Spirituality Matters 2016: December 22nd - December 28th

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(December 22, 2016: Thursday, Fourth Week of Advent)
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1 Sm 1:24-28 (Ps) 1Sm 2:1, 4-8 Lk 1:46-56

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…”

In a sermon on Our Lady’s Presentation, Francis de Sales remarked:

“No one ever gave themselves so perfectly or so absolutely to the Divine Majesty as Mary did. She was more perfectly obedient to the Word of God than any other creature. Moreover, she was more submissive than anyone else ever was. The one who gives all reserves nothing. But what, I ask you, does it mean to give all to God? It is not to reserve for oneself anything which may not be for God, not even one affection or desire. And what does God ask of us? Listen, I beg you, to this Sacred Savior of our souls: ‘Give me your heart.’ (Prov. 23; 26) He keeps repeating this to us.”

“But you will ask me, how can I give God my heart, so full of sins and imperfections? How could it be pleasing to Him since it is filled with disobedience to His wishes? Alas, poor soul, why afflict yourself so? Why do you refuse to give it to Him such as it is? Do you not know that he did not say, ‘Give me a pure heart like that of the Angels or of Our Lady,’ but, ‘Give me your heart?’ He asks for your own heart. Give it to Him such as it is…” (Living Jesus, pp. 224 – 225)

Mary’s soul – perfect as it was – rejoiced in the greatness of the Lord. Finding her fulfillment in the love of God, she found her fulfillment in giving back to God everything that God’s love had given her in the first place. So, too, with us. Our souls – imperfect as they are – are no less capable of proclaiming the greatness of the Lord if we, too, are willing to give to God – without reserve - everything that God’s love has likewise given to us in the first place.

In what does God’s greatness consist? The answer – it consists in the fact that God wants all of whom we are…warts, and all!

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(December 23, 2016: Friday, Fourth Week of Advent)
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Mal 3:1-4, 23-24 Ps 25:4bc-5ab, 8-10, 14 Lk 1:57-66

“Lift up your heads and see: your redemption is near at hand…”

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

“God displays in a marvelous manner the incomprehensible riches of his power in the vast array of things that we see in nature, but he causes the infinite treasures of his goodness to show forth in an even more magnificent way in the unparalleled variety that we see in grace. In a holy excess of mercy, God is not content in solely with granting to his people, that is, to the human race, a general or universal redemption whereby everyone can be saved. God has diversified redemption in many ways, so that while God’s generosity shines forth in all this variety, the variety itself, in turn, adds beauty to his generosity…” TLG, II, Chapter 6, p. 116)

What a powerful statement: God’s redemption is not generic. It is not “one-size-fits-all.” God redeems us personally; God redeems us individually; God redeems us by name. In the next-to-last chapter of his Treatise, Francis remarked: “Consider how Jesus took on the task of redeeming us by his death, ‘even to death upon a cross.’ The Savior’s soul knew each of us by name and surname…” (XII, Ch. 121, p. 280)

So, when we say pray the words of the psalmist, “your” redemption means your redemption - not someone else’s, not the redemption of the person to your right or left and not the salvation of folks before or behind you.


So, lift up your head; lift up your heart! See your redemption near at hand…a redemption – a gift – that is crafted specifically for you….out of love for you, for the same God who redeems you by name created you by name.

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(December 24, 2016: Saturday, Fourth Week of Advent)
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2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14A, 16 Ps 89:2-5, 27, 29 Lk 1:67-79

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free…”

On the subject of freedom – of liberty – Francis de Sales wrote:

“Our free will is never as free as when it is a slave to God’s will, just as it is never as servile as when it serves our own will. It never has so much life as when it dies to self, and never so much death as when it lives to itself. We have the liberty to do good and evil, but to choose evil is not to use but to abuse this liberty. Let us renounce such wretched liberty and subject forever our free will to the rule of heavenly love. Let us become slaves to dilection, whose serfs are happier than kings. If our souls should ever will to use their liberty against our resolutions to serve God eternally and without reserve, Oh, then, for love of God, let us sacrifice our free will and make it die to itself so that it may live in God! A man who out of self-love wishes to keep his freedom in this world shall lose it in the next world, and he who shall lose it in this world for the love of God shall keep it for that same love in the next world. He who keeps his liberty in this world shall find it a serf and a slave in the other world, whereas he who makes it serve the cross in this world shall have it free in the other world: for there, when he is absorbed in enjoyment of God’s goodness, his liberty will be converted into love and love into liberty, a liberty infinitely sweet. Without effort, without pain, and without any struggle we shall unchangingly and forever love the Creator and Savior of our souls. (Treatise 12: 10, pp- 277-278)

One of the greatest gifts that God gives us is freedom. But in the Salesian tradition, freedom is not about merely having the power to do either good or bad; freedom is not simply the ability to do right or to do wrong. Salesian liberty – the gift of divine freedom – is the power to be our best selves; to be good people; to do good things…in imitation of the image and likeness of God’s Son and our Brother, Jesus Christ. Francis de Sales observed: “The first thing we ask of God (in the Lord’s Prayer) is that God’s name be hallowed, that his kingdom may come and that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What else can this be but the spirit of liberty?”

How can we practice this heavenly freedom in our relationships with each other on this earth? Francis de sales noted: “In all other things which are neither commanded nor forbidden, let each one abound in one’s own sense: that is, let each person enjoy and use one’s liberty, without judging or interfering with others who do not do as one does, or trying to persuade others that one’s ways are the best.” (Conferences I: p. 13)

Let us be who we are, and be that in perfect freedom. Let us give others the freedom they need to do the same.

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(December 24, 2016: Vigil of the Nativity)
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Is 62:1-5 Ps 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29 Acts 13:16-17, 22-25 Mt 1:1-25

“Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…”

In a Christmas sermon, Francis de Sales remarked:

“What else have we to say except that the mystery of Our Lord’s Nativity is also the mystery of the Visitation. Just as the most holy Virgin was to visit her cousin Elizabeth, we, too, must go very often to visit the Divine Babe lying in the manger. There we shall learn from the sovereign Pastor of shepherds to direct, to govern and to put our flocks in order in such a way that they will be pleasing to His goodness. But as the shepherds doubtless did not go to Him without bringing Him some little lambs, we must not go there empty-handed, either. We must bring Him something. What can we bring to this Divine Shepherd more pleasing than the little lamb which is our love and which is the principal part of our spiritual flock? For love is the first. This special gift is the grace which helps us to attain what would otherwise be impossible for us: the joy and happiness of glory. Thus, in the darkness of the night Our Lord was born and appeared to us as an infant lying in a manger…” ( Sermons for Advent and Christmas, p. 53)

What better gift to bring to the manger than to place our love at the service of God and one another? Oh, come, let us adore…and experience a foretaste of the joy and happiness of glory!


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(December 25, 2016: Nativity of the Lord)
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Is 52:7-10 Ps 98:1-6 Heb 1:1-6 Jn 1:1-18

With regard to the great Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Blessed Louis Brisson wrote:

“We honor the three births of Our Lord. In the case of the first we recall the eternal birth of the Son of God in the bosom of His Father; in the second, we recall His temporal birth in the stable of Bethlehem; and in the thirds, we recall His mystical both in our hearts by means of Holy Communion and His grace. The consideration of the first birth should lead us to adore the Son of God on the throne of His glory, in the endless reaches of eternity, where equal to His Father He receives the adoration of the angels and seraphim. By contrast, in Bethlehem we adore him on the throne of poverty, which is a throne of love. He hides his grandeur because he wants us to draw near him without fear.”

“Having adored Him in Heaven – having adored Him in the crib – adore Him present within you. I ask you, cross your arms across your chest where the Savior dwells after Holy Communion and say to Him, ‘I adore You in my heart. I adore You within me. You are as truly in me as You are in Heaven; You are as truly in me as You are truly in the crib where You received the adoration of the poor shepherds. You are truly within me.’” (Cor ad Cor, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

We recognize Jesus at the right hand of the Father. We recognize Jesus lying in a manger.

On the other hand, do we recognize that same Jesus within ourselves? Do we recognize that same Jesus in others?

Merry Christmas!

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(December 26, 2016: Stephen, First Martyr)
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Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59 Ps 31:3cd-4, 6-8b, 16bc, 17 Mt 10:17-22

“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“One of the Church’s first seven deacons, Stephen was chosen and ordained by the apostles themselves to serve needy Christians and teach the faith. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that he was striking in appearance, with ‘the face of an angel…full of grace and fortitude.’ He came from a family of Jewish Greeks, and after his ordination he debated members of four of Jerusalem’s Greek synagogues. When they could not out-argue or silence this zealous young deacon, the Greek Jews hauled Stephen before the Sanhedrin (the Jews’ supreme tribunal), accusing him of blasphemy for ridiculing the Temple and the Law of Moses.”

“Asked to defend himself, Stephen launched into a long speech. He highlighted moments in Jewish history when the people of Israel had turned away from God, implying that – by not recognizing Jesus as the Messiah – they had been stubborn, proud and faithless once again. Then he exclaimed, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ It proved to be the last straw. With a roar of indignation the men in the court rushed at Stephen, dragged him outside the city walls and stoned him to death.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 131)

Stephen had the “grace and fortitude” he needed to commend his spirit to God in a single, once-in-a-lifetime act of courage by giving his life.

Today, how can we make good use of the same “grace and fortitude” we need to commend our spirits to God in a series of ordinary, everyday acts of courage?

With one another!

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(December 27, 2016: John, Apostle and Evangelist)
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1 Jn 1:1-4 Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12 Jn 20:1a, 2-8

“The life was made visible...”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“Among the twelve apostles, Christ’s three closest friends were Peter, James the Greater and John. Within this inner circle, John was the Lord’s favorite, the one referred to as ‘the beloved disciple’ in St. John’s Gospel. By tradition, John is also believed to have been the youngest of the apostles, perhaps barely out of his teens when he followed Christ. After Jesus was arrested, John was the only one of the apostles who remained with him. He witnessed Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, followed him as he carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, stood at the foot of the cross with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and helped take Christ’s body off the cross and lay it in the tomb. Before dying, Christ rewarded his most loyal friend by placing Mary in John’s care.”

“Initially John preached in Jerusalem but then moved to Ephesus, the greatest city in the eastern Roman Empire. A tradition that dates to at least the second century says that John took Mary with him. Amid the ruins of Ephesus stands a little stone house believed to have been Mary’s home. St. John died peacefully at age ninety-four, the only one of the apostles who was not martyred. Sparing him a violent death may have been Christ’s last gift to his best friend.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 193)

John knew it. Peter and James knew it. Countless other people who encountered Jesus during his life on this earth knew it. We, too, can know it.

What a friend we have in Jesus!

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(December 28, 2016: The Holy Innocents, Martyrs)
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1Jn 1:5-2:2 Ps 124:2-5, 7b-8 Mt 2:13-18

“A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation…”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“Even in the Christmas story, there is a touch of tragedy: the massacre of the infant boys in Bethlehem. St. Matthew’s Gospel records that when the Magi stopped in Jerusalem to ask the whereabouts of the King of the Jews, Herod, the king of Judea, sent them to Bethlehem with instructions to return once they had found the Christ Child so that he, too, could pay homage. Warned by an angel that Herod was up to no good, the Magi returned home via a route that bypassed the city and its conniving king.”

“Once Herod realized the Magi were on to him, he sent troops to Bethlehem with orders to kill every boy aged two and younger. But the same angel warned Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety. By the time Herod’s troops charged into the village, the Holy Family was long gone. No one knows how many babies were massacred that day.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 134-135)

It is sometimes said that there is no such thing as a “secret” sin. By its very nature sin is a social animal. Every sin – however public or private – impacts not only the person who commits it but also other people – often times, innocent people – as well. The Holy Innocents suffered because of one man’s sin. These children - collateral damage - died because of Herod’s personal envy, professional greed and narcissistic paranoia. As the poet Prudentius wrote:

All hail, ye infant martyr flowers
Cut off in life’s first dawning hours:
As rosebuds snapped in tempest strife,
When Herod sought your Savior’s life.

What about us? Who are the “innocents” in our lives who are impacted by the personal or “private” sins we commit?