Spirituality Matters 2018: March 1st - March 7th

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(March 1, 2018: Thursday, Second Week of Lent
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“Remember that you received what was good during your lifetime…”

The parable in today’s Gospel does not require a great deal of explanation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is a warning - a stern warning. Acts have consequences; choices have ramifications; decisions have results. What goes around comes around.

However, take note of one detail in the story: the rich man who “dressed in purple and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day” is not condemned because of his good fortune – he is condemned because of his failure to share his good fortune with anyone less fortunate.

Lent is a good time to reflect upon all the good – all the blessings – that God continues to shower upon us. Lent is also a good time to consider how good we are – or aren’t – at sharing our goods with others.

Like Peter, do we have the courage to take our place in God’s plan of salvation?

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(March 2, 2018: Friday, Second Week of Lent
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“When his brothers saw that their father loved him best…they hated him…”

This reading is a famous story from the Book of Genesis. It is a story of a family feud. It is a story of internecine jealousy. It is a story of unspeakable betrayal.

However, in the end, it is a story of God’s unpredictable providence!

Joseph is his father’s favorite. His older brothers hate him for it. Blinded by their resentment and envy, they plot to murder Joseph. At the last moment, however, Reuben has second thoughts. He proposes that they essentially leave their brother to die in the desert (hoping that he might subsequently rescue his brother). At first blush, it seemed that Reuben’s plan might work after all until a caravan of foreigners appeared. The plan is changed again: the brothers – even Rueben, by all accounts – decide to sell Joseph into slavery. This plan provides the brothers with an out: they don’t actually take Joseph’s life, but they can get Joseph out of their lives permanently.

Twenty years later Israel finds itself in the grip of a devastating famine. At the end of their respective ropes, Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt with the hope of finding food and shelter. Imagine their surprise – and shame - when they find themselves face-to-face with the brother whom they had sold into slavery, presumably unto death.

There is a great mystery here to be considered. Absent his brothers’ treachery, Joseph’s kin – and presumably, Joseph himself – might have all been consumed by the famine that swept through Israel twenty years after selling their brother into slavery. How could anyone have anticipated that an act of betrayal could turn into a tale of salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation?

What’s the moral to the story? Sometimes in life good things happen for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes in life even the most loathsome of intentions can produce an inspired turn-of-events. Simply put, God can make miracles out of the worst of circumstances.

Today, reflect on this question: are there any examples of such experiences in your own life?

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(March 3, 2018: Saturday, Second Week of Lent)
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"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them..."

This behavior 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 – and 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 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.

Is there anything in that story to which you can really relate at this point in your life? Is there anyone in the parable with whom you can most closely empathize?

What is your answer? Why?

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(March 4, 2018: Third Sunday of Lent)
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“I, the Lord your God, brought you out of slavery.”

The Ten Commandments served two purposes in the lives of the Israelites: they reminded them of the experience of slavery in the past at the hands of the Egyptians and they offered precepts for avoiding in the future the slavery of sin in all its forms.

Jesus brought us a New Commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you”. While not “abolishing the Law and the prophets”, Jesus’ command to love one another makes it very clear that simply keeping the Ten Commandments alone does not meet the standard that Jesus established. In fact, Jesus frequently criticized the Scribes and Pharisees for burdening others with a slavish interpretation of the Law of Moses.

Francis de Sales certainly understood that while we must observe the commandments and counsels of God without exception, observing the commandments and counsels of God without exception is not enough for those who wish to follow the example of Jesus.

We are called to lead lives of devotion.

Francis explained: “Devotion is that spiritual agility and vivacity that enables us to do what is right and good with alacrity and affection.” Christian perfection challenges us to follow the commandments and counsels of God in ways that promote “a cheerfulness and alacrity in the performance of charitable actions.”

In short, it is the cheerful, enthusiastic and life-giving manner in which we do what is good that enables us to “fulfill the law and the prophets” and to make real in the lives of others the New Commandment - to “love one another”.

Many people “give up” things during Lent. What a perfect time for us to free ourselves from the slavery of minimalism! What a perfect time for us to give up those affections and attitudes that prevent us from doing what is right and good in ways that are positive, cheerful and enthusiastic! What a perfect time for us to recommit ourselves to embracing the freedom of the sons and daughters of God by living – each and every day - Christ’s New Law of Love.

Be holy. Be healthy. And while you are doing that, for God’s sake (as well as for your own sake and for the sake of others) be happy, too!

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(March 5, 2018: Monday, Third Week of Lent )
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“If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it?”

Naaman – a great general and a foreigner – travels to far-off Samaria in the hope of being cured of his leprosy. This powerful man – a force with whom to be reckoned - is prepared to do whatever it takes, regardless of how superhuman or heroic, in order to curry favor with the God of Israel. When he finally reaches the home of Elisha, Naaman is told to simply wash seven times in the River Jordan. Period!

Naaman is furious! Such a remedy seems useless at best, insulting at worst. But someone in his retinue challenges his presumption that God can only work through extraordinary events and actions or that God is only interested in extraordinary events and actions. In effect, a servant says to Naaman, “You know, if the prophet had asked you to do something absolutely impossible you would have done it in a heartbeat. However, when he asked you to do something incredibly ordinary instead, you can’t believe it. Get over it and go wash yourself! Other than your pride, what do you have to lose?”

And the rest – as they say – is history.

There’s something of Naaman the Syrian inside each and every one of us. After all, don’t most of us – if not all of us – believe that if you really want something big – if you love somebody big-time – that you need to do something big in order to achieve something big – and that you have do something big in order to express your big-time love? Francis de Sales reminds us:

“Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, but little ones are frequent.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, p. 215)

Are you looking to do something good for God today? Rather than waste your time waiting around for an opportunity to do something bigger than life, how about turning your attention to everyday life?

With big – that is, great – love!

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(March 6, 2018: Tuesday, Third Week of Lent)
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“Let our sacrifice be in your presence today…”

This line from the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel would suggest that it is possible to sacrifice something without being in God’s presence. But - as we heard so clearly and convincingly from St. Francis de Sales yesterday - it is not possible to sacrifice something apart from God’s presence because there is no place in this world in which God is not truly and fully present.

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

“Although faith assures us of God’s presence we forget about him and behave as if God were far distant from us because we do not see him with our eyes. We really believe that God is present in all things, but because we do not reflect on this fact we act as if we did not believe it.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)

Whatever we might choose to offer and sacrifice to God today, just remember that our offerings and sacrifices are not intended to draw God’s attention to us. Rather, our offerings and sacrifices are designed to draw our attention to God!

Over and over again!

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(March 7, 2018: Wednesday, Third Week of Lent)
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“Observe them carefully…”

What is it that we should be observing carefully? As we hear in the words on the lips of Moses from the Book of Deuteronomy today, it is God’s statutes and decrees that we are to observe carefully.

When we fail to observe God’s laws carefully – regardless of how large or how little God’s laws may be, as Jesus points out in today’s Gospel from Matthew – often times it is not because we are intentionally choosing to break them as much as – once again – we have managed to forget them, and in forgetting them we manage to lose sight of them altogether.

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

“Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore do not show him the respect they do after being told or reminded of his presence. However, because they do not actually see him, they easily forget his presence and having forgotten it, they still more easily lose the respect and reverence owed to him.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)

Today, do you want to make progress in observing carefully God’s statutes and decrees? You can start - as the Book of Deuteronomy reminds us – by not allowing them to slip from your memory! As the saying goes: “Out of sight, out of mind”.

Big time!