Spirituality Matters 2016: October 27th - November 2nd

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(October 27, 2016: Thursday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Put on the armor of God...”

In a Lenten sermon (1622), Francis de Sales made the following exhortation:

“Fear nothing, I pray you, since you are encompassed with the armor of truth and of faith…This faith is accompanied by the four cardinal virtues: fortitude, prudence, justice and temperance. It uses them as an armored breastplate to put its enemies to flight, or to remain among them firm, invincible and unshaken. So great is its strength that it fears nothing, because not only is it strong, but it is aware of its strength and by whom it is supported – Truth itself. Now there is nothing stronger than truth, in which consists the valor of faith…” (Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Lent, pp. 21, 39)

Obviously, this “armor of God” is designed to protect us from exterior threats, but it can also be just as helpful in preserving us from interior threats. In a letter to Angelique Arnauld, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The great Apostle (Paul) felt as if an army – made up of his moods, versions, habits and natural inclinations – had conspired to bring about his spiritual death…asserting that the grace of God through Jesus Christ would defend him, not from fear, or terror, or from the fight, but from defeat and from being overcome…” (LSD, pp 1712 – 173)

Francis de Sales tells us that upon rising we should make a “preparation of the day” – that is, we should anticipate all the circumstances, events and people that we will encounter with the hope of knowing which virtues to employ and which vices to avoid. Don’t forget to add “putting on the armor of God” – and the cardinal virtues that come with it - to your daily “to-do” list!

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(October 28, 2016: Simon and Jude, Apostles)
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“He called his disciples to himself…”

Remember the hit TV comedy series Cheers? These are the words from the show’s theme song:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go here everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

In today’s Gospel we hear that even Jesus knew that “making your way in the world…takes everything you’ve got” and that “taking a break from all your worries sure can help a lot”, so he went up to the top of a mountain by himself to spend time in prayer with his Father. The next day, he calls his disciples to himself and named his Apostles. And to this day – nearly two thousand years later – everybody knows their names.

Just today, how can you make a name for yourself in the service of God and neighbor? Today, how can you treat others in ways that makes them “glad you came”?

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(October 29, 2016: Saturday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two...”

In today’s letter to the Philippians, Paul appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place. He is at one and the same time attracted to continuing to live in this world so as to continue his labor for Christ even as he longs to leave this world so as to experience Christ in his fullness. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“What does it matter to me whether God’s will is offered to me in tribulation or consolation? In each of them I neither desire nor seek anything except the divine will, which is better seen because no other beauty is present there but that of God’s most holy, eternal good pleasure. Heroic, yes, more than heroic, is the indifference of St. Paul the incomparable. ‘I am hard pressed,’ he says to the Philippians, ‘from two sides, desiring to be delivered from this body and to be with Christ – a thing far better – and yet to remain in this life for your sake.’”

“Admirable indifference of the Apostle! He sees paradise open to him; he sees a thousand labors on earth. Choice of one or the other is indifferent to him. Only God’s will can give counterweight to his heart. Paradise is no more worthy of love than the miseries of this world if God’s good pleasure lies equally in them both. For him to toil is paradise if God’s will is found in it, whereas paradise is a trial if God’s will is not found in it…” (TLG, Book IX, Chapter 4, p. 106)

In the end, Paul continued his labors of love for Christ and his children in this world until God’s will clearly indicated that it was time for Paul to rest from his labors in the next world. So, too, with us - until the day comes when God clearly indicates that the time has arrived for us to live forever with him and each other in heaven, let’s devote our time and energy to living as best as we possibly can with him and each other on this earth.

No rock and hard place there!

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(October 30, 2016: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“…You have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made…your imperishable spirit is in all things!”

The author of our reading from the Book of Wisdom gives grateful thanks to God for his gentleness, patience and mercy. The Lord loves all that he has made. All creation is meant, as the reading from Thessalonians reminds us, to glorify God, its loving Creator. Indeed, all of creation bears the imperishable spirit of the One who has loved it into life.

Our offenses, our failures to give glory to God are not to be denied, nor are they to weigh us down and keep us from moving forward, from being called forth anew by God. We are meant to bear the image of the God who created us in love. In his Treatise on the Love of God, De Sales writes, “Consider the nature God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world; it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.” [Treatise 1:1]

When we fail to do so, God gently calls us back into right relationship. This call is an invitation, not a demand, and we respond to that invitation in freedom. Psalm 145 praises God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.” Since God is gentle and patient with us, so, too, we must be gentle and patient with ourselves. De Sales captures these qualities in the Introduction to the Devout Life: “When we have committed some fault if we rebuke our heart by a calm, kind remonstrance, with more compassion for it than passion against it and encourage it to make amendment, then repentance conceived in this way will sink far deeper and penetrate more effectually than fretful, angry, and stormy repentance.” [Introduction III.9] With this gentleness and patience, we reflect the love of God and, in the words of our reading from Thessalonians, we give glory to our loving Creator.

Our Gospel story puts flesh and blood on the qualities of repentance, gentleness and mercy. Jesus reaches out, looking up into the tree and calling to Zacchaeus rather than waiting for Zacchaeus to climb down and approach him. Jesus seeks the “lost” Zacchaeus and, by coming to where Zacchaeus lives, invites him back into a relationship of love. Zacchaeus repents in a true spirit of humility. He accepts the gentle invitation in freedom. Without being coerced, he offers reparation.

Gentleness, patience and mercy are qualities of God that we, as creatures who bear his image, are called to reflect. When we witness them in human relationships, we catch glimpses of our creating, redeeming and inspiring God -- alive and smiling -- here on earth.

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(October 31, 2016: Halloween)
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“Trick or treat!!!”

“Trick-or-treating or guising is a customary practice for children on Halloween in many countries. Children wearing costumes travel from house to house in order to ask for treats such as candy (or, in some cultures, money) with the question ‘Trick or treat?’ The ‘trick’ is a (usually idle) threat to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given to them. In North America, trick-or-treating became an ever-growing phenomenon Halloween tradition in the years following the lifting in 1947 of nationwide sugar rationing that had occurred during WWII.”

“The tradition of going from door to door receiving food already existed in Great Britain and Ireland in the form of ‘souling’, where children and poor people would sing and say prayers for the dead in return for cakes. Guising, that is, children disguised in costumes going from door to door for food and coins also predates trick-or-treating, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895, where masqueraders - in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips - visited homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. While going from door to door in disguise has remained popular among Scots and Irish, the North American custom of saying "trick or treat" has become the norm.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trick-or-treating)

Many of us will be opening our doors countless times tonight for little ghosts, ghouls and goblins who are wearing disguises and hoping for treats. Isn’t it reassuring that when we approach God in prayer for the many good things that we seek on behalf of ourselves or others that we don’t need to be disguised – that we don’t need to wear masks – that we don’t need to pretend to be something or someone we’re not? Isn’t it wonderful that we can simply be the person we are on this earth without the need to hide our faces from a God who loves us as we are?

Of course, there’s no “trick” to expressing our gratitude to a God who loves us as we are. The best way is to “treat’ others in the same way, that is, to love them as they are!

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(November 1, 2016: All Saints)
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“He began to teach them...”

In her book entitled Saint Francis de Sales and the Protestants (in which she examines his missionary activity in the Chablais, one of the most seminal periods in the life of the “Gentleman Saint”), author Ruth Kleinman wrote:

“Saintliness is hard to practice, but it is even more difficult to describe.” A notable exception to this dictum are the words we hear proclaimed today in the Gospel of Matthew on this Solemnity of All Saints.

Jesus describes saintliness simply and succinctly. It is about living a life of Beatitude:

  • Saintly are those who mourn, i.e., those who refuse to harden their hearts when faced with the needs of others.
  • Saintly are those who show mercy, i.e., those who are willing to forgo old hurts and to forgive others from their hearts.
  • Saintly are those who are poor in spirit, i.e., those who experience everything as a gift and who demonstrate their gratitude through their willingness to share what they have (regardless of how ordinary or extraordinary) with others.
  • Saintly are the pure of heart, i.e., those who avoid artificiality and pretense and who have the courage to be their true, authentic selves.
  • Saintly are the meek, i.e., those who know that power isn’t demonstrated by taking from others but about giving to others. It’s not about doing to others but about doing for/with others.
  • Saintly are the peacemakers, i.e., those who bring people together rather than drive them apart.
  • Saintly are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, i.e., those for whom doing good comes with the same frequency and urgency as the need to eat and drink.
  • Saintly are those persecuted for doing what is right, i.e., those who are willing to stand up for what is right regardless of the cost(s) incurred.
And as it turns out, not only is sanctity not hard to describe, but also it isn’t nearly as hard to practice as we might think. In a sermon on Our Lady, Francis de Sales observed:

“There is no need of putting ourselves to the trouble of trying to find out what are the desires of God, for they are all expressed in His commandments and in the counsels of Our Lord Himself gave us in the Sermon on the Mount when He said: ‘How blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the lowly, and the other Beatitudes.’ These are all the desires of God upon which we ought to walk, following these as perfectly as we can.” (Select Salesian Subjects, #0170, p. 37)

Sanctity? To be sure, it is hard work. But with the grace of God – and the support of one another – it is doable!

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(November 2, 2016: All Souls)
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“The souls of the just are in the hands of God...”

In one of his pamphlets that was later published in a broader collection entitled The Catholic Controversy, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We maintain that we may pray for the faithful departed, and that the prayers and good works of the living greatly relieve them and are profitable to them for this reason: that all those who die in the grace of God – and consequently, in the number of the elect – do not go to Paradise at the very first moment, but many go to Purgatory…from which our prayers and good works can help and serve to deliver them.”

“We agree the blood of Our Redeemer is the true purgatory of souls, for in it are cleansed all the souls of the world. Tribulations also are a purgatory, by which our souls are rendered pure, as gold refined in the furnace. It is well known that Baptism in which our sins are washed away can be called a purgatory, as everything can be that serves to purge away our offenses. But in this context we take Purgatory for a place in which after this life the souls which leave this world before they have been perfectly cleansed from the stains they have contracted. And if one would know why this place is called simply Purgatory more than are the other means of purgation above-named, the answer will be, that it is because in that place nothing takes place but the purgation of the stains which remain at the time of departure out of this world, whereas in Baptism, Penance, tribulations and the rest, not only is the soul purged from its imperfections, but it is further enriched with many graces and perfections. And agreeing as to the blood of Our Lord, we fully acknowledge the virtue thereof, that we protest by all our prayers that the purgation of souls – whether in this world or in the other – is made solely by its application.” (CC, pp. 353-354)

Notwithstanding the effects of our prayers and good works on behalf of our dearly departed, Francis de Sales reminds us that at the end of the day it is the life and death of Jesus Christ that purifies our souls, whether in this life or in the next. To that end, whether it’s the just or the unjust, whether it’s in this world or the next, we are all in the hands of God.

Here’s hoping that we pray for our faithful departed. Here’s hoping that our faithful departed pray for us.

And isn’t it true that all of us could stand to do with some purgation of one kind or another!

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