Spirituality Matters 2017: August 24th - August 30th

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(August 24, 2017: Bartholomew, Apostle)
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Rv 21:9b-14     Ps 145:10-11, 12-13, 17-18     Jn 1:45-51

“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom…”

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

“You can see how God – by progressive stages filled with unutterable sweetness – leads the soul forward and enables it to leave the Egypt of sin. He leads it from love to love, as from dwelling to dwelling, until He has made it enter into the Promised Land. By this I mean that God brings it into most holy charity, which, to state it succinctly, is a form of friendship…Such friendship is true friendship, since it is reciprocal, for God has eternally loved all those who have loved Him, who now love Him or who will love Him in time…He has openly revealed all His secrets to us as to His closest friends…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 22, pp. 160 - 161)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is clear and unambiguous about the quality that makes Bartholomew (a.k.a., Nathaniel) a friend of God: “There is no guile in him.” There is no pretense in Bartholomew – nothing fake, nothing phony. Jesus sees him as a man who is real, authentic and transparent - he is an open book.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offered some practical advice regarding how to practice the virtue of guilelessness

“Your language should be retrained, frank, sincere, candid unaffected and honest…As the sacred Scripture tells us, The Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul. No artifice is so good and desirable as plain dealing. Worldly prudence and carnal artifice belong to the children of this world, but the children (the friends) of God walk a straight path and their hearts are without guile.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Do you want to be a friend of God today? Like Bartholomew, strive to be guileless. Simply try to be yourself – nothing more and nothing less.

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(August 25, 2017: Louis IX, King)
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Ru 1:1, 3-6, 14b-16, 22     Ps 146:5-6ab, 6c-7, 8-9a, 9bc-10     Mt 22:34-40

“The LORD keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets captives free.

“St. Louis led an exemplary life. His biographers have told us of the long hours he spent in prayer, fasting and penance, without the knowledge of his subjects. The French king was a great lover of justice. It was during his reign that the ‘court of the king’ (curia regis) was organized into a regular court of justice, having competent experts, and judicial commissions acting at regular periods.”

“He was renowned for his charity. ‘The peace and blessings of the realm come to us through the poor,’ he would say. Beggars were fed from his table, he ate their leavings, washed their feet, ministered to the wants of the lepers, and daily fed over one hundred poor. He founded many hospitals and houses: the House of the Felles-Dieu for reformed prostitutes; the Quinze-Vingt for three hundred blind men and the hospitals at Pontoise, Vernon, and Compiégne.”

“St. Louis was a man of sound common sense, possessing indefatigable energy, graciously kind and of playful humor, and constantly guarding against the temptation to be imperious. His personal qualities as well as his saintliness greatly enhanced the prestige of the French monarchy. Boniface VIII canonized St. Louis at Orvieto in 1297.” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09368a.htm)

In a letter addressed to Jane de Chantal’s son Celse-Benigne, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Imagine that you were a courtier of St. Louis. This holy king liked the people around him to be brave, courageous, generous, cheerful, courteous, affable, frank and polite – but above all, he wanted them to be good Christians. If you had been with him you would have seen him laugh merrily when the occasion offered, speak out boldly when the need arose, maintaining a brave outward show of royal splendor and dignity (like another Solomon), and in the next moment you would have seen him serving the poor at the hospitals, and in short marrying civil virtue to Christian virtue, and majesty to humility. And this, in a word, should be your aim: to be no less brave for being a Christian, and to be no less Christina for being brave.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 189 - 190)

Much like God himself, St. Louis clearly kept faith, secured justice for the oppressed, gave food to the hungry and set captives free – among other things. In the process of being the kind of king worthy of Christ the King, Louis powerfully displayed his nobility by the manner in which he respected and promoted the dignity of all people, from the most privileged to the most impoverished.

How might we be inspired by Louis’ ability to marry majesty with generosity in our relationships with others today?

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(August 26, 2017: Saturday, Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ru 2:1-3, 8-11; 4:13-17     Ps 128:1b-2, 3, 4, 5     Mt 23:1-12

“Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you…”

But do not follow their example. Jesus’ criticism, of course, is directed at the scribes and the Pharisees. There is good news and bad news about these religious peers of Jesus. The good news? They excelled at telling other people how to live a virtuous life! The bad news? They failed to practice what they preached.

In other words, they lived life by a double standard. As Francis de sales once described, they had two hearts:

“A mild, gracious and courteous attitude toward themselves and another that was hard, severe and rigorous toward their neighbors. They had two weights: one to weight goods to their own greatest possible advantage and another to weight their neighbors to their greatest disadvantage.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 216)

To make matters even worse, not only did the scribes and Pharisees weigh one weight to their neighbors’ greatest disadvantage, but they also laid heavy burdens on others – hard to carry – without lifting even so much as a finger to help carry them.

Francis de Sales’ condemnation of living life by a double standard is short but not very sweet: “To have two weights – one heavier with which to receive and the other lighter with which to dispense – ‘is an abominable thing to the Lord.’” (Ibid)

Today, do you want to be the greatest among others in the sight of God? Then live not by two standards, but by one: God’s standard. Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, try your level best this day to treat others as you would want them to treat you. Let others see in you someone who not only talks the talk but also walks the walk.

The talk – and walk – of love.

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(August 27, 2017: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Is 22:19-23     Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8     Rom 11:33-36     Mt 16:13-20

“Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!”

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

“We see that the universe, and especially human nature, is like a clock made up of so great a variety of actions and movements that we cannot restrain our wonder at it. We know in a general way that these parts, diversely fashioned in so many ways, all serve either to display, as inside a watch, God's most holy justice, or to make manifest the triumphant mercy of God's goodness, as by a chime of praise. But to know in particular the function of each part, either as ordered to the general end or as to why it is made as it is, this we cannot understand unless the supreme watchmaker teaches it to us. However, God does not reveal his art to us now in order that we might admire it with greater reverence until in heaven God will ravish us with the beauty of his wisdom. Then, in the abundance of his love God will unveil to us the reasons, means and motives of all that has taken place in this world to effect our eternal salvation.” (Book IV, Chapter 8)

Indeed, who of us can know the mind of God? Who of us can hope to understand God’s plan for us? Who of us can comprehend the breadth and depth of God's love for us? God's justice is beyond the limits of the human mind.

While we may not know the mind of God, we can clearly come to know the heart of God…in the person of his Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

However, in Christ we see the God who created us. In Christ we see the God who redeemed us. In Christ we see the God who inspires us. In Christ we see the God who loves us, forgives us, challenges us, cares for us and longs for our happiness.

In Christ we also see something else - what it means to be fully human. The human mind and heart are at their best when they are compassionate, forgiving, honest, just, peaceful and generous. In Christ, the humble and gentle servant, we see what it means to be truly human and what it means to be sons and daughters of the living God.

To be sure, there is much of God’s mind that we can only hope to know in heaven. In the meantime, the bulk of our efforts should be directed to understanding and embodying the heart of God in our relationships with one another here on earth.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God” that is in each and every one of us.

Today, how can we share these riches and this wisdom with others today, and come to know in ourselves something of the heart of God?

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(August 28, 2017: Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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1 Thes 1:1-5, 8b-10     Ps 149:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6a and 9b     Mt 23:13-22

“The Lord takes delight in his people…”

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

“Consider the nature that God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world; it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty…For this purpose God has given you intellect to know him, memory to be mindful of him, will to love him, imagination to picture to yourself his benefits, eyes to see his wonderful works, tongue to praise him, and so on with other faculties…’” (IDL, Part I, Chapters 9 and 10, pp. 53; 55)

In the mind of Saint Francis de Sales, God displays his great delight in us through all the blessings that God showers upon us. In particular, God takes great delight when we use our God-given talents, skills and abilities in ways that God intends.

This fact certainly seems to have been true in the case of St. Augustine.

“This famous son of St. Monica was born in Africa and spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. Though he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been raised a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride closed his mind to divine truth. Through the prayers of his holy mother and the marvelous preaching of St. Ambrose, Augustine gradually became convinced that Christianity was indeed the one true faith. Yet he did not become a Christian even then, because he thought he could never live a pure life.”

“One day, however, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted after reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terribly ashamed of himself. ‘What are we doing?’ he cried to his friend Alipius. ‘Unlearned people are taking heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!’ Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine cried out to God, ‘How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?’ Just then he heard a child singing, ‘Take up and read!’ Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul, and read the first passage upon which his gaze fell. It was just what Augustine needed, for in it, St. Paul said to put away all impurity and to live in imitation of Jesus. That did it! From then on, Augustine began a new life.” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=418 )

God takes delight in his people. He takes delight in you. Just this day, how might you be a source of God-given delight in the lives of other people?

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(August 29, 2017: Passion of John the Baptist)
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1 Thes 2:1-8     Ps 139:1-3, 4-6     Mk 6:17-29

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”

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

“All the martyrs died for divine love. When we say that many of them died for the faith, we must not imply that it was for a ‘dead faith’ but rather for a living faith, that is, faith animated by charity. Moreover, our confession of faith is not so much an act of the intellect as an act of the will and love of God. For this reason, on the day of the Passion the great St. Peter preserved his faith in his soul – but lost charity – since he refused in words to admit as Master Him whom in his heart he acknowledged to be such. But there are other martyrs who died expressly for charity alone. Such was the Savior’s great Precursor who suffered martyrdom because he gave fraternal correction…” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 10, pp. 40-41)

Of course, the “great Precursor” to whom Francis de Sales refers if none other than John the Baptist.

As the herald of Jesus, both before and after the latter’s baptism in the Jordan, John respected, honored and loved the Lord, as well as the things, values and standards of the Lord. For him God and the ways of God impelled him to call Herod out for his immoral lifestyle (taking his brother’s wife to be his own) in a very public forum. Rather than pander to public opinion, John placed his faith in God’s wisdom and God’s strength, a decision that ultimately cost John his life. But John didn’t lose his head over some mere intellectual principle. No, he gave it because of something he believed from – and in – the depth of his heart.

Today, consider: How much faith do we place in the wisdom and strength of God, come what may? How far are we willing to go for the things, the values and the people that we hold deeply in our hearts, presuming, of course, we possess such deep, heartfelt convictions?

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(August 30, 2017: Wednesday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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1 Thes 2:9-13     Ps 139:7-8, 9-10, 11-12ab     Mt 23:27-32

“We treated each one of you as a father treats his children, exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you walk in a manner worthy of the God
who calls you into his Kingdom and glory.”

In a letter addressed to Jane de Chantal, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Be devoted to St. Louis and admire his great constancy. He became king when he was twelve years old, had nine children, was constantly waging war either against the rebels of enemies of the faith, and reigned as king for over forty years. He made two journeys overseas. In the course of both of these crusades he lost his army, and on the last journey he died of the plague after he had spent much time visiting, helping and serving those who were plague-stricken in his army. He bandaged their sores and cured them, and then died joyfully and with fortitude…I give you this saint for your special patron.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 75)

In the opinion of Francis de sales, St. Louis was a powerful and poignant picture of how a father should treat his children, that is, how it looks when someone takes seriously the charge to look out for the health, welfare and well-being of others. While King Louis may have had a great many things on his plate, his earthly duties and responsibilities were not an obstacle to living a Christian life - rather, they provided opportunities and occasions in which he practiced the Christian life and pursued a life of virtue. This was a man who – very much like Paul, Francis de Sales and, for that matter, Jesus himself – walked in a manner worthy of God by living his earthly life in a heavenly way.

How might we walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls us into his Kingdom and glory - just today?