Spirituality Matters 2016: November 3rd - November 9th

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(November 3, 2016: Marin de Porres, Religious)
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“There will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents...”

Whence comes all this rejoicing over repentant sinners? In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“God’s favor floats over all life’s difficulties and finds joy in turning all miseries to the greater profit of those who love him. From toil he makes patience spring forth, contempt of this world from inevitable death, and from concupiscence a thousand victories. Just as the rainbow touches the thorn of aspalathus and makes it smell sweeter than the lily, so our Savior’s redemption touches our miseries and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. The angels, says our Savior, have ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance.’ So, too, the state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence. Truly, by the watering of our Savior’s blood – made with the hyssop of the cross – have been restored to a white incomparably better than that possessed by the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we come out of the stream of salvation more pure and clean than if we had never had leprosy.” (TLG, Book II Chapter 6, pp. 116 – 177)

“Redemption is a hundred times better than innocence.” Given the fact that all of us suffer from the leprosy of sin in any number of ways, not only should the power of repentance make for rejoicing among the angels in heaven, but also this repentance should produce even greater rejoicing among us here on earth!

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(November 4, 2016: Charles Borromeo, Bishop)
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“Our citizenship is in heaven…”

In a letter addressed to Jane de Chantal, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Be devoted to St. Louis and admire his great constancy. He became king when he was twelve years old, had nine children, was constantly waging war either against the rebels of enemies of the faith, and reigned as king for over forty years. He made two journeys overseas. In the course of both of these crusades he lost his army, and on the last journey he died of the plague after he had spent much time visiting, helping and serving those who were plague-stricken in his army. He bandaged their sores and cured them, and then died joyfully and with fortitude…I give you this saint for your special patron.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 75)

Francis de Sales clearly held this devout king on very high esteem. Louis IX clearly and convincingly demonstrated how being a citizen of heaven requires Christians to tend to the things of earth. The same thing could be said of the saint whose life and legacy we remember today – Charles Borromeo. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:

“Consider the great St. Charles Borromeo at the time the plague attacked his diocese. He raised up his heart to God and gazed steadily on God’s eternal providence and saw how this scourge had been prepared and destined for his flock. He also saw how the same providence had ordained that in this scourge he should take the most tender care zealously to serve. Comfort and assist the afflicted…” (XII, 9 pp. 274-275)

Jacques Maritain once wrote: “No one better than Francis de Sales has succeeded in showing the marvelous adaptability to the progress of love penetrating every state of life. I do not mean in spite of the temporal commitments of the Christian in the world – I mean because of these very obligations themselves.” (Kelley, Spirit of Love, p. x)

Indeed, we are citizens of heaven and we are citizens of earth. At the end of the day, there is no more convincing way of showing our love for the things of heaven than by doing our best to love one another on this earth.

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(November 5, 2016: Saturday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I have learned – in whatever situation I find myself – to be self-sufficient...”

“I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.”

St. Paul is a man who learned one of the secrets to happiness: the ability to roll with the punches. For his part, St. Francis de Sales equated this virtue – we might call it flexibility or adaptability – with the practice of devotion.

“Devotion is true spiritual sugar for it removes bitterness from mortification and anything harmful from our consolations. From the impoverished it takes away discontent; from the rich it removes anxiety; from the oppressed it removes grief; from the exalted it removes pride; from the solitary it removes loneliness; from those in society it removes overextension. It serves with equal benefit as fire in winter and dew in summer. It knows how to use prosperity and how to endure want. It makes honor and contempt alike useful to us. It accepts pleasure and pain with a heart that is nearly always the same, and it fills us with a marvelous sweetness.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 2, p. 42)

How can I determine if I am able to be self-sufficient in whatever situation I find myself? How can I tell if I am making progress in the practice of devotion?

The answer – today, how well will you roll with life’s punches?

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(November 6, 2016: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Some Sadducees came forward to pose this question to Jesus.”

Questions played an important role in Jewish theological, religious, political and cultural life. The so-called “Rabbinical method” presumed that the best way to come to know the truth was to learn to raise the right questions.

Elie Wiesel –– author, scholar, and holocaust survivor –– notes this method of learning in the opening pages of his book Night. In it, Wiesel’s mentor explained to him “with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer.”

There is power in a question. There is promise in a question. There is possibility in a question.

Understanding this method of learning sets the context for today’s selection from Luke’s Gospel. The question of the Sadducees regarding marriage and the afterlife (not unlike the question posed by the chief priests and scribes regarding paying taxes to Caesar in the immediately-preceding verses) may not have been merely an attempt to trip up Jesus or to discredit him. This question may also have been a legitimate desire to settle an ongoing dispute between the Sadducees and the Pharisees themselves (both groups religious leaders in their own rite) who disagreed on a variety of issues.

As with so many times before, however, they did not like, understand or accept Jesus’ answer. Herein lies the tragedy.

The scribes, the priests, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were all raised in a culture that viewed questions as the path to mystical truth. Ironically, they may have had the most to gain from Jesus –– the embodiment of all mystical truth –– precisely because they had so many encounters with him, perhaps more than any other groups mentioned in the Gospels combined! Sad to say, it appears that they consistently asked the wrong questions: shortsighted questions, self-serving questions, disingenuous or insincere questions, and they asked all these questions with a pre-determined answer in mind.

When asked why he prayed every day, Elie Wiesel’s mentor responded: “I pray to the God within me that God will give me the strength to ask the right questions.”

How often in our daily lives with Jesus and with one another do we ask for, desire or demand answers? How much energy do we invest in wanting to know the bottom line? Yet, for all our efforts, are we any closer to knowing the things that really matter, the concerns of earth that lead to the things of heaven? Why does our understanding of Jesus’ will for us, of his desire for us, and of his longing and love for us sometimes seem so elusive?

Could it be that we, too, are failing to ask the right questions?

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(November 7, 2016: Monday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I directed you…that a man be blameless…”

The qualities that Paul associates with a “blameless” bishop include: not being arrogant, not being irritable, not being a drunkard, not being aggressive, not being greedy for sordid gain. On the positive side, a bishop should also be hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy and self-controlled.

The adjective “blameless” is defined as: “Free of blame or guilt; innocent.” Synonyms include “clear, clean, upright, stainless, honest, immaculate, impeccable, virtuous, unsullied, unimpeachable, untarnished, above suspicion, irreproachable, guiltless, unoffending and above suspicion.”

You get the idea.

But notice what being blameless does not require: it does not require being a sinless person or being a perfect person. However, it does seem to imply that as imperfect as we are – and as sinful as we are – we should be people of integrity.

Bishop or no bishop, it’s probably a safe bet that Jesus expects all of us who bear the name “Christian” to be blameless. Given the fact that He himself shows us how to be blameless and gives us the means to become blameless, can you (wait for it) blame Him?

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(November 8, 2016: Tuesday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You must say what is consistent with sound doctrine…so that the word of God may not be discredited.”

What should we infer from today’s selection from Paul’s Letter to Titus? We can talk all we want about what we believe as Christians, but if we really want to give credible witness to the power and promise of God’s word, we need to be more concerned with how we live what we believe. In other words, we actually need to do what we say!

So, what does it look like when we are talking the talk and walking the walk? Paul tells us that we need to be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, loving, reverent, self-controlled and chaste…among other virtues.

When push comes to shove, what do authentic, credible Christians look like? Paul suggests we look for folks who are “eager to do what is good.”

Today, can the same be said about us?

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(November 9, 2016: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica)
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“You are God’s building...”

To construct a building is one thing but to maintain a building is another. Prudent builders/owners not only allot resources for the actual construction of whatever it is they build, but they will also earmark resources for the upkeep of the building.

In a letter to Madame de Chantal (February 11, 1607), Francis de Sales observed:

“It is not necessary to be always and at every moment attentive to all the virtues in order to practice them; that would twist and encumber your thoughts and feelings too much. Humility and charity are the master ropes; all the others are attached to them. We need only hold on to these two: one is at the very bottom and the other at the very top. The preservation of the whole building depends on two this: its foundation and its roof. We do not encounter much difficulty in practicing other virtues if we keep our heart bound to the practice of these two...” (LSD, pp. 148-149)

God – the Master Builder – has constructed each of us in his image and likeness. Celebrate the building-of-God that you are! Maintain the gift of your divinely-built edifice with the spiritual foundation and roof most readily available for your good: humility and charity!

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