Spirituality Matters 2016: November 10th - November 16th

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(November 10, 2016: Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church)
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“I urge you out of love...so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.”

As the saying goes, there are two ways to get something accomplished - the easy way or the hard way.

In his instructions of preaching, Blessed Louis Brisson observed:

“There are two methods of reaching our neighbors and obtaining their obedience. The first method is the method of authority. ‘I am the master. I have the authority. I command. Obey!’ This is the most common method, but it is not our method. Why? Because it isn’t Our Lord’s method. We don’t see Our Lord speaking or acting like this in the Gospels. He never played the master.”

“There is a second method, the method of persuasion. We don’t wait for souls to come; we go out to meet them. We take a good look at them and we study them up close. We try to discover the point through which we can reach them; we take hold and lift them up by the ‘handle’ which they offer us.” (The Oblate Preacher, James Finnegan, OSFS, trans., p. 61)

You get more cooperation from people by attempting to win them over rather than by running them over. You get more done by being more persuasive than punitive. You get people on your side by urging out of love. Jesus knew it, St. Paul knew it; St. Francis de Sales knew it and Blessed Louis Brisson knew it.

How about you? What method do you use when dealing with other - especially problematic - people?

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(November 11, 2016: Martin of Tours, Bishop)
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“Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather...”

We’ve probably all had this experience while travelling by car in the open country - seeing birds circling somewhere in the sky up ahead. As we drew closer to where they were circling we realized that these were not just any bird but birds of prey. And, at that point, we anticipated what we were going to see within the next minute or two - road kill.

Hence, we associate the gathering – or circling – of vultures with death.

By contrast, what would we expect to see gathering or circling around life? St. Francis de Sales mentions a few of the things for which we should look:

“Patience; meekness; self-discipline; humility; obedience; poverty; chastity; tenderness toward our neighbors; bearing with our neighbors’ imperfections; holy fervor.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 2, p. 127)

Which begs the question: what do other people see gathering – or circling – around us?

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(November 12, 2016: Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr)
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“You are faithful in all you do for the brothers and sisters…”

Today the Church celebrates the life and legacy of St. Josaphat, a man who – among other things – was a contemporary of St. Francis de Sales:

“Josaphat’s father was a municipal counselor, and his mother known for her piety. Raised in the Orthodox Ruthenian Church (which, on 23 November 1595 in the Union of Brest, united with the Church of Rome), Josaphat rained as a merchant‘s apprentice at Vilna, Lithuania. He was offered partnership in the business and marriage to his partner’s daughter. Feeling the call to religious life, he declined both offers. He became a monk in the Ukrainian Order of Saint Basil (Basilians) in Vilna at age 20 in 1604, taking the name “Brother Josaphat”. He was ordained as a priest in the Byzantine rite in 1609.”

“Josaphat’s superior never accepted unity with Rome, and looked for a way to fight against Roman Catholicism and the “Uniats” (the name given those who brought about and accepted the union of the Churches). Learning of his superior’s intentions work, and fearing the physical and spiritual damage it could cause, Josaphat brought his concerns to the attention of the archbishop of Kiev, Ukraine, who removed the Basilian superior from his post, replacing him with Josaphat.”

“Josaphat became a famous preacher, working to promote unity among the faithful. He believed unity to be in the best interests of the Church, and by teaching, clerical reform, and personal example Josaphat won the greater part of the Orthodox in Lithuania to the union and was consecrated as Archbishop of Polotsk, Lithuania in 1617.”

“While Josaphat attended the Diet of Warsaw in 1620, a dissident group, supported by Cossacks, set up anti-Uniat bishops for each Uniat one, spreading the accusation that Josaphat had “gone Latin” and that his followers would be forced to do the same. They even installed a usurper on the archbishop’s chair.”

“Late in 1623 an anti-Uniat priest named Elias shouted insults at Josaphat from his own courtyard, and tried to force his way into the residence. When he was removed, a mob mentality took over and they invaded the residence. Josaphat tried to insure the safety of his servants before fleeing himself, but did not get out in time, and was martyred by the mob. His murder was a shock to both sides of the dispute – it brought a cooling off period to both sides of the conflict.” (http://catholicsaints.info/saint-josaphat-kuncevyc/)

Francis de Sales observed:

“We must be ready to suffer many great afflictions for our Lord, even martyrdom itself…However, as long as Providence does not send you great, piercing afflictions…bear patiently the slight injuries, the little inconveniences and the inconsequential losses that daily come to you.” (IDL, III, 35)

For Josaphat, “being faithful” in all he did led to his making the ultimate sacrifice.

Today, how might we do our part at “being faithful” in simple, ordinary and everyday ways?

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(November 13, 2016: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“For you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111: 10) However, as the Psalmist reminds us, this fear of the Lord (which is directly equated with the acquisition of wisdom) is merely the beginning - it must lead to “following God’s precepts,” i.e., it must lead to action.

In other words, fear of the Lord’s name must lead to doing the Lord’s work!

As we hear in today’s second reading, St. Paul certainly knew this truth: “You know how you ought to imitate us. We did not live lives of disorder…rather, we worked day and night, laboring to the point of exhaustion…indeed, anyone who would not work should not eat.”

This fear of the Lord – this fear of God’s name – is not meant to paralyze us. No, it is clearly meant to motivate us, to get us moving, to get us working – individually and collectively – in pursuing the precepts of the Lord and of building up the Kingdom of God. Put another way, fear of the Lord should not make us passive, but rather it should make us proactive.

This truth should be obvious. However, just the opposite message may be (however unintentionally) conveyed when we consider the lives and legacies of the saints who, among other things, clearly feared the name of the Lord:

“When we think of holy men and women throughout the ages, we often recall sculptures, drawings and paintings in which the saints look anything but active. Our most active and energetic saints are sometimes pictured doing nothing more strenuous than holding a lily or gazing piously heavenward. And while these images can be moving and inspiring, and helpful for times of contemplation, if one is searching for models of action and energy, they can hold somewhat less appeal.” (James Martin, SJ in Patrons and Protectors: More Occupations by Michael O’Neill McGrath)

It is in this light that James Martin writes:

Perhaps the most overlooked fact from Christian history is that Jesus worked. We can easily envision Jesus being instructed by Saint Joseph, the master carpenter. In Joseph’s workshop in Nazareth, Jesus would have learned about the raw materials of his craft...Joseph would have taught his apprentice the right way to drive a nail with a hammer, to drill a clean, deep hole in a plank, to level a ledge or a lintel.” (Ibid)

And who could have feared the name of the Lord – and followed God’s precepts – more clearly and convincingly than Jesus? Gregory Pierce suggests that we need to see and experience work as “all the effort (paid or unpaid) we exert to make the world a better place, a little closer to the way God would have things.” (Spirituality@Work, page 18)

Work—God’s work—is indeed our lot in life, our reason for being and our purpose for living. As we see in the life of Jesus himself, this work can be tiring, laborious and frustrating. Still, what could be more rewarding than using all of our energies to make all our little corners of the world places in which “the sun of justice” can arise in the hearts and minds of our brothers and sisters? Fear of the Lord is, ultimately, an invitation – no, a command – to do the work of the Lord.

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(November 14, 2016: Monday, Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I know your works, your labor and your endurance…and that you have not grown weary.”

In his day, some of Francis de Sales’ contemporaries criticized his approach to living the Gospel. They claimed that Francis was suggesting that following Jesus was somehow easy. For his part, the Bishop of Geneva countered by saying that he wasn’t trying to convince people that Gospel living was easy at all. Quite the contrary, what he was trying to do was to convince people that Gospel living was available – and possible – for everyone, but specifically in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which they found themselves.

When it comes to living the Gospel – when it comes to “Living + Jesus” – Salesian spirituality starts from within. Salesian spirituality focuses on the ordinary. Salesian spirituality focuses on the everyday. Salesian spirituality focuses on how to make the hard work relative to living the Gospel doable. Thus, living the Gospel is not meant to be hard. However, as with anything worthwhile, living the Gospel is hard work and it is a life-long work. And again, as with anything worthwhile, living the Gospel is not a sprint. On the contrary, it is a marathon.

St. Francis de Sales cited St. Elizabeth’s heroic virtue in his Introduction to the Devout Life, drawing a direct line between her practice of charity and Jesus’ challenge to live a life of Beatitude:

“St. Elizabeth, daughter of the king of Hungary, often visited the poor. O God how poor was this princess in the midst of all her riches and how rich was her poverty! ‘Blessed are they who are poor in this manner, for to them belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was cold and you clothed me; come possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ He who is the King of the poor and of the rich alike will say this at the great judgment.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 166)

Fr. Brisson understood both issues. He was all-too-aware of the hard – but doable – work associated with living a God-like life was a life-long enterprise. Likewise, he was more than conscious of some people’s skepticism of the Salesian method of living a God-like life. In a conference he gave on the topic of “Teaching Religion”, Fr. Brisson remarked:

“The regions converted or formed by this method are those that have remained the most fervently Christian; one can see that the faith is deeply rooted there and that it is a living faith. The bishop of Orleans used to say that if one wanted to find real exactitude, refinement of manners and consolations of the faith, one had to go to Savoy. He said all these magnificent things about Savoy, and who is it that has made Savoy what it is? Isn’t it partly St. Francis de Sales? It is sometimes said that the doctrine of St. Francis de Sales is a rose-scented spirituality: yes, but it is a rose-scented spirituality which produces soldiers, lions, people who endure and you overcome every trial…Never has the world had such a need for the Gospel today. This is the task we must accomplish.” (The Oblate Preacher, translated by James P. Finnegan, OSFS, pp. 73-74)

Do you want to make progress in living the Gospel? Do you want to have the endurance required to follow Christ? Do you want to work at “Living + Jesus” in ways that don’t claim to be easy but that won’t leave you weary?

Then, follow the example of the Gentle-man-Saint!

Beginning today!

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(November 15, 2016: Albert the Great, Bishop)
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“Because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth…”

In the fall of 1992 an all-day symposium on the Holocaust was held in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. During a Q&A that followed a program that morning, an attendee asked the presenter if he would agree that the epitome of evil was “hatred”. Without skipping a beat, the presenter responded by saying that, in his experience, the epitome of evil was not hatred; rather, the epitome of evil was ‘indifference’. The Holocaust did not need an entire nation – or all of its citizens – to be consumed with hatred for the Jews and/or other groups of so-called “untermensch” in order to be successful. As it turned out, the only thing that was required was for enough good people to be indifferent; that is, all it took was enough folks who were neither hot nor cold about the plight of other human beings.

Perhaps this illustration from one of the darkest periods in recent human history helps us to understand why “The Lord” declares in today’s selection from the Book of Revelation that he reserves his greatest distaste for people who are lukewarm, as well as thosewho are indifferent.

Look at the example of Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel. His reaction to hearing that Jesus was approaching was anything but lukewarm! Zacchaeus goes out of his way – being short, he climbs a tree – hoping to catch even a glimpse of him. To his surprise, not only does Jesus see Zacchaeus, but he invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house…and, by extension, into his life. Delighted “with joy”, Zacchaeus acknowledged that there were times in his past when he was cold to the needs of others when he defrauded them. Subsequently, he declared that he will now become hot in regards to others’ needs by repaying fourfold anyone whom he might have defrauded…and then some!

Our reflection provides a framework within which to meditate upon two statements: one from Martin Luther and the other from St. Francis de Sales. Luther once wrote, “If God’s mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary, sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” For his part, Francis de Sales described devotion as not merely doing what is good, but doing what is good “carefully, readily and frequently.”

For good or for ill, how will you live your life today: in a hot, a cold or a lukewarm manner? What kind of taste will you leave in the mouths of others, to say nothing of the taste you will leave in the mouth of God?

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(November 16, 2016: Margaret of Scotland)
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“To everyone who has, more will be given.”

Everyone who has…what? Perhaps it’s the courage to say ‘yes.’ Perhaps it’s the courage to take the risks that come with that “yes”.

In today’s Gospel two of the three servants took a risk when they invested that which their master had entrusted to them. As a result, they were able to make a return on their master’s investment with salutatory results. By contrast, the third servant – afraid that he might lose what his master had entrusted to him – played it safe by simply sitting on what he had received - with dire results.

Yesterday, in the selection from the Book of Revelation, we heard of God’s distaste for indifference. Today, we hear of God’s impatience regarding inaction brought about by fear - fear of failure and perhaps sometimes even fear of success. Better to be hot or cold than indifferent; better to have risked everything and lost than to have never risked whatever it is you received.

Queen Margaret of Scotland certainly made good use of her talents:

“She changed her husband Malcolm and the country for the better. Malcolm was good, but he and his court were very rough. When he saw how wise his beloved wife was, he listened to her sound advice. She softened his temper and led him to practice great virtue. She made the royal court beautiful and civilized. Soon all the princes had better manners, and the ladies imitated her purity and devotion. The king and queen gave wonderful example to everyone by the way they prayed together and fed crowds of poor people with their own hands. They seemed to have only one desire: to make everyone happy and good.” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=304)

Today, consider what God has entrusted to you. Consider what God has invested in you. How can you make a return to God for his generosity to you?

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