Spirituality Matters 2016: September 29th - October 5th

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(September 29, 2016: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael - Archangels)
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“In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord…”

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

“Sacred providence determined to produce all things, both natural and supernatural, for the sake of our Savior so that angels and men might serve him and thus share in his glory. For this reason, although God willed to create both angels and men with free will, free with a true freedom to choose good and evil, still, to testify that on the part of God’s goodness they were dedicated to what is good and to glory, he created all of them in the state of original justice, which is nothing other than a most sweet love which would dispose them for, turn them towards and set them on the way to eternal happiness.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 4, p.112)

St. Francis de Sales believed that we have at least two things in common with the angels: (1) God created us with freedom and (2) gave us a freedom tending toward what “is good and to glory”. Of course, God’s plans went awry in both cases. First, there was a revolt among some of the angels (recall the story of Lucifer) who resented having to pay homage to God. With this revolt God “resolved to abandon forever that sad and wretched legion of traitors who in furious rebellion had so shamefully abandoned him”. Second, (in the persons of Adam and Eve) “man would abuse his liberty, forsake grace and thus lose glory. Yet, God did not will to deal with human nature in so rigorous a way as he had decided to deal with angelic nature…he looked with pity upon our nature and resolved to have mercy on it”. (Ibid, pp. 112 - 113)

In the Salesian tradition, then, what distinguishes us from the angels are the lengths to which God will go to redeem us. In the case of the rebellious angels, God simply banished them from his presence. In the case of his rebellious creatures – people like you and me – God not only does not banish us, but he also sent his only Son to redeem us.

Francis de Sales says that the problem with many people who wish to pursue a life of devotion is that they make the mistake of trying to live like angels when they should be trying to live like good men and women. Given the fact that even the angels have had their share of challenges, maybe we have more than enough on our plates just being human without trying to be angelic, too.

What’s the moral of the story? Let’s do our level best to sing God’s praises in the sight of the angels, but let’s do it as humanly as possible!

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(September 30, 2016: Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church)
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In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“St. Jerome was a Latin scholar in love with the art of fashioning words into beautiful phrases. About the year 366 he became secretary to the newly-elected pope, St. Damasus. It was Damasus’ dream to produce a new Latin translation of the Bible based on the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Recognizing his secretary’s flair with language, the pope believed that Jerome was the man for the job. In the three years that followed Jerome produced beautiful and accurate translations of the psalms, the four Gospels, all of the Epistles and the Book of Revelation. ”

“To improve the then-current translations of the Old Testament, Jerome studied Hebrew. Frustrated at first, Jerome persisted with language and in twenty-six years he completed his translation of the Hebrew Scripture. During that time Damasus died and Jerome moved from Rome to Bethlehem, after which Rome itself fell to barbarians. One of Jerome’s letters written during the time when Roman refugees were pouring into the Holy Land survives to this day. Addressing a friend, Jerome wrote, ‘I have set aside my commentary of Ezekiel, and almost all of my study. For today we must translate the words of the Scripture into deeds.” (page 55)

What a privilege it was for Jerome to translate the Old and New Testaments! After all, taken together they constitute the greatest love story of all - the love of a just and faithful God for the human family.

Just today, how can we continue to tell that same love story in words and translate it into deeds?

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(October 1, 2016: Therese of the Child Jesus, Virgin
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In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“There’s no reason why the world should have ever heard of Therese Martin. She grew up in Lisieux, an obscure town in Normandy, and rarely ventured beyond the tightly knit circle of her immediate family and relatives. At age sixteen she entered the Carmelite cloister, which completely isolated her from the outside world, and she died there when she was only twenty-four. In spite of her rather isolated life, St. Therese has a following among believers that is on par with St. Joseph, St. Anthony and St. Jude. She even has a nickname, ‘the Little Flower.’ And in 1997 Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church, which sets her among the Church’s intellectual and mystical heavyweights. How did this happen, this evolution from obscurity to world-wide fame?”

“It all began the year after Therese’s death, when the Carmelites published her spiritual biography, The Story of a Soul. The crucial point in the book is the idea that even the humblest, most mundane task – if done for love of God – can draw one closer to him and make one grow in holiness. At first, many readers dismissed Therese’s ‘Little Way’ (as she called it) as late-nineteenth-French sentimental piety. But even her fiercest skeptics have been surprised to find that her approach to sanctity is really quite mainstream: saints like John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila advocated the same idea, as did Thomas a Kempis in his book, Imitation of Christ. ( Editor’s note: so, too, did St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to the Devout Life!) Miracles account for the other facet of St. Therese’s popularity. She has a reputation for answering prayers. On her deathbed she promised that – upon reaching heaven – she would rain down miracles on the world ‘like a shower of roses.’”

St. Therese is a shining example of how someone who might mistakenly be considered “the least” was – in fact – one of the greatest - in the eyes of God.

Today, how might God encourage and invite us to transform our littleness into greatness?

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(October 2, 2016: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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"Stir into flame the gift of God. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.

“I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me.”

In the wake of the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, these ancient words of the prophet Habakkuk feel as if they were written specifically for us. We have seen the face of evil. We have witnessed wholesale acts of hatred and violence. There is catastrophic debris - human, material, emotional, spiritual - through which we are still sifting twelve years after the event, even as we struggle to find ways to combat terrorism around the world and address the underlying issues that, in part, give birth to terrorism and religious fanaticism.

What are we to do?

We must recognize the threat not only to our nation, but also to peoples of all races, faiths and cultures who pursue peace, justice, freedom and reconciliation. We must take steps to rid our world of those who would promote their own grievances or agendas at the expense of human life.

These events are likewise a wake-up call on an even deeper, more fundamental level. We are challenged to see more clearly the less obvious, subtler face of violence and destruction in our own lives and in the lives of our families, friends, relatives, classmates and colleagues. We must confront resentment, abuse, addiction, hatred, bigotry, gossip and other attitudes/actions that tear at our minds, hearts, attitudes and actions. We must confront all forms of sin and evil that tear at the very fabric of whom we are as sons and daughters of God, whom we are as community, whom we are as church, whom we are as country and whom we are as citizens of the world.

We must identify, confront and conquer anything that would seek to terrorize our God-given dignity and destiny.

To be sure, we need to stir up the flame of righteous indignation in ourselves and in one another. But while this inflaming of our spirit must make us powerful, it must also make us loving and self-disciplined. We cannot allow our methods for confronting violence and hatred to become themselves a continuation of the circle of violence and destruction. We must respond, not react; we must be wise, not rash; we must be prudent, not indiscriminate. Above all, the pain that we - and others - may experience in the fight to confront hatred in all its forms must be motivated by and lead to a deeper, broader and more inclusive vision of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation for ourselves and for all people.

Above all, the spirit that must be ignited and set ablaze inside and among us must not be rooted in fear. Francis de Sales reminds us, now more than ever, that we must "do all through love and nothing through fear."

And so we pray – O God, increase and inflame your spirit within us. As we confront the many faces of terrorism (both the obvious and obscure) make us - keep us - powerful, self-disciplined and – above all - loving.

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(October 3, 2016: Monday, Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

Jesus raises a great question in today’s Gospel. And the person to whom he directs it – a “scholar of the law” – would appreciate the power of the question. Any student of the law – and in particular, anyone who practices law – knows that it isn’t enough just to know the letter of the law, but it’s also important to know how to “read” – that is, to interpret – the law so as to know how best to apply it.

This dilemma brings us to the best – albeit, if not the most concise – answer to that question - the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Talk about a study in contrast! Two so-called experts in the letter of the law – the priest and the Levite - failed miserably because they did not offer any assistance to the man who fell victim to robbers. And the other hand, the Samaritan – a man who may have known very little if any law – followed the law of compassion and common sense by tending to the needs of this unfortunate stranger by being a good neighbor.

Of course, the most important law for those who follow Jesus is the Gospel, that is, the Law of Love, a love so clearly embodied by Jesus as well as by his mother, Mary. It’s important for us to have a working knowledge of that Law - it’s important for us to know how to “read” or interpret that Law. More important, however, than knowing or interpreting it is our willingness to put the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Law of Love – into practice.

In what ways can we be Good Samaritans - that is, good, just and -compassionate neighbors - today?

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(October 4, 2016: Francis of Assisi, Religious and Founder)
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“You are anxious and worried about many things…”

In his Introduction to a Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Anxiety is not a simple temptation but a source from which and by which many temptations arise. With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul. Just as sedition and internal disorders bring total ruin on a State and leave it helpless to resist a foreign invader, so also, if our heart is inwardly troubled and disturbed it loses both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues it had acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy. He then uses his utmost efforts to fish, as they say, in troubled waters.” …” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, pp. 251-252)

Martha was obviously overwhelmed by her desire to do right by Jesus when it came to the practice of hospitality. Apparently more obvious to Jesus, however, was the fact that Martha was “anxious and worried about many things.” This issue of wanting to be the perfect host and whining about needing help with the serving seems to have been the tip of the iceberg.

The life of Francis of Assisi provides some insight as to one of the most important skills required for living life with as little anxiety as possible: the gift of traveling light, i.e., the ability to live life to the full without hauling a lot of stuff around with you. Francis de Sales observed:

“If you are too strongly attached to the good you possess – if you are too solicitous about them – if you set your heart on them – if you always have them in your thoughts, and fear losing them with a strong, anxious fear – then believe me…you love them too much.” (IDL, III, Chapter 14, p. 163)

Francis of Assis is well known for the simplicity with which he lived his life. The less “stuff” he carried around with him, the freer and more engaged in life he became.

For her part, perhaps the burden that made Martha anxious was her need to be known as the consummate host. Perhaps she clung too tightly to the need to have everything perfect. Whatever the root causes of her anxiety, imagine how less anxious she might have been if she could have simply enjoyed being in the presence of her Savior.

Today, what can the origins of Martha’s anxiety teach us about the causes of our own anxiety? How – like Francis of Assisi – might we need to lighten our respective loads to better experience the freedom of being in the presence of our Savior?

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(October 5, 2016: Francis Xavier Seelos, Religious and Priest)
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Lord, teach us to pray

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. Of course, a more fundamental question might have been, “Teach us why we should pray.”

In a letter written to a young woman who was – you guessed it – experiencing difficulty when praying, Francis de Sales wrote:

“First, we pray to give God the honor and homage we owe Him. This can be done without His speaking to us or we to Him, for this duty is paid by remembering that He is God and we are His creatures and by remaining prostrate in spirit before him, awaiting His commands.

“Second, we pray in order to speak with God and to hear Him speak to us by inspirations and movements in the interior of our soul. Generally this is done with a very delicious pleasure, because it is a great good for us to speak to so great a Lord. When He answers He spreads abroad a thousand precious balms and unguents which give great sweetness to the soul.”

“So, one of these two goods can never fail you in prayer. If we speak to our Lord, let us speak, let us praise Him, beseech Him and listen to Him. If we cannot use our voice, still let us stay in the room and do reverence to Him. He will see us there. He will accept our patience and will favor our silence. At other times we shall be quite amazed to be taken by the hand and he will converse with us, and will make a hundred turns with us in the walks of His garden of prayer. And if He should never do these things, let us be content with our duty of being in His suite and with the great grace and too great honor He does us in accepting our presence…” (Thy Will be Done, pp. 26-27)

So, why should we pray? Well, either (1) to remind ourselves of whom God is in our lives, or (2) to remind ourselves who God wants us to be in relationship with Him and each other.

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