Spirituality Matters 2018: February 22nd - February 28th

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(February 22, 2018: Chair of Peter, Apostle)
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“Who do you say that I am?”

On the web site of the Catholic News Agency, we find the following entry for the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter:

“The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter celebrates the papacy and St. Peter as the first bishop of Rome. St. Peter's original name was Simon. He was married with children and was living and working in Capernaum as a fisherman when Jesus called him to be one of the Twelve Apostles. Jesus bestowed to Peter a special place among the Apostles. He was one of the three who were with Christ on special occasions, such as the Transfiguration of Christ and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was the only Apostle to whom Christ appeared on the first day after the Resurrection. Peter, in turn, often spoke on behalf of the Apostles.”

“When Jesus asked the Apostles: ‘Who do men say that the Son of Man is?’ Simon replied: ‘Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ And Jesus said: ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood have not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you: That you are Peter [Cephas, a rock], and upon this rock [Cephas] I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven’. (Mt 16:13-20) In saying this Jesus made St. Peter the head of the entire community of believers and placed the spiritual guidance of the faithful in St. Peter’s hands.”

This post on the web site continues: “However, St. Peter was not without faults…”

Now there’s an understatement. No sooner does Jesus give Peter a big “shout out” for correctly identifying him as the Christ than Jesus publically – and severely – reprimands Peter for disputing Jesus’ description of Himself as a suffering Messiah. Later on in their relationship, Peter rather lamely suggests erecting three tents while Jesus is transfigured on Mt. Tabor. Still later, Peter impetuously severs the ear of a slave belonging to the chief priests who who came to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane. After protesting his love for Jesus at the Last Supper, Peter denied Jesus not once, not twice but three times. And, of course, while Jesus spent the last hours of his life hanging on the cross, Peter was nowhere to be found.

Jesus may have called Peter “rock”, but the Savior knew Peter also had cracks. While “Chair of Peter” speaks of stability, even Peter might be described as being “off his rocker” from time to time.

However, as imperfect as Peter was, God entrusted the keys of the kingdom to him. And as imperfect as we are, Jesus continues to entrust those same keys – however obvious or innocuous – to each and every one of us.

Today, as we celebrate the “Chair of Peter,” don’t forget that Jesus has likewise prepared a chair – a place, a role – for each and every one of us in continuing the work of God’s Kingdom.

Like Peter, do we have the courage to take our place in God’s plan of salvation?

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(February 23, 2018: Friday, First Week of Lent)
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“You have heard it said…but I say to you.”

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine.
Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world what is fair?
We walk blind and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be.
Bring me a higher love, bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love, where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?

- sung by Steve Winwood

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to a “higher” love. Jesus urges us to avoid practicing or pursuing spiritual minimalism, i.e., looking to do only the bare minimum of what is required or living life by the “good enough” method. Jesus clearly raises the bar when he tells his listeners that it isn’t just enough to avoid killing your neighbor, but you must also avoid growing angry with – or holding a grudge against – your neighbor. Indeed, you must be reconciled with your neighbor.

It isn’t enough to “do no harm”. We must be devoted to doing the good. Jesus’ “higher love” is really at the heart of Francis’ notion of “devotion”. He wrote:

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to God’s Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only make us do good but also do the good carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion…In addition, it arouses us to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired.” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 1)

For his part, St. Francis de Sales also challenges us to avoid spiritual minimalism. It isn’t good enough to avoid lying; we must be truthful. It isn’t good enough to avoid gluttony; we must be disciplined. It isn’t good enough to avoid being parsimonious; we must be generous. It isn’t good enough to avoid injuring others; we must heal others.

And so today, we pray: God, help us to live by a higher standard – help us to practice a higher love.

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(February 24, 2018: Saturday, First Week of Lent)
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"Be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul..."

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

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to the Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also do this carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Indeed, “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord”!

Carefully, frequently and promptly!

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(February 25, 2018: Second Sunday of Lent)
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“He was transfigured before their eyes and his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than the work of any bleacher could make them.”

Something remarkable happened on that mountain.

Consider the possibility that it was not Jesus who was transfigured. Perhaps it was Peter, James and John who were transformed. Imagine that this account from Mark’s Gospel documents the experience of Peter, James and John as their eyes were opened - their vision widened - enabling them to see without any impediment the virtually blinding light of Jesus’ love that flowed from every fiber of his being.

Indeed, in each and 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 feast saw it; a woman caught in adultery saw it; a boy possessed by demons saw it; a man born blind saw it; a good thief saw it.

If so many others could recognize Jesus’ glory in a word, a glance or a touch, why might Peter, James and John have required such extra effort in helping them to see it? 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 and 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.” 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. May God help us to recognize the remarkable things that occur every day in our own lives…and in the lives of one another.


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(February 26, 2018: Monday, Second Week of Lent)
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“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful…”

What does it mean to be merciful as the Father is merciful? As the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel suggests, it is about being generous and loyal. Daniel wrote:

“Lord, great and awesome, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those people who love you and observe your commandments!”

Daniel then proceeds to remind his audience that the Lord also keeps his merciful covenant with those people who rebel against God’s commandments and laws through sin, evil and wickedness. Of course – as we know from our own experience - there is something of both within each one of us, because each one obeys and disobeys God’s commandments. And still, for all that, God remains loyal to us in good times, in bad times and in all the times in between. God stands by us in all things. God loves us no matter what. God is, after all, “compassion and forgiveness”.

Of course, God’s mercy, generosity and fidelity come with some very high expectations. God’s forgiveness should lead us to practice compassion, not complacence. As God doesn’t judge us, so we should not judge others! As God doesn’t condemn us, so we should not condemn others! As God forgives us, so we should forgive others! As God gives to us, so we should give to others! The measure with which we measure to others should measure up to how generously God measures to us…in all kinds of times, places and situations!

Would you like to be “great and awesome” in the eyes of God? Then try to do your level best to be merciful to others today as God is clearly merciful to you!

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(February 27, 2018: Tuesday, Second Week of Lent)
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“Let us set things right…”

Today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah offers us some particularly appropriate and timely advice as we continue to journey through Lent. We are challenged to:

  • Wash ourselves clean
  • To put aside our misdeeds
  • To cease doing evil
  • To learn to do good
  • To be willing to obey
In short, we are called to do the right thing.

Of course, we know from our own lived experience that as hard as we try to do the right thing, we don’t always get it right. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offers us a practical for-instance:

“I constantly advise you that prayers directed against and pressing anger must always be said calmly and peaceably, and not violently. Thus rule must be observed in all steps taken against evil. However, as soon as you see that you are guilty of a wrathful deed, correct the fault right away by an act of meekness toward the person with whom you were anger. It is a sovereign remedy against lying to contradict the untruth upon the spot as soon as we realize that we have told one. So also we must repair our anger instantly by a contrary act of meekness. Fresh wounds are quickest healed, as the saying goes…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 8, pp. 148-149)

So, what is the moral? When it comes to doing good, we can always try our level best to make things right at a later time (but not too late!) in the event that we don’t always get things right the first time.

Lent might be a perfect time to do just that!

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(February 28, 2018: Wednesday, Second Week of Lent)
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“What do you wish…?”

“What’s in it for me?” On some level that’s essentially what the mother of James and John is asking Jesus in today’s Gospel story. Whether her sons put her up to it or she came up with it all by herself, she is basically asking, “Why should my sons follow you? What’s the pay-off?” On the face of it, her request is perhaps reasonable, given Jesus’ prediction of his own falling out with the chief priests and the scribes that will lead to his being condemned, mocked, scourged and crucified. She wants some guarantee that her boys will have something to show for their trouble that she intuits will invariably come.

Really – what mother wouldn’t be concerned?

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

We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

There is no way around it – the experience of enduring injuries, denials and discomforts is part-and-parcel of the life that comes with drinking from the chalice from which Jesus drinks. Following Jesus – who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – isn’t all smiles and sunshine. And somewhere deep down inside ourselves the mother of James and John whispers to us variations of her question to Jesus: “Why are you following Him? What’s in it for you? What do you hope to get out of this?”

“Must good be repaid with evil?” Some days it sure feels that way! Be that as it may, why do we continue to follow Jesus? Why do we drink from the chalice from which He drank?

Today, ask yourself the question: “What’s in it for me?”