Spirituality Matters 2017: September 28th - October 4th
(September 28, 2017: Thursday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Consider your ways!”
The verb “consider” is defined:
- to think about (something or someone) carefully especially in order to make a choice or decision
- to think about something that is important in understanding something or in making a decision or judgment
- to think about (a person or a person's feelings) before you do something
- “Consider that a certain number of years ago you were not yet in the world.”
- “Consider the nature that God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world and is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to the Divine Majesty.”
- “Consider the unhappiness of worldly people who live as if they believe themselves created only to build houses, plant trees, pile up wealth and do frivolous things.”
- “Consider the corporal benefits that God has bestowed on you.”
- “Consider your gifts of mind.”
- “Consider your spiritual favors.”
- “Consider your evil inclinations and how often you give way to them.”
- “Consider particularly the sin of ingratitude to God.”
- “Consider how uncertain the day of your death is.”
- “Consider that there will come a time for you when the world will no longer be.”
- “Consider the long, languishing goodbye that your soul will give to this world.”
- “Consider with what haste others will carry away your body and bury it in the earth.”
- Consider how the soul – after leaving the body – goes its way, either to the right or to the left. Ah, where will your soul go?”
- “Consider the nobility, beauty and the number of the citizens and inhabitants of heaven.”
- “Consider that you stand between heaven and hell and that each of them lies open to receive you according to the choices you make.”
- “Consider that the choice of one or the other of them that we make in this world will last eternally in the world to come.”
(September 29, 2017: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael - Archangels)
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“In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord…”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Sacred providence determined to produce all things, both natural and supernatural, for the sake of our Savior so that angels and men might serve him and thus share in his glory. For this reason, although God willed to create both angels and men with free will, free with a true freedom to choose good and evil, still, to testify that on the part of God’s goodness they were dedicated to what is good and to glory, he created all of them in the state of original justice, which is nothing other than a most sweet love which would dispose them for, turn them towards and set them on the way to eternal happiness.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 4, p.112)
St. Francis de Sales believed that we have at least two things in common with the angels: (1) God created us with freedom and (2) God gave us a freedom tending toward what “is good and to glory”. Of course, God’s plans went awry in both cases. First, there was a revolt among some of the angels (recall the story of Lucifer) who resented having to pay homage to God. With this revolt God “resolved to abandon forever that sad and wretched legion of traitors who in furious rebellion had so shamefully abandoned him”. Second, (in the persons of Adam and Eve) “man would abuse his liberty, forsake grace and thus lose glory. Yet, God did not will to deal with human nature in so rigorous a way as he had decided to deal with angelic nature…he looked with pity upon our nature and resolved to have mercy on it”. (Ibid, pp. 112 - 113)
In the Salesian tradition, then, what distinguishes us from the angels are the lengths to which God will go to redeem us. In the case of the rebellious angels, God simply banished them from his presence. In the case of his rebellious creatures – people like you and me – God not only does not banish us, but he also sent his only Son to redeem us.
Francis de Sales says that the problem with many people who wish to pursue a life of devotion is that they make the mistake of trying to live like angels when they should be trying to live like good men and women. Given the fact that even the angels have had their share of challenges, maybe we have more than enough on our plates just being human without trying to be angelic, too.
What’s the moral of the story? Let’s do our level best to sing God’s praises in the sight of the angels, but let’s do it as humanly as possible!
(September 30, 2017: Saturday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Pay attention to what I am telling you.”
Some things in life are more important than others. With the hope of trying to impress upon another person that what we are about to say is of greater importance than other things, more often than not, we will preface our advice with words like “listen up,” “pay attention” or “this is really important”.
While we’d like to think that everything that Jesus said is of equal importance, Jesus clearly wanted to impress his disciples with the inevitability of his showdown with the religious leaders of his time. And while we know that Jesus raised this issue more than a few times in the Gospels, the disciples seem to have had difficulty in grasping the importance – even, the necessity – of this prediction.
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“The more pleasant and excellent are the objects our senses encounter, the more ardently and avidly do they enjoy them. The more beautiful, the more delightful to our sight, and the more effectively lighted they are, the more eagerly and attentively do our eyes look to them. The sweeter and more pleasant a voice or music is, the more completely is the ear’s attention drawn to it. This force is more or less strong in accordance with the greater or lesser excellence of the object, provided that it is proportionate to the capacity of the sense desiring to enjoy it. For example, although the eye finds great pleasure in light, it cannot bear extremely strong light, nor can it look steadily at the sun. No matter how beautiful music may be, if it is too loud and too close to us, it strikes harshly on the ear and disturbs it.” (TLG, Book III, Chapter 9, p. 186)
There are so many things that Jesus wants us to learn about the living in God’s love.
How well will we pay attention to what God may be telling us about those ways - just today?
(October 1, 2017: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”
To live humbly, as St. Augustine said, is to live in the truth: the truth about God, the truth about ourselves and the truth about others. This living in the truth is no mere intellectual exercise. It is something that should make a profound difference in the way we live our lives.
St. Francis de Sales saw Jesus Christ as the perfect model of humility. What was the truth about Jesus? First, Christ was divine. Second, Christ did not selfishly cling to his divine nature. Third, Christ generously and freely shared his power (in conformity with the Father's will) with individual men, women and children in a particular time, in a particular space and in a particular place in human history. Fourth, so enamored of us was Christ that he shared his divinity with us by becoming fully human by experiencing birth, celebrating life, and embracing death.
The mystery of his self-emptying is only fully understood in the light of his divine power. The significance of his humility is all the greater when seen as an expression of his absolute generosity. His service to us is all the more remarkable when we consider it should have been us serving him.
To be humble is to live in the truth as Jesus did. Like Christ, we must first acknowledge that since we are made in the image and likeness of God, we, too, are good. Second, we have to acknowledge that our God-given dignity is not meant to serve our own needs alone, but rather, we are created to “look to others’ interests rather than our own.” Third, we acknowledge that as good and beautiful and holy as the created order may be, our ultimate glory is to live forever in heaven. Fourth, we walk in the belief that only those who lay down their lives each day in service will be raised up on the last day.
Our glory is not found in clinging to our God-given dignity and destiny. No, our power is most vividly and powerfully glorified when we use that dignity and destiny to reach out to one another in love. Like Christ, we are most powerful when we devote ourselves to pursuing the health, holiness and happiness of others.
Like Christ, humble servants know that they can be truly happy only by making their very best effort every day to “make complete” the joy of others. By emptying ourselves, we make more room for others…and in the process we come to know the fullness of joy ourselves by becoming fully human as God has intended.
To be sure, every knee must bend in heaven, on earth and under the earth before the presence of the Almighty. However, we who walk in the presence of God must also stand tall for and live in the truth for God, for ourselves, and especially for one another.
(October 2, 2017: Memorial of the Guardian Angels)
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“Their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father...”
God not only calls us to live a holy life but God also provides us with the means to live that life – what Francis de Sales calls “aids” – and to help us to become holy people. In a conference (“On Constancy”) given to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales remarked:
“The aids that God gives to us are intended to help us to keep steadily on our way, to prevent our falling, or, if we fall, to help us to get back up again. Oh, with what openness, cordiality, sincerity, simplicity and faithful confidence ought we to dialogue with these aids, which are given to us by God to help us in our spiritual progress. Certainly this is true in the case of our good angels. We ought to look upon them in the same way, since our good angels are called angel guardians because they are commissioned to help us by their inspirations, to defend us in perils, to reprove us when we err and to stimulate us in the pursuit of virtue. They are charged to carry our prayers before the throne of the majesty, goodness and mercy of Our Lord and to bring back to us the answers to our petitions. The graces, too, which God bestows on us, He gives through the intervention or intercession of our good angels. Now, other aids are our visible good angels, just as our holy angel guardians are our invisible ones. Other aids do visibly what our good angels do inwardly, for they warn us of our faults; they encourage us when we are weak and languid; they stimulate us in our endeavors to attain perfection; they prevent us from falling by their goods counsels, and they help us to rise up again when we have fallen over some precipice of imperfection or fault. If we are overwhelmed with weariness and disgust they help us to bear our trouble patiently, and they pray to God to give us strength so to bear it so as not to be overcome by temptation. See, then, how much we ought to value their assistance and their tender care for us …” (Conference III, pp. 41-42)
In the mind of Francis de Sales, God provide us with invisible support for our journey in this life through those “aids” known as “angel guardians”. It’s safe to say that some of the most visible “aids” that God uses to provide support for our journey in this life are known by another name: “friends”.
Today, can we imitate the invisible example of the angel guardians by befriending one another in very visible ways?
(October 3, 2017: Tuesday, Twenty-six Week in Ordinary Time)
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“God is with us…”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis wrote:
“God is in all things and in all places. There is no place or thing in this world where God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly they encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are we find God present. Everyone knows this truth but not everyone tries to bring it home to himself…Unfortunately, we do not see God who is present with us. Although faith assures us of his presence, yet because we do not see God with our eyes we often forget about God and behave as if God were far distant from us.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but what is one of the surest signs that “God is with us”? The answer – when we act that way.
(October 4, 2017: Francis of Assisi, Religious and Founder)
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"No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God."
Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Francis of Assisi. In his book entitled This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell wrote:
“It is the rare Christian who does not get all syrupy about St. Francis of Assisi’s love or animals. Blame it on all those garden statues of Francis with a bunny curled up at his feet and little birds chirping on his shoulder. In real life, Francis’ view of animals was theological rather than sentimental. Animals form part of God’s creation, and, as the Book of Genesis tells us, everything in creation is good. No doubt Francis loved bunnies and birds, but he also loved spiders and snakes – and that is the challenge. Francis saw the world as an immense God-ordered system in which everything plays the role assigned to it by the Creator, and therefore every creature, whether it’s cute and cuddly or not, has value.” ( This Saint’s for You, p. 31)
“One story in particular spotlights Francis’ belief in restoring the balance between man and beast. The town of Gubbio was plagued by a ferocious wolf that had carried off lambs, calve and other livestock – it had even killed small children. Afraid that the wolf would attack them, the people refused to travel outside the city walls. Declaring he was not afraid, Francis went outside the town in search of the wolf and hadn’t gone very far when he found the creature. ‘Brother Wolf,’ said Francis, ‘you have been stealing livestock that does not belong to you and frightening your neighbors. In the name of the Lord of Heaven, I command you to stop.’ The wolf drooped its head and lay on the ground at Francis’ feet. The Saint then turned to the townspeople, saying, ‘Brother Wolf will not trouble you or your animals, but in return you must feed him every day.’ The people of Gubbio agreed, and every day the wolf came to town for a meal. He became the town’s unofficial pet, and when he died the heartbroken townspeople had a sculpture of him carved and placed over the door of one of the town’s churches, where it remains to this day.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 31-32)
In the case of Francis of Assisi, Jesus sent him out - literally - as a
lamb to confront a wolf. In all our lives there are many things with which
we must deal - some of them “cute and cuddly,” others life-threatening.
Francis never looked back at where he had been before – his eyes and heart
were always fixed on the road ahead…and what the Lord might have in store
And so we pray: God, help us to follow the example of Francis of Assisi (for whom St. Francis de Sales was named). Help us to not look back at was has been – help us to look forward to consider what might be – in the service of God and one another.