Spirituality Matters 2016: December 8th - December 14th

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(December 8, 2016: Immaculate Conception)
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Gn 3:9-15, 20 Ps 98:1-4 Eph 1:3-6 Lk 1:26-38

“She became mother of all the living...”

The reading from the Book of Genesis ends with the statement: “The man called his wife Eve because she became the mother of all the living”.

Eve is the mother of us all. We all bear traces of her maternity by virtue of the fact that we are impacted by original sin. Eve’s “yes” to the serpent’s temptation continues to affect our lives even to this day.

Good for us that another woman is likewise “the mother of all the living”. However, she is our mother in an entirely different way. Her “yes” affects us in an entirely different way. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Honor, venerate and respect with special love the holy and glorious Virgin Mary who, being the Mother of Jesus Christ our Brother, is also in truth our very mother. Let us then have recourse to her, and as her little children cast ourselves into her bosom with perfect confidence, at all times and on all occasions let us invoke her maternal love whilst striving to imitate her virtues…” (Living Jesus, p. 224)

So, we have – in truth – two mothers. One mother is famous for saying “yes” to the temptation of the evil one; the other mother is famous for saying “yes” to the invitation of the Holy One - both with lasting effects!

Today, which of these two mothers will we imitate?

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(December 9, 2016: Friday, Second Week of Advent)
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Is 48:17-19 Ps 1:1-4, 6 Mt 11:16-19

“You’re damned if you do; you’re damned if you don’t.”

That statement pretty much sums up the message in today’s Gospel selection from Matthew. John the Baptizer got criticized for being aloof and austere; Jesus got criticized for being accessible and down-to-earth.

There’s just no pleasing some people.

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

“Does anyone fail to see that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and well-disposed to its own children but rigorous towards the children of God? We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it. It is so demanding that it can’t be satisfied. ‘John came neither eating or drinking, says the Savior, and you say, ‘He has a devil.’ ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking,’ and you say he is ‘a Samaritan.’ If we are ready to laugh, play cards or dance with the world in order to please it, it will be scandalized at us, and if we don’t, it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy…” (IDL IV, Ch. 1, p. 236)

You know the old adage: if you try to please everyone, you end up making yourself miserable. On any given day follow the example of both John and Jesus - be who you are, and be that as best as you can.

Come what may!

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(December 10, 2016: Saturday of the Second Week of Advent)
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Sir 48:1-4, 9-11 Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19 Mt 17:9a, 10-13

“You were destined…to turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons.”

Advent is the season during which we are challenged “to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks”. In this season we are challenged to lay down our arms and to let bygones be bygones.

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

“When your mind is tranquil and without any cause for anger, build up a stock of meekness and mildness. Speak all your words and do all your actions – whether little or great –in the mildest way you can: not merely with strangers but also among your own family and neighbors. As soon as you recognize that you are guilty of a wrathful deed, correct it as soon as possible by an act of meekness toward the person with whom you were angry.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 8, p. 149)

This season of peace – which is unlike any other season – reminds us of our relationships in which peace is lacking. We are reminded of fences that need to be mended, hatchets that need to be buried and wounds that need to be healed with fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, neighbors, co-workers and friends.

During this Advent season to whom do our hearts need to turn?

Or return?

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(December 11, 2016: Third Sunday of Advent)
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Is 35:1-6a, 10 Ps 146:6-10 Jas 5:7-10 Mt 11:2-11

“There has been none greater than John the Baptist…”

Francis de Sales considered John the Baptist to be one of the greatest saints because his life and mission were not to draw the attention of people to himself but to point to another. In his Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent, the Doctor of Love - in speaking of John the Baptist - states, “He did not want to draw disciples to himself, but only to his Teacher, to whose school he now sends them so that they might be instructed personally by Him.” (The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Advent and Christmas, edited by Lewis S. Fiorelli OSFS)

Jane de Chantal also comments on the example of humility we find in John the Baptist.

“I would say that St. John never spoke in a more admirable manner than when he was asked who he was, for he always relied by a humble negative; and when he was obliged to answer positively, he said that he was only a voice, as much as to say that he was nothing; word in truth, well worthy of a prophet and of the great among them […].” (“Exhortation XV”, St. Jane Frances Frèmyot De Chantal: Her Exhortations, Conferences and Instructions, Translated by Katherine Brègy)

In this holy season of Hope and Expectation, we can focus our attention on the model of John the Baptist who pointed the way to Christ. On our daily “earthly pilgrimage” to the fullness of the Kingdom, our lives and witness to Christ should not draw attention to ourselves, but lead others to come to know and to encounter Christ. Like John, we are His messengers and ambassadors.

Today, in a spirit of humility, may we recognize that God uses each of us as His instruments to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to others.

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(December 12, 2016: Our Lady of Guadalupe)
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Zec 2:14-17 Ps Jdt 13:18bc, 19 Luke 1:26-38

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

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

“On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego – a Nahua Indian who had recently converted to Christianity – was on his way to Mass when he heard singing on the summit of Tepeyac Hill. Curious to discover the source of the music, he followed a trail up the hill and at the summit met a young woman: dark-skinned, beautifully dressed and standing amid dazzling light. Speaking to Juan in Nahuatl (his own language), she introduced herself and instructed him to go to the bishop of Mexico City and tell him to build a church in her honor on the spot. Twice he attempted to persuade the bishop to do as Mary had asked; twice, the bishop turned him away. Juan wasn’t surprised that the bishop didn’t take him seriously: after all, he was a poor peasant. Juan urged Mary to ask someone with more status to deliver her message. Instead, Mary promised to give the bishop a sign that would prove to everyone for all time that what Juan Diego has reported was true. So, she commanded him to return to Tepeyac and gather flowers there. At the top of the hill he discovered gorgeous Castilian roses, growing six months out of season. He picked the flowers until his cloak was full. Them he carried them back to Marty, who took each rose in her hand before replacing it in Juan Diego’s cloak.”

“Tucking the edges of his cloak so that not a single rose would fall out, Juan hurried to the bishop’s palace where he was meeting with some of his chaplains and several servants. Juan entered the room and said, ‘You asked for a sign. Now look.’ He opened his cloak and the magnificent roses cascaded onto the floor. But more astonishing than the roses was the image on his cloak: a perfect portrait of the Virgin Marty as Juan had seen her, beautifully dressed and with the dark complexion of an Indian. The bishop became convinced and built a church on Tepeyac Hill and enshrined the miraculous image over the high altar.” (This Saint’s for You!, pp. 370 – 371)

We can all relate to Juan Diego. After all, haven’t each of us wondered from time to time in our lives how – or why – God has chosen us to be instruments of His will, sources of His hope and bearers of His Good News? Haven’t we ever suggested – perhaps not in so many words – that God would do better in selecting people with “more status” to give voice to God’s will for the people He loves and cherishes so much?

Juan Diego - however reluctantly – became convinced that what was spoken to him by the Lord (through His mother!) would be fulfilled. How much do we need to be convinced that what we speak on behalf of the Lord will be fulfilled?

And, yes, even through us?

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(December 13, 2014: Lucy, Virgin and Martyr)
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Zep 3:1-2, 9-13 Ps 34:2-3, 6-7, 17-18, 19, 23 Mt 21:28-32

“Which of the two did his father’s will?”

Talk is cheap. One incurs no cost at all when simply saying what one will do. It’s a different situation all together when it comes down to someone actually doing what they said that they would do.

There is something of both sons (from today’s Gospel) inside of each of us. It’s easy to initially “yes” somebody to death, only not to follow through in the end. By contrast, it’s also easy to say “no” to something, only to eventually come around and follow through in the end.

Let’s face it. Sometimes we do the right thing for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes we do the right thing only as a last resort. Sometimes we do the right thing because it’s the only option we have left. Sometimes, we do what we know is right against our will.

How can you do the Father’s will today? By - however reluctantly or enthusiastically - doing it, rather than merely talking about it.

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(December 14, 2016: John of the Cross, Priest & Doctor of the Church)
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Is 45: 6b-8, 18, 21b-25 Ps 85:9-14 Lk 7:18b-23

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

“John of the Cross had joined the Carmelite order and was ordained a priest just at the time that St. Teresa began her reform of the order’s nuns and friars. Many convents and priories had grown lax. The old austerity had given way to opulent furnishings and expensive food and wine: gossiping with visitors took precedence over prayer. Teresa won the approval of the superiors of Spain’s Carmelites, as well as of King Philip II, to restore the Carmelites’ original principles. But not all the friars wanted to be reformed, and they took out their frustration on Teresa’s chaplain, confessor and protégé, John of the Cross. In 1577 a band of renegade Carmelites kidnapped John and imprisoned him in their priory in Toledo. He spent nearly nine months locked inside a tiny cell with only a three-inch-wide slit for a window. His friar-jailers gave him so little food he almost starved to death. He was refused water for washing and his habit became infested with lice; he was denied candles to dispel the gloom or a fire to warm him in winter. He was brutally flogged, bearing the terrible scars for the rest of his life.”

“Terrified of being locked up forever, John took refuge in meditation, mentally composing some of his finest mystical poems. He also plotted his escape. By mid-August 1578, he managed to dismantle the lock on his cell door and made a rope by tying together strips torn from his blankets. Late one night he crept out of his cell, hurried to the parapet and used his makeshift rope to climb down the priory’s outer wall. Weak and disorientated, John called upon the Blessed Virgin Mary for help. She must have heard his plea because after staggering through the city he found himself at the door of one of Teresa’s convents. Once the nun’s recognized him, they brought him inside their enclosure (something normally forbidden under both Church and civil law). When the friar-jailers and local police arrived looking for John, they searched everywhere except in the enclosure.”

“Once he had regained his health and strength, John wanted to return to his quiet life, but civic and religious leaders prevented this from ever happening. First he served as head of a college; next he was prior of a Carmelite house; and then he was made one of the superiors of the order in Spain. Since he had to be out among people, John took the opportunity to teach others about the joy of meditation. ‘Contemplation,’ he taught, ‘is nothing else but a secret, peaceful and loving infusion of God, which, if admitted, will set the soul on fire with the Spirit of love.’” (This Saint’s for You!, pp. 268-269)

John of the Cross learned the wisdom of meditating on the Lord’s law day and night the hard way.

Here’s hoping we learn the same lesson with a lot less difficulty!