Spirituality Matters 2016: December 15th - December 21st

* * * * *
(December 15, 2016: Thursday of the Third Week of Advent)
* * * * *

Is 54:1-10 Ps 30:2, 4-6, 11-13 Lk7:24-30

“I will praise you Lord, for you have rescued me.”

God has indeed rescued us. He has rescued us in so many ways. We might not think about it much, but the most fundamental way in which God has rescued us is by creating us – each and every one of us - out of love for us. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Consider that a certain number of years ago you were not yet in the world and that your present being was truly nothing. My soul, where were we at that time? The world had already existed for a long time, but of us there was yet nothing.”

“God has drawn us out of that nothingness to make us what we are now and God has done so solely out of his own goodness…”

“Consider the nature God has given to us. It is the highest in this visible world; it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.” (IDL, I, Chapter 9, p. 53)

It would be enough to praise God for having rescued us from nothingness. So much the more should we praise God for the lives God has given us - lives capable of being united forever with Him in this world and in the world to come.

How can we praise the Lord today?

* * * * *
(December 16, 2016: Friday of the Third Week of Advent)
* * * * *

Is 56:1-3a, 6-8 Ps 67:2-3, 5, 7-8 Jn 5:33-36

“Observe what is right; do what is just.”

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

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and put your neighbor in yours: then you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell: you will sell and buy justly. We lose nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously and with a royal, just and reasonable heart. Resolve to examine your heart often to see if it such toward your neighbor as you would like your neighbor’s to be toward you were you in your neighbor’s place. This is the touchstone of true reason.” (IDL III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

As sons and daughters of God, we are made in God’s image and likeness. We are to judge – and live – by God’s standards, i.e., to do what is right and just. May this same God give us the grace we need to live “generously, nobly, courteously and with royal, just and reasonable hearts”.

How well are we living by God’s standards in our relationships with one another?

* * * * *
(December 17, 2016: Saturday of the Third Week of Advent)
* * * * *

Gn 49:2, 8-10 Ps 72:3-4, 7-8, 17 Mt 1:1-17

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…”

“Genealogy (from Greek: ?e?e?, genea, “generation”; and ?????, logos, “knowledge”) is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral traditions, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members. The results are often displayed in charts or written as narratives. The pursuit of family history tends to be shaped by several motivations, including the desire to carve out a place for one’s family in the larger historical picture, a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations, and a sense of self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling.” (Wikipedia)

Today’s opening chapter from the Gospel of Matthew is Scripture’s version of Ancestry.com. Bridging the Old and New Testaments, it outlines the “genealogy of Jesus Christ”. As such, it carves out a place for Jesus within the larger picture of salvation history. As such, it strives to preserve names from past generations for future generations. As such, it tries to tell the story of Jesus’ predecessors as accurately as possible. As such, it attempts to provide as much information it can about the kinship and pedigree of those who came before Jesus.

Many of us assume that the “genealogy of Jesus Christ” ends with Jesus Christ. We assume that the story ends with the third set of fourteen generations. Nothing could be further from the truth! The “genealogy of Jesus Christ” isn’t limited to the names of his predecessors. It continues to this very day in the names of his followers. It continues in the present generation – in the lives of people like you and me.

Today, how can we live up to our God-given pedigree? How can we give convincing witness of our divine kinship? How can we demonstrate that we are sons and daughters of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ?

* * * * *
(December 18, 2016: Fourth Sunday of Advent)
* * * * *

Is 7:10-14 Ps 24:1-6 Rom 1:1-7 Mt 1: 18-24

“Mary said: ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’”

In God Desires You, St. Francis de Sales on Living the Gospel, author Eunan McDonnell, SDB, tells us:

“…Jesus praises the poor in spirit. He encourages a childlike attitude towards God our Father and openness to receive in faith. What is required is a childlike simplicity that can speak the ‘yes’. This is Mary’s childlike response to the angel when she says, ‘Let what you have said be done to me’. In this manner she lives the maxim ‘ask for nothing, refuse nothing’. She is open to receive what God desires to give, his love.” (pgs. 130-131)

Simple words, but Mary’s childlike “yes” is anything but simple. It calls upon Mary, and upon each one of us with Mary as our model, to trust beyond all measure in the love and mercy of our Father. It invites each of us to know in our “heart of hearts” that God truly desires us and desires to fill us with abounding love. In our willingness to be open to this “being filled” calls us to empty ourselves, to leave behind all that takes up our heart space, leaving open space for God’s presence. McDonnell writes:

“What is required is true emptiness which is to be found in the anawim to which Mary belongs. A complete and utter dependence on God. An emptiness of heart that allows God to shower it with his abundance. Mary and those who imitate her emptiness, put up no barrier to the generosity of God who loves to give. Poor in spirit, she offers empty space which can be inhabited by God.” (Ibid)

In all of our following the example of Mary, we sense the living out of Advent, the time of waiting patiently with an openness to God’s word being “done to me.” Francis de Sales says of Mary, she is “the morning star which brings us gracious news of the advent of the true sun.” (Oeuvres IX:5)

Mary lives out her Advent. We, for our part, wait with Mary for our Advent.

* * * * *
(December 19, 2016: Monday, Fourth Week of Advent)
* * * * *

Jgs 13: 2-7, 24-25a Ps 71:3-4a, 5-6b, 16-17 Lk 1:5-15

“Now you will be speechless and unable to talk…because you did not believe my words.”

Poor Zechariah!!! You can hardly blame the guy for having a follow-up question for Gabriel in the wake of the latter’s pronouncement that Zechariah and his wife will have a son, and not just any old son at that, but one who will embody the spirit and power of Elijah! All Zechariah wanted to know was how this is supposed to happen to a couple who are apparently pretty advanced in years.

For raising the question, Gabriel renders Zechariah mute until his pronouncement comes to pass.

Meanwhile, earlier in the same Gospel – the same chapter of the same Gospel, for that matter – when Mary asks a question of Gabriel concerning his prediction that she will be the mother of the Messiah, Mary receives no rebuke.

Look at the parallels:

  • the angel Gabriel appears to both Mary and Zechariah;

  • both Mary and Zechariah are troubled by their respective annunciations; both ask for some clarification around the annunciation (i.e., “How will this happen?”);

  • both receive additional information and assurances, but it is only Zechariah who seems to incur the angel’s displeasure, and he suffers accordingly. (Of course, all this changes later when Zechariah indicates that his son is to be named “John.”)

The difference seems to be indicated by Gabriel himself. He criticizes Zechariah not for questioning him, but for not believing him! In the case of Zechariah, it appears that his question was less a question and more a statement of disbelief, whereas Mary’s question was an expression of overwhelming wonderment and awe.

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

“When God gives us faith, God enters into our soul and speaks to our mind. He does this not by way of discussion but by inspiration. So pleasantly does God propose to the intellect what it must believe that the will thereby receives such great complacence that it incites the intellect to the truth and acquiesce in it without any doubt or opposition whatsoever…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 14, p. 138.)

In the end, things worked out well for both Mary and Zechariah. Each acquiesced to the manifestation of God’s will in their lives, albeit at a different pace and with a different pattern! Each played pivotal roles in God’s plan of salvation. While both questions and disbelief can serve as means of increasing our faith in their own unique ways, perhaps Gabriel’s underlying message is simply this: don’t allow your legitimate questions to rob you of your faith and trust in God’s love for you…or your ability to say “yes” to that love with trust and with faith.

* * * * *
(December 20, 2016: Tuesday, Fourth Week of Advent)
* * * * *

Is 7:10-14 Ps 24:1-6 Lk 1:26-38

“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. He takes a pass. He backs away, saying, “I will not tempt the Lord.”

What is this statement of Ahaz all about? 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)

As people of faith, we should feel free enough to ask God for signs; however, we must be prepared to consider - and follow - the directions in which those signs may challenge us to go.

And change!!!

* * * * *
(December 21, 2016: Peter Canisius, Priest, Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *

Sg 2:8-14 Ps 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21 Lk 1:39-45

Why reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to? Why start from scratch when it isn’t necessary?

We might say the same thing of St. Francis de Sales himself as today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Peter Canisius, SJ, a Dutchman and contemporary of the “Gentleman Saint” who became a prominent force as a missionary in Counter-Reformation Germany.

In defending the Church’s teaching on Purgatory against the critique of John Calvin, Francis de Sales remarked:

“It is a beautiful thing - and one full of consolation - to see the perfect correspondence which the present Church has with the ancient, particularly in belief. Let us mention what makes to our purpose concerning Purgatory. All the ancient fathers believed in it and have testified that it was of the Apostolic faith. Here are the authors we have for it…It would have been easy for me to bring forward their testimonies, which are accurately collected in the books of our Catholics: of Canisius, in his Catechism; of Sanders On the Visible Monarchy; of Genebrand in his Chronology; of Bellarmine in his Controversy on Purgatory,; of Stapleton in his Promptuary. But particularly let those who would see at length and faithfully quoted the passages of the ancient Fathers, take up the work of Canisius…” ( The Catholic Controversy, pp. 378 – 379)

What’s the takeaway from today? Wisdom isn’t about knowing everything yourself. Lots of wisdom is about knowing where to find that which you need to know…from the work already done by others.