Spirituality Matters 2018: November 29th - December 5th
(November 29, 2018: Thursday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Your redemption is at hand...”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:
“The cross is the root of every grace received by us who are spiritual grafts attached to our Savior’s body. Having been so engrafted if we abide in him, then by means of the life of grace he communicates to us we shall certainly bear the fruit of glory prepared for us. But if we are mere inert sprigs or grafts on that tree - that is, if by resistance we break the progress and effects of His mercy - it will be no wonder if in the end we are wholly cut off and thrown into everlasting fire as useless branches.”
“God undoubtedly prepared paradise only for such as he foresaw would be his. Therefore, let us be his both by faith and by our works, and he will be ours by glory. It is in our power to be his, for although to belong to God is a gift from God, yet it is a gift that God denies to no one. God offers it to all people so as to give it to such as will sincerely consent to receive it. He gives us both his death and his life: his life so that we may be freed from eternal death, his life so that we can enjoy eternal life. Let us live in peace, then, and serve God so as to be his in this mortal life and still more so in life eternal.” (TLG, Part III, Book 5, pp. 178-179)
Francis de Sales insists that our future depends heavily upon our present. At any given moment we can think, feel and act in ways bring us closer to either (1) redemption, or (2) damnation.
It turns out that our redemption and damnation are both “at hand” not solely on our last day, but on each and every day! Which will you choose?
(November 30, 2018: Andrew, Apostle)
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“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!”
In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell writes:
“Andrew and his brother Peter were sitting in their fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee, repairing their nets, when Christ called to them, saying, ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Although the brothers did leave their boat to follow the Lord, they never stopped catching fish: it was how they supported themselves and their families.”
“Time and time again the Gospels take us back to the Sea of Galilee: on one occasion, Jesus climbed into Peter and Andrew’s boat to preach to a crowd on the shore; on another, while the brothers and some of the other disciples were out fishing, they saw Jesus advancing toward them by walking on the water. After a long night of fishing and catching nothing, Christ urged the brothers to go out to the deepest part of the sea and lower their nets one more time. This time the catch was so great that the fishing nets broke and Peter and Andrew had to signal to their fellow apostles and business partners James and John to come help them haul in the fish. And, when there was nothing for the crowd of five thousand to eat, it was Andrew who brought forward a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish, which Christ multiplied to feed the multitude…with much leftover to boot.”
“Tradition says that St. Andrew carried the Gospel to Greece. At the town of Patras he was arrested and tied to an X-shaped cross. The legend claims that it took him three dies to die, and the entire time he hung on the cross St. Andrew preached to all who passed by.” (p. 179)
Andrew - once a fisherman, always a fisherman. A fisherman doesn’t get to pick the day, time, situations or circumstances in which he fishes. He simply fishes, come what may. Such an avocation requires tenacity, patience, determination and a willingness to go wherever a “catch” might be found. Perhaps, that’s why Jesus called him to be a disciple: such qualities could come in quite handy when it came to preaching the Good News.
Jesus calls each of us - in our own unique ways - to be fishers of “men.”
Today, to what degree does Jesus see in us the same qualities he saw in Andrew?
December 1, 2018: Saturday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy and that the day catch you by surprise like a trap...”
The readings selected for the last day of the waning liturgical year emphasize the “end times”: the final judgment and the importance of being on the lookout for when that climactic moment will occur.
In a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde, St. Francis de Sales wrote:
“Persevere in this great courage and determination which keeps you lifted high above temporal things, making you pass over them like a happy halcyon bird lifted safely above the waves of the world which flood this age. Keep your eyes steadfastly fixed on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on; and as they pass, they themselves pass us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But meanwhile – in these passing moments – there lies enclosed as in a tiny kernel the seed of all eternity. In our humble little works of devotion there lies hidden the prize of everlasting glory; the little pains we take to serve God lead to the repose of a bliss that can never end.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 236)
Be watchful! Be alert! Be on the lookout! Avoid carousing, drunkenness and anxiety in all their forms. However, don’t limit your vigilance to the last moment of your life. No, expand your vigilance to include every moment of your life! In so doing, you not only avoid having your last day catch you like a trap, but also you will be able transform every day into an opportunity to grow in your knowledge and love of God, your neighbor and yourself now – and forever.
(December 2, 2018: First Sunday of Advent)
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“Be vigilant at all times.”
It is the beginning of yet another season of Advent! It is the time for vigilance. Listen to the words of Blessed Louis Brisson, OSFS:
“Advent means coming. This time is set aside to help prepare us for Christmas. These four weeks of Advent represent the four thousand years that preceded the coming of the Messiah. Throughout these many years the prophets announced the coming of Our Lord. In reading their prophecies we find all the details of His life and sufferings described in advance with as much accuracy as if they had already taken place.”
“There are two advents of the Lord. The first is his great advent when He came to this earth to save us. He willed to come to us little, humble and unknown. He was born poor to show us that poverty is no disgrace. He willed to be a workingman to teach us to love work as He loved it.”
“The second advent of Our Lord is made in our hearts. Evert time we have a good thought, every time that we take the Good God with us, every time that we make an act of fidelity, every time that we are all His, an advent takes place…” (Cor ad Cor, p. 13)
Each and every moment of every day has the potential for presenting us with an opportunity for experiencing the “advents of Our Lord”. Of course, as Jesus himself warns us in the Gospel, each and every moment may also have its share of worries and anxieties associated with the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves.
Are we open to considering how the worries and anxieties of life may precisely be the places in which the “advents of Our Lord” may come? Are we vigilant? Are we watchful?
(December 3, 2018: St. Francis Xavier)
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“Many will come from the east and west...”
When it comes to missionaries, they don’t wait for the “many” people to come to them; rather, many – if not all – missionaries will go themselves to the “many” people. They go to the east, west, north and south - anywhere they need to go – in order to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.
We find a clear example of this missionary spirit in the person whose life and legacy we celebrate today: Saint Francis Xavier. In his book This Saint’s for You!, Thomas Craughwell writes:
“Francis Xavier was a man of tremendous zeal, energy and optimism. As a student at the University of Paris he met St. Ignatius of Loyola (a fellow Basque). Led by Ignatius, in 1534 Francis and five friends formed the Society of Jesus (better known as the Jesuits). The first Jesuits hoped they all would serve as missionaries together in the Holy Land; instead, Francis was sent to southwest Asia. He sailed with a convoy of Portuguese ships bound for the colony of Goa, India. The journey consumed thirteen months, and Francis was seasick through most of it. While the Portuguese already had been in Goa for thirty-one years (the city was well established with churches, monasteries and even a bishop), most of the town’s population was composed of cruel, dissolute and vicious men who abandoned the illegitimate children that they had with Indian women, tortured their slaves, despised the helpless and regarded India as their personal property to pillage as they wished.”
“With so much work to be done, Francis maintained an exhausting routine that included visits to the city prison and hospitals, saying Mass for the lepers, teaching catechism to children and slaves, and writing lyrics that explained the basics of Christianity and then setting them to the tunes of popular songs. One of his toughest challenges was trying to convince the Goa Portuguese to live like Christians instead of godless despots.”
“After months in Goa he sailed to the Spice Islands (in what is now Indonesia). There he met three Japanese converts to Christianity. This chance meeting piqued his interest, and once he arrived in Japan the refinement, elegance and courtesy of the people there captivated him. But Francis could never stay long in one place; he wanted to bring the Gospel to China. With the help of a Chinese convert named Anthony, Francis struck a bargain with a Chinese merchant who – for an extravagant fee – agreed to transport him to China. However, the merchant abandoned Francis and Anthony instead on a desolate island. There, Francis fell ill and died, attended by Anthony, two slaves and a Portuguese ship’s captain who’d stumbled upon the castaways.”
“Francis Xavier set a very high standard for missionaries: it is estimated that during a period of eleven years he converted forty-thousand people to Christianity. In 1904 Pope Pius X recognized his achievements by naming him as the patron of missionaries.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 277 – 278)
When it comes to evangelizing – when it comes to continuing the work of Jesus Christ – it could be said that we are all missionaries by virtue of our Baptism. Fr. Brisson believed that evangelizing isn’t only about waiting for people to come to us but also about going to them.
Today, how far are you willing to go to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to others?
(December 4, 2018: Tuesday, Advent Weekday)
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“The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…”
In today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah we hear of the seven gifts associated with the presence and action of the Holy Spirit.
In a sermon given during the last few years of his life to the Sisters of the Visitation Francis de Sales offered the following prayer:
“God grant us his gift of fear, that we might serve him as his dutiful children; his gift of piety, that we might give him due reverence as our loving father; his gift of knowledge, that we may recognize the good we ought to do and the evil we should avoid; his gift of fortitude, that we may bravely overcome all the difficulties we shall meet in trying to be good; his gift of counsel, that we might discern and choose the best ways of living a life of devotion; his gift of understanding, that we may divine the beauty and value of faith’s mysteries and the Gospel principles; and finally, his gift of wisdom, that we may appreciate how lovable God is, that we may experience and thrill to the delight of that goodness of his which is more than our limited minds can fathom. O, the happiness that will be ours if we accept these precious gifts!” (Pulpit and Pew, p. 158)
What are the signs associated with our making good use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Isaiah cites several:
- Not judging by appearance or hearsay
- Judging the poor with justice
- Deciding aright for the afflicted
(December 5, 2018: Wednesday, Advent Weekday)
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“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd...”
Today’s Gospel offers us two things for our consideration. One is the virtue of compassion; the other is the anatomy of compassion. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:
“Compassion, sympathy, commiseration or pity is simply an affection that makes us share in the sufferings and sorrows of those we love. It draws the misery of others into our own heart. Hence it is calledmisericordia, that is, misery of heart.” (Living Jesus, p. 38)
The virtue of compassion is clearly displayed in Jesus. When he looks at those he loves – the people who had been with him for three days – “his heart is moved with pity” for they had had nothing to eat for all that time. Jesus experiences “misery of heart” when confronted with the neediness of the crowds.
The anatomy of compassion is also clearly manifested in Jesus. First, Jesus recognizes the needs of those he loves (they were hungry). Second, Jesus’ heart is moved by the needs of those he loves. Thirdly, Jesus acts. Rather than simply stopping at being “moved with pity”, he does whatever it takes to meet the needs of those he loves.
By contrast, the disciples’ compassion appears to come up short. While they, too, recognize the needs of the crowds - and while their hearts similarly are moved by the neediness of the crowds - the disciples seem overwhelmed by the enormity of the needs and appear to be more interested in doing whatever it takes to send the crowds away to fend for themselves.
You have to wonder: for whom was this miracle of compassionate action performed? Was it done for the crowds who had been with Jesus just three days, or for the disciples who had been with Jesus long enough to know better than to doubt him?
How well does the anatomy of compassion work in us? How willing are we to recognize the needs of those we love? How willing are we to allow our hearts to be moved by the needs of those we love? How willing are we to try to do something – however extraordinary, however sublime – to meet the needs of those we love?
When it comes to imitating the compassion of Christ, two-out-of-three merely won’t do.