Spirituality Matters 2017: November 9th - November 15th

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(November 9, 2017: Thursday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You are God’s building...”

To construct a building is one thing, but to maintain it is another. Prudent builders/owners not only allot resources for the actual construction of whatever it is they build, but they will also earmark resources for the ongoing upkeep of the building.

In a letter to Madame de Chantal (February 11, 1607), Francis de Sales observed:

“It is not necessary to be always and at every moment attentive to all the virtues in order to practice them; that would twist and encumber your thoughts and feelings too much. Humility and charity are the master beams - all the others are attached to them. We need only hold on to these two: one is at the very bottom and the other at the very top. The preservation of the whole building depends on two things: its foundation and its roof. We do not encounter much difficulty in practicing other virtues if we keep our heart bound to the practice of these two...” (LSD, pp. 148-149)

God – the Master Builder – has constructed each of us in his image and likeness. Today, celebrate the building-of-God that you are! Maintain the gift of your divinely-built edifice with the spiritual foundation and roof most readily available for your good - humility and charity!

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(November 10, 2017: Friday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I myself am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness…”

Am I good or am I evil? Your answer to this question is no mere theoretical or abstract discussion. In the Salesian tradition, at least, the question – and its answer – makes all the difference between life and death. If you believe that you are good, odds are that you will think, feel, believe and behave in ways that lead to life. By the same token, if you believe that you are evil, well – not surprisingly – you will in all likelihood think, feel, believe and behave in a ways that lead to death.

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

“Consider that a certain number of years ago you were not yet in the world and that your present being was truly nothing. The world had already existed for a long time, but of us there was as yet nothing. God has subsequently drawn you out of nothingness to make you what you are and God has done so solely out of his own goodness. Consider the nature God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world. It is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine majesty.” (IDL, Part One, Chapter 9, p. 53)

During the 1970’s it was quite popular to say, “God doesn’t make junk.” While not exactly high theology, it does get to the heart of the Salesian understanding of human nature. To use the words of St. Paul, we humans – all of us – are “full of goodness.” As members of the Salesian family, we know that being good and having good are not the same things as doing good. We all fail to live up to our God-given goodness. We all fail to put our goodness into action. We all fall short when it comes to recognizing and sharing our goodness.

In other words, as good as we may be, we sometimes do bad things.

Remind yourself throughout this day that God has made you a good person; after all, you are made in God’s very own image and likeness. In like manner remind yourself throughout the day to ask for the grace you need to build up that goodness and to share that goodness with others.

Paul was convinced that you are good. Are you?

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(November 11, 2017: Saturday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones…

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

“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 your distaff or spindle. In other words, practice those little, humble virtues which grow like flowers at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of your family with all the duties and responsibilities that accompany such things.”

“Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, whereas little ones are frequent. Whoever will be ‘faithful in little things’ will be placed ‘over many’, says the savior. (IDL, Part Three, Chapter 35, pp. 214-215)

With what little, ordinary things will God entrust us today? How faithful will we be?

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(November 12, 2017: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her...those who watch at dawn will not be disappointed, for they shall find her sitting at the gate.”

In an introduction to an 1862 edition of St. Francis de Sales’ Spiritual Conferences, Cardinal Wiseman wrote: “The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales is eminently a spirit of wisdom. For certainly all that we have written about it will have been written in vain if our readers have not recognized this spirit as a superhuman prudence. And what is this but wisdom? Moderation, avoidance of extremes, adaptation to all circumstances, and discerning the means to respond to all characters and situations - these constitute a wisdom difficult and uncommon.” (Conferences, p. lxiv)

St. Francis de Sales' spirituality is, among other things, a path to wisdom. It is a divinely-inspired, common-sense approach to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the state, stage and circumstances of life in which we find ourselves. St. Francis de Sales offers us a down-to-earth way in which to pursue the things of heaven.

One of the qualities of this God-centered, practical wisdom is prudence. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language describes being prudent as “wise in handling practical matters; exercising good judgment and common sense; careful in regard to one's own interests; provident…” Prudence comes from the Latin word, the root meaning of which is “to provide for.”

Today's Gospel provides a powerful story about the image of being prudent, to be “careful in regards to one's own interests.” One group of servants had prepared for the possibility that their master might be delayed in arriving. And, as a result, they brought extra oil along for their torches. The other group, however, did not prepare or make provision for this possibility and therefore only brought enough oil to provide one cycle of illumination.

The moral of the story is clear and unambiguous: “Keep your eyes open, for you know not the day nor the hour.” Look around you. Consider the signs of the times. See beyond the horizon.

To be sure, so much of St. Francis de Sales wisdom is about rolling with the punches, playing with the hand we're dealt or going with the flow. Sometimes, however, being “careful in regard to one's own interest” - being prudent, employing common sense - requires that we plan, provide and prepare for even the unexpected.

Perhaps, especially for the unexpected.

The book of Wisdom proclaims that whoever "keeps vigil for wisdom shall be quickly free from care." Part of that vigilance is about preparing ourselves to recognize the sights, sounds and smells of God's will and action in our own lives before it's too late.

After all, when did Noah build the ark?

Before the rain!

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(November 13, 2017: Frances Xavier Cabrini, Religious & Founder)
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“Love justice, you who judge the earth…

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Frances Xavier Cabrini.

“St. Frances was born in Lombardi, Italy in 1850, one of thirteen children. At eighteen, she desired to become a nun, but poor health stood in her way. She helped her parents until their death and then worked on a farm with her brothers and sisters.”

“One day a priest asked her to teach in a girls' school and she stayed for six years. At the request of her Bishop, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart to care for poor children in schools and hospitals. Then at the urging of Pope Leo XIII she came to the United States with six nuns in 1889 to work among the Italian immigrants.”

“Filled with a deep trust in God and endowed with a wonderful administrative ability, this remarkable woman soon founded schools, hospitals, and orphanages in this strange land and saw them flourish in the aid of Italian immigrants and children. At the time of her death in Chicago, Illinois on December 22, 1917, her institute had houses in England, France, Spain, the United States, and South America. In 1946, she became the first American citizen to be canonized when she was elevated to sainthood by Pope Pius XII. St. Frances is the patroness of immigrants.” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=278 )

Francis Xavier Cabrini was clearly a lover of justice. How might the same be said of us by those with whom we interact today?

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(November 14, 2017: Tuesday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made them.”

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.” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 4, p. 64)

In effect, Francis de Sales claimed that while it would have been enough for God to show us how deeply he loved us by creating us in his own image and likeness, God loves us so much that he went even further by choosing – in the person of his Son – to create himself in our image and likeness!

Francis de Sales claims, “No one can be ignorant of this fact”. How much time do we actually spend reflecting upon “this fact” – that we are made in his image and likeness and that he is made in our image and likeness – just this day?

In the end, we all perish from this earth, but how we live our perishable lives, lives on long after we die. For what will others remember us just this day?

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(November 15, 2017: Wednesday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The Lord of all shows no partiality...”

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

“It is reason alone that makes us human, and yet, it is a rare thing to find people truly reasonable. Self-love ordinarily leads us astray from reason, directing us insensibly to a thousand small – yet dangerous – injustices and iniquities.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36)

We are told that God shows no partiality. How very different we are frequently in our interactions with one another. We show partiality all the time, which the Gentlemen Saint considered quite unreasonable – quite inhuman. Francis observed:

“If there is someone who is not agreeable, or to whom we have once taken a dislike, we find fault with everything that person does. We never cease to mortify that person – we are always ready to cast blame on that person. On the contrary, if someone is pleasing to us because of some physical grace, that person can do nothing that we will not excuse...On every occasion we prefer the rich to the poor, although they be neither of better condition or as virtuous. We even prefer those who are best clad…” (Ibid)

The truth of the matter is that we all have our favorites. There are some people whose company we would always prefer given the choice. There are other folks we would prefer to avoid at all costs. That said, like our God who shows no partiality, we are challenged to meet people where they are and as they are by showing them the respect and reverence they deserve as children of God.

Whether we like them or not.