Spirituality Matters 2019: March 21st - March 27th

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(March 21, 2019: 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 someone 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.

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(March 22, 2019: Friday, Second Week of Lent)
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“When his brothers saw that their father loved him best…they hated him…”

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

And 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 provides the brothers with an out: they don’t actually take Joseph’s life, but they can get Joseph out of their lives nonetheless.

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 inspired turn-of-events. Simply put, God can make miracles out of the worst of circumstances.

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

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(March 23, 2019: Saturday, Second Week of Lent)
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"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them..."

Thus 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 24, 2019: Third Sunday of Lent)
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“The place where you stand is holy ground...”

“Holy ground.” The term conjures up images of mountaintops shrouded in smoke, sanctuaries illuminated by candlelight, grand churches with vaulted ceilings and ancient monasteries in remote locations. Such places may indeed provide the opportunity to stand on “holy ground,” but there’s a lot more to “holy ground” than meets the eye.

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

“There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly they always encounter the air, so too, whoever we go – or wherever we are – God is truly present…Thus you must say with your whole heart and in your heart, ‘O my heart, my heart, God is truly here!’ Remember that God is not only in the place where you are but is also present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit. Just as the soul is diffused throughout the entire body and is therefore present in every part of the body – but especially in the heart – so also God is present in all things but always resides in a special manner in your spirit. For this reason David calls him ‘the God of his heart,’ and St. Paul says that ‘we live, and move and are in God.’ Therefore in consideration of this truth excite in your heart great reverence toward God who is so intimately present in you.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, pp. 84-85)

Today, do you want to stand on “holy ground”? Then look in a mirror!

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(March 25, 2019: Annunciation of the Lord)
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“Ask for a sign from the Lord your God…”

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance of making such a request of God? Who wouldn’t say “yes” to the opportunity for God to display His power for us and/or for someone whom we love? Yet, in today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Ahaz balks when given the opportunity of a lifetime and he takes a pass. He backs away, saying, “I will not tempt the Lord.”

What’s up with that? Perhaps Ahaz’s reluctance is rooted in his intuition that signs from the Lord often require changes in the one who asks for the sign in the first place! Under those circumstances, his circumspection makes a whole lot more sense. Remember the admonition? “Be careful what you pray for…”

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

“Devout discussions and arguments, miracles and other helps in Christ’s religion do indeed make it supremely credible and knowable, but faith alone makes it believed and known. It brings us to love the beauty of its truth and to believe the truth of its beauty by the sweetness it diffuses throughout our will and the certitude it gives to our intellect. The Jews saw our Lord’s miracles (signs) and heard his marvelous doctrines, but since they were not disposed to accept the faith, that is, since their wills were not susceptible to the sweet and gentle faith because of the bitterness and malice with which they were filled, they remained in their infidelity. They saw the force of the proof but they did not relish its sweet conclusion…” (TLG, II, Chapter 14, pp. 139 – 140)

Of course, God has been giving us signs of his love for us - regardless of whether we have asked for them or not - from the very beginning of time. Creation, itself – through which we were made in God’s image and likeness - is the first and fundamental sign of God’s love for us. As today’s Gospel reminds us, Jesus is the great reaffirmation of that first and fundamental sign of divine love, because Jesus not only redeems us, but through Jesus God also made himself in our image and likeness.

If you are so moved, feel free to ask God for a sign of his love and care. However, it is better that we be more moved to be signs of God’s love and care in the lives of one another.

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(March 26, 2019: 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 presen5t 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 to God today – regardless of what it is that we may want to sacrifice for God today – just remember 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!