Spirituality Matters 2018: November 22nd - November 28th

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(November 22, 2018: Thanksgiving Day )
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“He fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him…”

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

“Consider that a certain number of years ago you did not yet exist. God has drawn you out from nothingness so as to make you what you are now and has done so solely out of his own goodness. Consider the nature God has given you. It is the highest in this visible world, is capable of eternal life and able to be perfectly united with God’s Divine Majesty…God has placed you in this world not because God has any need of you but because God wishes to exercise his goodness in you by giving you his grace and glory. For this purpose God has given you intelligence to know him, memory to be mindful of him, will to love him, imagination to picture his benefits to yourself, eyes to see His wonderful works, and tongues to praise him, just to mention a few…Consider the corporeal benefits that God has bestowed on you: the body itself, all goods provided for its maintenance, health, comforts friend, supporters and other helps… By noting each and every particular blessing you will perceive how gentle and gracious God has been to you.” (IDL, Part I, Chapters 9- 11, pp. 53 -57)

How can we possibly even begin to give thanks for everything that God has given – and continues to give – to us? Francis de Sales offers this suggestion - just as God has been gentle and gracious to us, may we strive to be equally – or at least, somewhat – as gentle and gracious to others on this Thanksgiving Day…and every day!

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(November 23, 2018: Miguel Pro, Priest and Martyr)
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“The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile, were seeking to put him to death.”

Today the Church celebrates the life, legacy and ultimate sacrifice made by Blessed Miguel Pro.

“Born on January 13, 1891 in Guadalupe, Mexico, Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez was, from an early age, both remarkably spiritual and equally mischievousness, frequently exasperating his family with humor and practical jokes. Miguel was particularly close to his older sister and after she entered a cloistered convent, he eventually recognized his own vocation to the priesthood. Although he was popular with the senoritas and had prospects of a lucrative career managing his father's thriving business concerns, Miguel the Jesuit novitiate in El Llano, Michoacan in 1911.

“He studied in Mexico until 1914, when tsunami of anti-Catholicism swept through Mexico, forcing the novitiate to disband. Miguel and his brother seminarians trekked through Texas and New Mexico before arriving at the Jesuit house in Los Gatos, California. In 1915, Miguel was sent to a seminary in Spain; in 1924, he went to Belgium where he was ordained a priest in 1925. Miguel suffered from a severe stomach problem and after three operations, when his health did not improve, his superiors, in 1926, allowed him to return to Mexico in spite of the grave religious persecution in that country.”

“Back in his native land, churches were closed and priests went into hiding. Miguel spent the rest of his life in an attempt to sturdy and strengthen Mexican Catholics. In addition to fulfilling their spiritual needs, he also carried out works of mercy by trying to meet the temporal needs of the poor in Mexico City. To protect his real identity, he used a number of disguises while carrying out his clandestine ministry. He would arrive in the middle of the night dressed as a beggar to baptize infants, bless marriages and celebrate Mass. He would appear in jail dressed as a police officer to bring Holy Viaticum to condemned Catholics. When going to fashionable neighborhoods to procure money food and other resources for the poor, he would show up at the doorstep dressed as a fashionable businessman with a fresh flower on his lapel. Falsely accused in the attempted assassination of a former Mexican president, Miguel became a hunted man. Betrayed to the police by an informer, he was sentenced to death without the benefit of any legal process. On the day of his execution (which the Mexican president personally ordered to have photographed and filmed), Fr. Pro forgave his executioners, prayed, refused the blindfold and died proclaiming, ‘Viva Cristo Rey.’” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=86 )

Miguel Pro was courageous in the face of persecution, arrest, imprisonment and execution…just as Jesus was.

How might we imitate his courage just this day by serving the needs of others…in the name of Christ the King?

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(November 24, 2018: Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest and Companions, Martyrs)
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“He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

In his commentary on today’s passage from Luke’s Gospel, William Barclay observed:

“Jesus gave the Sadducees an answer that has a permanently valid truth to it. He said that we must not think of heaven in terms of this earth. Life there will be quite different because we will be quite different. It would save a mass of misdirected ingenuity – and no small amount of heartache – if we ceased to speculate on what heaven is like and left such things to the love of God.” (pp. 250-251)

But there is also another takeaway from today’s Gospel, according to Barclay:

“Out of this arid passage emerges a great truth for anyone who teaches or who wishes to commend Christianity to one’s fellows . Jesus used arguments that the people he was arguing with could understand. Jesus talked to them in their own language; he met them on their own ground; and that is precisely why the common people heard him gladly.” (251)

William Barclay’s insight here is very much in keeping with Fr. Brisson’s understanding of one of the fundamental qualities of Salesian spirituality – if you want to speak to the hearts of people, you (1) need to meet them where they are and (2) use words that they can understand.

How might we “Live + Jesus” just this day by meeting others where they are…and speaking to them in ways that they can understand?

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(November 25, 2018: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe)
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“His Dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed.”

Today we celebrate Christ’s kingship, Christ’s power, Christ’s royal character. Unlike earthly kings, however, Christ’s dominion, as we hear in the Book of the Prophet Daniel, is an everlasting dominion. Unlike other kings, Christ’s reign will never pass away.

What kind of king is Christ? How is his dominion unique among other monarchs? We look to the words of St. Francis de Sales in a conference on “Hope” he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation in 1620. The occasion was the founding of yet another Visitation community (some 80+ of which were established by the time St. Jane de Chantal died in 1641):

“You have always only one and the same king, our crucified Lord, under whose authority you will live secure and safe wherever you may be. Do not fear lacking anything, for as long as you do not choose any other king, he will always be with you. Take care to increase in love and fidelity towards Christ’s divine goodness, keeping as close to this king as possible, and then all will be well with you. Learn from him all that you have to do. Do nothing without his advice. This king is the faithful friend who will guide you and govern you and take care of you as, with all my heart, I ask him to do.”

No benign dictator here! No benevolent tyrant here! No monarch here who lords his power over others! No self-serving leader here who consolidates his wealth or influence at the expense of others!

Christ is a crucified king. He is a monarch who lays down his life for others. His dominion serves the needs of others. His prestige gives others guidance and hope. His wisdom provides sound advice. His commonwealth is all about faithful, loving friendship.

Francis de Sales (as he so often does) really nailed it when he wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life: “We lose nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously, and with a royal, just and noble heart.” (Part II, Chapter 36)

Like Christ, we are called to use our God-given power and promise to serve the needs of others. Like Christ, our royal “divine right” demands that we love one another with “a royal, just and noble heart.”

Today, consider - how do we use our “divine right” as sons and daughters of God?

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(November 26, 2018: Monday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“She has offered her whole livelihood…”

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“The esteem in which humility holds all good gifts, namely, faith hope and charity, is the foundation of generosity of spirit. Take notice that the first gifts of which we spoke belong to the exercise of humility and the others to generosity. Humility believes that it can do nothing, considering its poverty and weakness as far as depends on ourselves. On the contrary, generosity makes us say with St. Paul, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.’ Humility makes us distrust ourselves, whereas generosity makes us trust in God. You see, then that humility and generosity are so closely joined and united to one another that they are and never can be separated.” (Conferences, “On Generosity” pp. 75-76)

We see this humility and generosity on display in today’s Gospel. Whereas some wealthy people who contributed to the temple treasury were relying more on themselves for their welfare (they made sure that they had plenty for themselves in reserve) before giving to others, the poor widow – we are told – gave to the treasury without squirreling anything away for herself first, strongly suggesting that she was relying more on God for her welfare. The wealthy contributed with conditions; the widow contributed without conditions.

Today, whether we have a lot or a little, what steps can we take to store up riches less for ourselves and more for others?

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(November 27, 2018: Tuesday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“When you hear of wars and insurrections do not be terrified…”

In this age of 24-7 news cycles, one could be forgiven for being “terrified” from time to time. After all, we never seem to get a break. Whether around the corner or around the world, we are constantly exposed to a never-ending dose of unsettling news reports: stories of violence, accounts of revenge and descriptions of disasters. One could make the argument that you would have to be crazy to be unconcerned or unaffected by reports of economic, social, political and/or military turmoil!

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

“With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil than can happen to a soul. Just as sedition and internal disorders bring total ruin to a state and leave it helpless to resist a foreign invader, so also if our hearts are inwardly troubled and disturbed they lose both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues they had acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy. He then uses his utmost to fish – as they say – in troubled waters.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, pp. 251-252)

Francis de Sales believed that people should be informed. We should be aware – and where applicable, concerned – about the things that are happening around us. More importantly, however, is the need to know what is happening inside of us. We need to know the state of our minds and hearts. After all, sometimes the effects of the “wars and insurrections” that may surround us are nothing in comparison with the “wars and insurrections” that rage within us!

Trouble is a part of life. Don’t make it worse by allowing the trouble to upset you on the inside to the point where you can’t manage it on the outside - for your own sake, as well as for the sake of those who depend on you.

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(November 28, 2018: Wednesday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Great and wonderful are your works.”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The soul that takes great pleasure in God’s goodness…desires that His name be always more and more blessed, exalted, praised, honored and adored. In this praise due to God the soul begins with its own heart...The soul imitates the great Psalmist who considered the marvels of God’s goodness, and then on the altar of his heart immolated a mystic victim: the utterances of his voice in hymns of psalms of admiration and blessings.” (Living Jesus, p. 286)

When’s the last time you considered the “great and wonderful” things that God has done and is doing in your life and in the lives of others?

Today, how can you bless, exalt, praise, honor and adore God for his goodness?

Not just in words, but also in deeds!