves of how generous God has been to us? How often do we think about all the blessings that God has showered – and continues to shower – upon us? Of course, if we took the time required to consider all the things that God has done for us, we wouldn’t have time for anything else!

Francis de Sales offers us no fewer than ten meditations in Part I of his Introduction to the Devout Life. The considerations, affections, resolutions and conclusions contained in each meditation leaves no stone unturned in reflecting upon how good God is to us. A quick review of the things for which we should be grateful includes:

  • Being created
  • Being capable of being perfectly united with God
  • Being destined for eternal life
  • Sharing in God’s grace and glory
  • Enjoying so many gifts of body, mind, heart and spirit
  • Opportunities to serve God
  • Opportunities to serve one another.
Francis de Sales also suggested that from time to time it may be appropriate – even helpful – to take time out and reflect upon our ingratitude. He wrote: “Note how many benefits God has granted you and how you have misused them against their giver. Note especially how many of God’s inspirations you have despised and how many good movements you have rendered useless. Even more than all the rest remember how many times you have received the sacraments: where are the fruits? What has become of those precious jewels with which your beloved Spouse adorned you? Think about such ingratitude…” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 12, pp. 58 – 59)

Recall the great insight from Meister Eckhart: If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Being aware of our ingratitude is a good thing. Being grateful to God is a better thing. Being mindful of God’s love for – and fidelity to – us is the best thing!