Spirituality Matters 2016: October 6th - October 12th

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(October 6, 2016: Marie Rose Durocher, Religious and Founder)
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“He will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence...”

There’s an old adage which basically goes like this: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Mind you, the adage doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always get what you want. Likewise, the adage doesn’t guarantee that if you do get what you want that you’ll get it when you want to get it or how you want it. On the other hand, if you don’t ask the question that pretty much guarantees that – under normal circumstances – you’ll never get what you want under any circumstances!

That’s one way of “reading” today’s Gospel parable. By all means ask; by all means seek; by all means knock. But don’t think that whatever you receive – whenever you receive it – however you receive it – necessarily results from the first question, the initial seeking or a single knock. In God’s way of telling time, we may need to ask, seek or knock many times.

In some cases, maybe even over a lifetime.

However, it is important to take note of a distinction that Jesus makes in today’s Gospel. While God promises to provide whatever we need because of our persistence, God makes no such promise when it comes to providing whatever we want.

Do you want to ask God for something? Then how about making this prayer: “O God, give me the gratitude that comes from wanting what I already have, rather than always getting what I want.”

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(October 7, 2016: Our Lady of the Rosary)
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“When an unclean spirit goes out of someone…it brings back seven others more wicked than itself.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus drives out a demon. In addition, he speaks about demons that would attempt to divide a kingdom against itself. Francis de Sales knew a few things about demons. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote extensively about this same demon upon which we touched previously this week: anxiety.

“Anxiety is not a simple temptation but a source from which and by which many temptations arise…When a soul perceives that it has suffered a certain evil, it is displeased at having it and hence sadness follows. The soul immediately desires to be free of it and to have some means of getting rid of it. Thus far the soul is right, for everyone naturally desires to embrace what is good and to dispose of anything evil…Now if it does not immediately succeed in the way it wants, it grows very anxious and impatient. Instead of removing the evil, it increases it and this involves the soul in greater anguish and distress together with such loss of strength and courage that it imagines the evil to be incurable. You see, then, that sadness, which is justified in the beginning, produces anxiety, and anxiety in turn produces increase in sadness. All this is extremely dangerous.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, p. 251)

Anxiety never roams alone. It brings with it a whole host of other unclean spirits that can divide the kingdom of our heart against itself. Whatever difficulties or challenges you may face, don’t let things get worse by allowing anxiety and its cohorts to make a home in your heart.

Beginning today, slowly, simply – but firmly – show them the door.

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(October 8, 2016: Saturday, Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

In a letter written to a young woman who was ultimately unsuccessful in her desire and efforts to join a religious community, Francis de Sales wrote:

“You should resign yourself entirely into the hands of the good God, who, when you have done your little duty about this inspiration and design that you have, will be pleased with whatever you do, even if it be much less. If after all your efforts you cannot succeed, you could not please our Lord more than by sacrificing to Him your will and remaining in tranquility, humility and devotion, entirely conformed and submissive to His divine will and good pleasure. You will recognize this clearly enough when – having done your best – you cannot fulfill your desires.”

“Sometimes our good God tries our courage and our love, depriving us of the things that seem to us – and which really may be – very good for the soul. If He sees us ardent in our pursuit and yet all the while humble, tranquil and resigned to do without to the privation of the things sought, He gives us blessings greater in the privation than in the possession of the thing desired. For in all things and everywhere, God loves those who with good heart and simplicity – on all occasions and in all events – can say to Him, ‘Thy will be done.’”…” (Thy Will be Done, pp. 3-4)

Observing the Word of God isn’t simply a matter of being a casual observer – it’s about putting that Word into action! Despite our best attempts at putting that Word into action, however, we don’t – as we know all-too-well from our own experience – control the result or outcome our efforts. In other words, we don’t always get it right or get it done! As Francis de Sales reminds us, what we do – or don’t – accomplish in observing God’s Word is not nearly as important as allowing that Word to draw us closer to God and to one another.

Whatever the results.

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(October 9, 2016: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.”

Let's admit it - when something good happens to us we feel that somehow we deserve it. The nine “lepers” in today's Gospel likely felt the same way - they asked Jesus for mercy, which in the Middle Eastern culture meant, “Do what you can for us.” They received from Jesus what they knew - by his reputation, at least - he could do for them. However, let's look at this Gospel in context of what came before and after this event.

Last week, Jesus told us that when we do what is expected of us we have done no more than our duty. The author even goes so far as to have Jesus say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.” This statement seems to be in stark contrast to this week's Gospel that exhorts us to be grateful when someone else does “what they are obligated to do.” One might say culturally, therefore, that since Jesus could, he should. Next week's Gospel proclaims the “need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

In last week’s Gospel, the apostles asked for “an increase of faith.” Next week, Jesus will seem quite disturbed about people's faith when He says, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

A common western notion of illness is that it is more of an impediment that prevents us from being active and engaged in life. In the Mediterranean culture illness removes a person from status and disturbs kinship patterns. People who suffer from the skin problem called “leprosy” are excluded from the worshiping community. This human experience was much more depressing than the skin lesions. (John Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible). Jesus made all ten “clean,” but “one of them...saw that he was healed....” His skin condition was not only gone; but more importantly to the Middle Eastern man, he was reunited to the community.

Francis de Sales discusses the “inspirations” toward faith in Book II of his Treatise on the Love of God: “The inspiration (that) comes like a sacred wind to impel us into the air of holy love; it takes hold of our will and moves it by a sentiment of heavenly delight. All this...is done in us but without us, for it is God's favor that prepares us in this way. That very inspiration and favor which has caught hold of us mingles its action with our consent, animates our feeble movements by its own strength and enlivens our frail cooperation by the might of its operation. Thus will it aid us, lead us on, and accompany us from love to love until we attain to the act of most holy faith required for our conversion.”

Did this inspiration happen to the man who came back? What does the Gospel say? It says, “He turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.” Was he merely grateful for being freed from a skin disease, as the others were cleansed? No, his heartfelt gratitude seems to go much deeper - in addition to getting his life back he was given the “inspiration” toward faith. He consented to that inspiration and in doing so was full of praise for Jesus! Then Jesus said to the man, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has been your salvation.”

How strong is our faith? Regardless of our answer, today consider this question: how grateful are we for a God who always loves us, regardless of the strength – or weakness – of that faith?

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(October 10, 2016: Monday, Twenty-eight Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Brothers and sisters, we are children not of the slave woman but of the freeborn woman.”

In a letter to Peronne-Marie de Chatel (one of the four original members of the nascent Visitation congregation at Annecy who, notwithstanding her virtues and gifts, nevertheless experienced “discouragement, scruples and even moments of very human impatience and irritation”), Francis de Sales wrote:

“You are right when you say there are two people in you. One person is a bit touchy, resentful and ready to flare up if anyone crosses her; this is the daughter of Eve and therefore bad-tempered. The other person fully intends to belong totally to God and who, in order to be all His, wants to be simply humble and humbly gentle toward everyone…this is the daughter of the glorious Virgin Mary and therefore of good disposition. These two daughters of different mothers fight each other and the good-for-nothing one is so mean that the good one has a hard time defending herself; afterward, the poor dear thinks that she has been beaten and that the wicked one is stronger than she. Not at all! The wicked one is not stronger than you but is more brazen, perverse, unpredictable and stubborn and when you go off crying she is very happy because that’s just so much time wasted, and she is satisfied to make you lose time when she is unable to make you lose eternity.”

“Do not be ashamed of all this, my dear daughter, any more than St. Paul who confesses that there were two men in him – one rebellious toward God, and the other obedient to God. Stir up your courage. Arm yourself with the patience that we should have toward ourselves.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 164-165)

Of course, there aren’t really two people battling inside of us trying to see who will win out! Thank God for that, because most days we have more than enough to handle with our singular personalities! Indeed, it is discouraging when we don’t live up to God’s standards or our own. Indeed, it is frustrating to make what often times appears to be little progress in the spiritual life. Indeed, there’s more good that we should do and more evil that we should avoid. However, rather than drive yourself crazy in the desire to be sons and daughters of the “freeborn woman”, gently – and firmly – follow Francis de Sales’ advice: “Stir up your courage. Arm yourself with patience that we should have toward ourselves.”

And - of course - with the patience that we should have toward one another.

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(October 11, 2016: John XXII, Pope)
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“Stand firm: do not submit again to the yolk of slavery…”

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

“Our free will is never so free as when it is a slave to God’s will, just as it is never so 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)

The Salesian tradition understands the essence of liberty as the freedom that comes from knowing – from believing – that God loves us. The Salesian tradition also understands that to substitute anything for God’s love for us – regardless of how attractive or promising it may appear and/or present itself to be – leads to a life of enslavement.

Today – just today – you can live free or you can live enslaved.

Which do you choose?

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(October 12, 2016: Blessed Louis Brisson, Priest/Founder and Religious)
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A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy,
complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love,
united in heart, thinking one thing.

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

Blessed those whose way is blameless,
who walk by the law of the LORD.
Blessed those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with all their heart.

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

You have given them the command
to observe your precepts with care.
May my ways be firm
in the observance of your statutes!

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

I delight in your commandments,
which I dearly love.
I lift up my hands to your commandments;
I study your statutes, which I love.

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to John

“I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me
that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes,
so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because
of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot
bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.

I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him
will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them
into a fire and they will be burned.

If you remain in me
and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want
and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit
and become my disciples.

As the Father loves me,
so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments,
you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept
my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.

“I have told you this so that
my joy may be in you
and your joy may be complete.”

Gospel of the Lord.

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In her book, Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition, Wendy Wright quotes Fr. Brisson regarding the challenge to “Reprint the Gospel” in all aspects our lives. We read:

“It is not enough to read the Gospel in order to understand it. We must live it. The Gospel is the true story of the Word of God living among men. We must produce a New Edition of this Gospel among men by prayer, work, preaching and sacrifice…”

“First, we reprint the Gospel by prayer, through which we give ourselves to God in every way without reserve.”

“Second, we reprint the Gospel by means of work. We must reprint the Gospel and reprint it page by page without omitting anything…In our lives there is always some manual labor. There is a library to keep in order, a helping hand to be given. A little gardening to be done, a little tidying up or arranging to be done…God has attached great graces to manual labor.”

“The third way for us to reprint the Gospel is by preaching. All of us should preach. Those who work with their hands as well as those who are occupied with exterior works, those who conduct classes and those who teach by example, those who direct souls as well as those assigned to the ministry of the pulpit – all of us should preach. We should preach in practical ways. We should teach our neighbors, if not by our words, at least by our actions.”

“The fourth thing in the Gospel is sacrifice. The Word made Flesh prayed in order to teach us how to pray. He worked. He preached. Finally, He suffered. These are the four conditions necessary to reprint the Gospel…” (pp. 145-146)

There are any number of ways in which God may ask us to reprint the Gospel: in prayer, work, preaching and sacrifice. Are you ready? Are you willing?

Today, how can you reprint the Gospel?

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