Spirituality Matters 2016: September 22nd - September 28th

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(September 22, 2016: Thursday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“What profit has man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun? All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full.”

The message in the today’s selection from the Book of Ecclesiastes seems to be saying something like this: “Go ahead, do what you want. Work on your projects. Knock yourself out, not that it’s going to make any difference in the end. You’re just wasting your time – your efforts will change nothing.”

Not exactly a basis for a motivational poster!

Does this mean that we should simply drift through life without putting our hand to anything? Does this mean that we are simply created to pass through this world without trying to contribute something to it? Does this mean that any attempt at leaving some legacy in our wake is simply a waste of time? After all, the Gospel parables of the “talents” makes it quite clear that God expects to (as it were) get a return on the investment that He has made in each and every one of us.

The key to understanding what the warning in today’s reading means – as well as what it doesn’t mean – comes from knowing the definition of the word “vanity”. Vanity is defined as, “Excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements”. The key words here are “excessive” and “one’s own”.

What is the lesson for us? We should work while on this earth. We should do our level best to make the world – at least our little part of it – a better place for our having been here. What we do does matter. What we do has results, provided that we do it for God’s glory.

Not ours!

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(September 23, 2016: Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest)
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“There is an appointed time for everything…”

These words in today’s selection from the Book of Ecclesiastes should be prominently displayed on the door of every refrigerator around the world. The wisdom – and lessons – of these words are at one and the same time both simple and salient.

They remind us of how important it is to develop a sense of timing.

Consider these.

  • How many times have you hurt someone else not because you did a bad thing but because you did a good thing at the worst possible time?

  • How many times did you bite your tongue when you should have said something?

  • How many times did you weep when you should have laughed?

  • How many times did you hold on to something long after you should have set it aside to embrace something new?

  • How many times did you give up on something precisely when you should have given it one more try?

  • How many times did you spread yourself too thin when you should have been trying to keep your own act together?
Put another way, how many times in our lives have we attempted to place a square peg in a round hole? We know from our experience that it just won’t fit.

Francis de Sales reminded his readers that it isn’t enough for us to do good things, that is, to practice virtues, but we also need to recognize when, where and how to practice virtues in ways that fit the events, situations, circumstances and relationships in which we find ourselves in any given moment. Look at today’s Gospel, even as Peter correctly identifies who Jesus is, Jesus rebukes him for not intuiting that now is not the time to start running around and proclaiming this truth to others. Key word - not yet.

And so, we pray today: God, please give us two things: (1) the courage to do good things, and (2) the wisdom of knowing when – or when not – to do them!

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(September 24, 2016: Saturday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Pay attention to what I am telling you.”

Some things in life are more important than others. With the hope of trying to impress upon another person that what we are about to say is of greater importance than other things, more often than not, we will preface our advice with words like: “listen up,” “pay attention” or “this is really important”.

While we’d like to think that everything that Jesus said is of equal importance, Jesus clearly wanted to impress his disciples with the inevitability of his showdown with the religious leaders of his time. And while we know that Jesus raised this issue more than a few times in the Gospels, the disciples seem to have had difficulty in grasping the importance of this prediction.

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

“The more pleasant and excellent are the objects our senses encounter, the more ardently and avidly do they enjoy them. The more beautiful, the more delightful to our sight, and the more effectively lighted they are, the more eagerly and attentively do our eyes look to them. The sweeter and more pleasant a voice or music is, the more completely is the ear’s attention drawn to it. This force is more or less strong in accordance with the greater or lesser excellence of the object, provided that it is proportionate to the capacity of the sense desiring to enjoy it. For example, although the eye finds great pleasure in light, it cannot bear extremely strong light, nor can it look steadily at the sun. No matter how beautiful music may be, if it is too loud and too close to us, it strikes harshly on the ear and disturbs it.” (TLG, Book III, Chapter 9, p. 186)

There are so many things that Jesus wants us to learn about the ways of living in God’s love.

How well will we pay attention to what God may be telling us about those ways - just today?

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(September 25, 2016: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Compete well for the faith.”

Both the reading from the prophet Amos and the parable from the Gospel of Luke warn us against being complacent which is defined as being “contented to a fault; self-satisfied and unconcerned.” The first and third readings suggest that those who are complacent are those who are most in danger of experiencing personal disaster.

Few people decide to become “contented to a fault” all at once. It usually occurs slowly and subtly. We allow good times and experiences to lull us into a false sense of security. We begin to believe that we are somehow above the trials and tribulations of other people. We get the feeling that we have somehow “arrived” despite the fact that life's journey - with its responsibilities, demands and challenges - is far from over.

St. Paul certainly recognized the temptation to become “contented to a fault.” What is his remedy? Compete well for the faith. Seek after integrity, piety, faith, love, steadfastness and a gentle spirit.”

Integrity - a steadfast adherence to a moral or ethical code

Piety - a religious devotion and reverence for God and for others

Faith - a confident belief in the truth, value or trustworthiness of a person, idea or a thing

Love - a deep, tender, ineffable emotion of affection and solicitude toward others; a sense of underlying oneness

Steadfast – firm, loyal or constant; unswerving

Gentle - considerate or kindly; not harsh or severe
Competing well for the faith requires constant effort. It requires energy. It requires vigilance. It is an ongoing concern. We hear echoes of this qualityin St. Francis de Sales' understanding of devotion: "Doing what is good carefully, frequently and promptly."

Simply put, the spiritual life is a life-long process. Regardless of how much progress we might be making at any given point along the journey, we must avoid becoming complacent, of becoming “contented to a fault.” No matter how much we have accomplished individually and collectively in the love of God and neighbor, there is always more good that still must be accomplished.

Today, just remember to do it carefully, frequently and promptly!

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(September 26, 2016: Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs)
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“Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”

“How offensive to God are rash judgments!” says St. Francis de Sales. “The judgments of the children of men are rash because they are not the judges of one another, and when they pass judgment on others they usurp the office of our Lord...if an action has many difference aspects, we must always think of the one which is best.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 28)

These words of de Sales would have been very good advice for the disciple John in today's Gospel when he asks Jesus to stop a man from expelling demons in His name “because he does not follow in our company”. They are in fact very similar to the advice Jesus himself gives John: “Do not try to stop him. Anyone who is not against you is with you.” John is not the only one who could profit from this advice. Many of us could too.

These words of Jesus and St. Francis de Sales remind us that all those who do the work of Jesus belong to Him, whether they are “of our company” or not. They remind us that we should focus less on denominational labels and more on the actions, spirit, and attitudes of fellow followers of Christ, without in any way diminishing our faith. Most of all, these words remind us that if there is any trace of prejudice or bigotry remaining in our hearts against members of other religions, we should rid ourselves of it immediately.

God needs you and me - and Christians everywhere - to be His prophets. Prophets in the Biblical sense typically arise at a time when society has stopped listening to what God says. Biblical prophets speak “on behalf of God”. They do not tell others what will happen; they tell them what should happen. They tell others what God wants and what God says. God desperately needs you and me to speak on His behalf, to tell others what God wants for us. God needs you and me to stand up and be counted on the values of the Gospel. God needs you and me to tell others that God wants peace, not war; life, not death; love, not hate; concern for the other, not preoccupation with self; freedom, not license; truth, not political correctness; justice for all, not discrimination.

In the words of St. Francis de Sales, God needs us to “often speak of God in familiar conversation with our...friends and neighbors.” ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter.26) And “if the world holds us to be fools,” because we are behaving like prophets, “let us hold the world to be mad.” (Ibid, Part IV 4, Chapter 1)

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(September 27, 2016: Vincent de Paul, Priest and Founder)
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Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Vincent de Paul. In his book entitled This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell wrote:

“Vincent de Paul’s…temperament was such that he could never turn away from a person in need, no matter what the need was. The list of troubles he sought to alleviate is astounding. He brought food and medicine to penniless sick people, comforted convicts condemned to row the galleys, and sheltered orphans, the elderly and soldiers incapacitated by war wounds. He opened hospitals, took in abandoned babies and taught catechism to children. He founded an order of nuns (the Daughters of Charity) to serve the poor and another for priests to teach and encourage religious devotion among the urban poor and country peasants. In time, the Vincentians’ (as they came to be called) method for educating people in the faith was adopted by many bishops for use in their own seminaries.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 108)

There is nothing new about what St. Vincent de Paul did. After all, countless saints (both those known and many more unknown) have been doing good things for others in the name of God since the time of Jesus Christ. That said, Vincent de Paul is recognized for continuing to do well-known and well-established good things for other people in new and creative ways – specifically, through his founding of the Daughters of Charity. After all, the Daughters of Charity differed from other religious congregations of that time in that they were not cloistered, making them the first of their kind. In addition, they took a vow of charity on an annual basis, enabling them to maintain the necessary mobility and availability required for the type of ministry in which they were engaged in a revolutionary way.

In the big scheme of things, perhaps it is true that there may be nothing new under the sun. However, there are always new and creative ways of doing the things that are well established.

How might God be inviting us just this day to do something not-so-new for other people in exciting, new and novel ways?

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(September 28, 2016: Wednesday, Twenty-sixth Week Ordinary Time)
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“Follow me…”

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, encounters with God almost always seem to involve people leaving something, somewhere or someone. Adam and Eve left Eden; Abraham and Sarah left their homeland; Noah left dry land and later left his boat; Moses and the Israelites left Egypt; Mary left in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth; the Magi left the East to follow a star; Mary, Joseph and Jesus left Bethlehem ahead of Herod’s rage, Matthew left his tax collecting post.

In other words, following God’s lead generally involves leaving something known.

Be that as it may, leaving – at least, as far as God is concerned – isn’t only about walking away from something, somewhere or someone. Leaving is also about drawing closer to something, somewhere or someone else. Specifically, loving God – and the things of God – frequently invites us to leave that which is comfortable and familiar in order that we might experience that which is challenging and new. By most standards that’s what growth – human growth – is all about - knowing when it’s time to leave – knowing when it’s time to move on – even when what, where or who might leave is good and sometimes, very, very good!

One of our greatest temptations in life is to stop moving, to stop growing, to stop changing, to stop learning and to stop developing. There was a time when psychologists seemed to suggest that human beings stopped growing somewhere in their twenties or thirties. Today, we know that human beings continue to grow right up until the day they die…or, at least, they are invited to do so. Leaving – as it turns out - is a part of living.

Leaving is not about doing with less. Very often, leaving is about making room for more.

What, where, how or who may God invite us to leave today in order that we might have more life - and more love – tomorrow?

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