Spirituality Matters 2019: February 28th - March 6th

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(February 28, 2019: Thursday, Seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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"Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

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

“The Sacred Spouse declares that he is always pleased to accept the great deeds of devout persons, that their least and lowest deeds are also acceptable to him, and that to serve him as he wishes we must have great care to serve him well both in great, lofty matters and in small, unimportant things.” (IDL, Part 3, Ch. 35)

In an obvious reference to Jesus’ own words in today’s Gospel, Francis de Sales continued:

“For a single cup of water, God has promised to his faithful a sea of perfect bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves from moment to moment it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches if you only use them well.” (IDL, Part 3, Ch. 35)

Something so simple as offering someone a cup of water of means of salvation? Don’t take my word for it – listen to Jesus himself.

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(March 1, 2019: Friday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
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“Let your acquaintances be many, but one in a thousand your confidant.”

Francis de Sales believed that we need to befriend others along the road to salvation. In other words, one of the greatest aids to our living a devout life is to identify – and cultivate – sound friendships. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis wrote:

“‘A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality, and those who fear the Lord find him.’ As you see, these divine words chiefly refer to immortality, and for this we must above all else have this faithful friend who by advice and counsel guides our actions and thus protects us from the snares and deceits of the wicked one. For us such a friend will be a treasure of wisdom in affliction, sorrow and failure. Such a friend will serve as a medicine to ease and comfort our hearts when afflicted by spiritual sickness. Such a friend will guard us from evil and make our good still better.” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 4)

The book of Sirach counsels us to be very particular about the kind of friendship we establish: one in a thousand. For his part, Francis de Sales suggests an even higher standard:

“Chose one out of thousand...For my part, I say one out of ten thousand, for there are fewer people than we realize who are capable of this task. Such a person must be full of charity, knowledge and prudence…I tell you again, ask God for such a friend, and having once found him (or her), bless his Divine Majesty – stand firm, and do not look for another, but go forward with simplicity, humility and confidence for you will make a most prosperous journey.” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 4)

When it comes to living a life of devotion, don’t go it alone – make friends who can accompany you along the way.

But remember – choose your friends wisely.

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(March 2, 2019: Saturday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
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“The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these…

Why did Jesus hold children in such high esteem? William Barclay offers these thoughts:

  • “There is the child’s humility…The child has not yet learned to think in terms of place and pride and prestige. He has not yet learned to discover the importance of himself.”
  • “There is the child’s obedience. True, a child is often disobedient, but, paradox thought it may seem, its natural instinct is to obey. The child has not yet learned the pride and the false independence which separate a man from his fellow-men and from God.”
  • “There is the child’s trust…acceptance of authority and confidence in other people.”
  • “The child has a short memory. It hasn’t yet learned to hold grudges and nourish bitterness. Even when unjustly treated – and who of us is not sometimes unjust to children – the child forgets and forgets so completely that it does not even need to forgive.”
“Indeed, of such is the Kingdom of God.”

How might we imitate the example of children today?

Indeed, every day of Jesus’ life something of that remarkable brilliance, that remarkable passion and that remarkable glory was revealed to people of all ages, stages and states of life. The shepherds and magi saw it; the elders in the temple saw it; the guests at a wedding saw it; a woman caught in adultery saw it; a boy possessed by demons saw it; a man born blind saw it; the good thief saw it.

If so many others could recognize Jesus’ brilliance in a word, a glance or a touch, why might Peter, James and John have required such extra effort in helping them to see Jesus’ glory? Perhaps it was because they were so close to Jesus; perhaps it was because they were with him every day; perhaps it was because, on some level, they had somehow taken his glory for granted.

What about us? Do we recognize that same divine glory present in us, present in others, present in creation, present in even the simplest and most ordinary, everyday experiences of justice, truth, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion?

Or do we take it for granted?

St. Francis de Sales saw the Transfiguration as a “glimpse of heaven.” How might our eyes, our minds and our hearts need to be transfigured and transformed in ways that enable us to catch this “glimpse of heaven” within us and around us? How might we need to see more clearly the glory of a God who always loves, redeems, heals, forgives, challenges, pursues., strengthens and inspires us?

Today, may we grow in our ability - through the quality of our lives - to make that “glimpse of heaven” more clearly visible and available to the eyes – and in the lives – of others.

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(March 3, 2019: Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.”

Francis de Sales dedicated five chapters in his Introduction to the Devout Life to the subject of conversation. The fact that he would devote so much attention to this topic speaks to the importance – and the impact – of words.

Francis wrote:

“Physicians learn about a person’s health or sickness by looking at his tongue. In like manner, our words are a true indication of the state of our souls. ‘By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned,’ says the Savior. We quickly move our hand to the pain we feel and our tongue to what we like. If you are truly in love with God, you will often speak of God in familiar conversation with your servants, friends and neighbors.’ The mouth of the just man shall meditate on wisdom and his tongue shall speak of judgment. Just as bees extract with their tiny mouths nothing but honey, so your tongue should always be sweetened with its God and find no greater pleasure than to taste the praise and benediction of his holy name flowing between your lips.” (IDL, Part 3, Ch. 26)

Spend just a few hours watching cable television and/or surfing social media and you’ll notice that there is no shortage of words on the airways and the Internet. These words may tell us a great deal about the people speaking them; these words may also tell us a great deal about the nature of our culture. Note the level of volume, shouting, harshness, suspicion and divisiveness that characterizes so much of our conversations – if you can call them that – these days.

Remarkable how prescient Francis de Sales’ advice sounds four hundred years ago given the context in which we live today.

“To speak little – a practice highly recommended by ancient sages – does not consist in uttering only a few words but in uttering none that are useless. With regard to speech, we must not look to the quantity but rather to the quality of our words. It seems to me that we ought to avoid two extremes. To be too reserved and to refuse to take part in conversation looks like lack of confidence in the others or some sort of disdain. To be always babbling or joking without giving others time or chance to speak when they wish is a mark of shallowness and levity.” (IDL, Part 3, Ch. 30)

Let’s be clear – words are not just words. They can shape and create reality, for better or for worse. How just are our words? What do our words tell others about the state of our soul? What do our words tell us about the health of our heart?

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(March 4, 2019: Monday, Eighth Week of Ordinary Time)
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“You shall not…You shall.”

Today’s Gospel remind us that being children of God comes with its share of “do’s” and “don’ts.”

The “don’ts” include: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; The “do’s” include: honor your father and your mother.

During the season of Lent, it is customary for people to focus on not doing the “don’ts” of life. In the Salesian tradition, however, we’re probably better off pursuing the “do’s” of God’s Kingdom as a more effective remedy for the “don’ts.” For example, why settle for giving up lying when we can tell the truth? Why promise to stop being stingy when we can redouble our efforts at being generous? Why refrain from stealing when we can commit ourselves to being honest? Why merely turn away from hatred when we can turn toward healing? Why simply renounce revenge when we can accomplish much more with reconciliation?

So, how will you use your time and energy today? By avoiding life’s “don’ts” or by doing life’s “do’s?”

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(March 5, 2019: Tuesday, Eighth Week of Ordinary Time)
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“With each contribution show a cheerful countenance, and pay your tithes in a spirit of joy. Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means.”

In the Preface I from the former Sacramentary for the Eucharistic Prayer for the season of Lent, we hear:

“For by your gracious gift each year your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts
with the joy of minds made pure, so that, more eagerly intent on prayer and on the works of charity.”

People associate the season of Lent with all kinds of experiences: sacrifice, self-denial, self-discipline, penitence, sorrow and suffering, just to name a few. The experience of joy probably wouldn’t appear anywhere near the top of most peoples’ list…if at all. But indeed, Lent can be a joyful season, provided that we understand the nature and the basis of authentic Christian joy: striving to be the best version of yourself.

In a letter to her brother Andre Fremyot, the Archbishop of Bourges, Jane de Chantal wrote the following:

Try to perform all your actions calmly and gently. Keep your mind ever joyful, peaceful and content. Do not worry about your perfection, or about your soul. God, to whom it belongs, and to whom you have completely entrusted it, will take care of it and fill it with all the graces, consolations and blessings of His holy love in the measure that they will be useful in this life…” (LSD, page 203)

How might we keep our minds joyful during the season of Lent? How about by beginning each and every day of Lent by recalling all that God – in his mercy, generosity and love – has done for you! Consider who God has made you, and who God continues to call you to be.

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(March 6, 2019: Ash Wednesday)
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“Do not babble like the pagans…”

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives instruction on the proper way to pray. He cautions us to “not babble like the pagans,” who think that they will be heard because of their many words.

In a sermon given on April 5, 1615, Francis de Sales made the following observation regarding prayer in general, and vocal prayer in particular:

“To mutter something with the lips is not praying if one’s heart is not joined to it. To speak it is necessary first to have conceived interiorly what we wish to say. There is first the interior word, and then the spoken word, which causes what the interior has first pronounced to be understood. Prayer is nothing other than speaking to God. Now it is certain that to speak to God without being attentive to Him and to what we say to Him is something that is most displeasing to Him…God tests more the heart of the one who prays rather than the words pronounced by one who prays.” (Fiorelli, OSFS, Sermons on Prayer, p. 18)

Authentic prayer is not a matter of words. Authentic prayer is a matter of the heart. Lent provides a perfect opportunity to revisit this truth…and to live by it.