Spirituality Matters 2017: April 20th - April 26th

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(April 20, 2017: Thursday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 3:11-26     Ps 8:2ab and 5, 6-7, 8-9     Lk 24:35-48

“The disciples recounted how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of bread…”

“Breaking bread…” Sharing food, sharing drink, sharing a meal. Something so simple, but it is in the context of such a common, ordinary, everyday human experience that the Risen Christ reveals himself!

Of course, “breaking bread” isn’t just about food and drink. It speaks of relationship; it speaks of intimacy; it speaks of welcoming another; it speaks of being home with another; it speaks of sharing who we are with another.

In the space of any given week how many times do we “break bread” with others? Have you ever stoped to think how the Risen Christ may be trying to reveal something of himself in the context of these common, ordinary and everyday human experiences in extraordinary ways?

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(April 21, 2017: Friday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 4:1-12     Ps 118:1-2 and 4, 22-24, 25-27a     Jn 21:1-14

“He learned obedience from what he suffered…”

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

“Our Savior himself has declared, ‘By our patience you will win your souls.’ It is man’s greatest happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls. We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered. He learned to listen to the voice of his Father by his practice of endurance, that is, through his willingness to see things through to the end. In so doing, he experienced the happiness and joy that even his suffering and death could not vanquish.

What kind of cross – be it injury, denial or discomfort – might God ask us to carry today? Are we up to the task?

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(April 22, 2017: Saturday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 4:13-21     Ps 118:1 and 14-15ab, 16-18, 19-21     Mk 16:9-15

“Perceiving them as uneducated, ordinary men, the leaders, elders and scribes were amazed [at] the companions of Jesus…”

Recall the words of Jesus in Chapter 11:25 of Matthew’s Gospel: “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the clever, and you have revealed them to children…”

William Barclay made the following observation about Jesus’ statement:

“Jesus is speaking out of his own experience, the experience that the Rabbis and the wise men rejected him, and the simple people accepted him. The intellectuals had no use for him; the humble welcomed him. We must be careful to see clearly what Jesus meant here. He is very far from condemning intellectual power; what he is condemning is intellectual pride. As Plummer has it, ‘The heart – not the head – is the home of the Gospel.’ It is not cleverness which shuts out; it is pride. It is not stupidity which admits; it is humility. A man may be as wise as Solomon, but if he lacks the simplicity, the trust and the innocence of the childlike heart, he shuts himself out.” (Daily Study Bible, Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, pp. 13 – 14)

Francis de Sales tells us that love of knowledge is a good thing. However, knowledge is only valuable to the extent that it empowers us to love. It’s not enough to know about God – we are invited to love God.

And to love one another!

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(April 23, 2017: Resurrection of the Lord)
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Acts 2:42-47     Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24     1 Pt 1:3-9     Jn 20:19-31

“He showed them his hands and his side.”

In the wake of Jesus' crucifixion and death, the apostles in fear were locked away together because they were afraid that they might suffer the same fate as their teacher.

Despite their anxious seclusion, Jesus breaks into their lives. Not merely into the physical space in which they were taking refuge, but he also breaks into the space of their minds and hearts. Jesus attempts to calm their fears; he challenges them to be at peace; he does this in a rather confrontational and mysterious manner: by showing them the wounds in his hands and side.

The transforming power of the Resurrection did not remove the scars of Jesus' woundedness, the lasting marks of pain, disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection, humiliation, abandonment, suffering and death. Notwithstanding these wounds, however, Christ's resurrection powerfully demonstrated that pain, sadness, suffering and injustice did not, ultimately, enjoy the last word. While suffering is clearly a part of life, there is much more to life than suffering.

St. Francis de Sales wrote:

"We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance, and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible forbearance the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet." (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 3)

All of us bear the wounds of failure, deception, betrayal, disappointment and loss. Our hearts, our minds, our memories - our souls - have the scars to prove it. Like the apostles, we are also tempted to withdraw from others, to lock ourselves away in some secluded emotional or spiritual corner, living in fear of what other pain or disappointments may come our way. Of course, in withdrawing from life, we figuratively - in some cases, even literally - die.

The Scripture commentator William Barclay once wrote: “Jesus did not come to make life easy. He came to make us great!” Jesus clearly demonstrates in his own life that our wounds do not necessarily need to overwhelm or disable us. While these wounds may be permanent, they need not rob us of the power and promise of recovery, of renewal - of resurrection - unless we despair and we allow ourselves to be defeated by the nails of negativity. When you come right down to it, the only thing greater than adversity is the ability – literally – to rise above it.

The wounds of our past continue to leave their marks in our present: they don't necessarily determine the course of our future. Turn to the love of Jesus who knows what it means to be wounded and who shows us how to move through and beyond them. St. Francis de Sales wrote: “Look often on Christ, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, and overwhelmed by every kind of weariness, sadness, sorrow and labor.” Jesus triumphed over and through the wounds of his humanity. So too, with God's help, can we.

To be sure, life can be tough. But as we see in the life of Jesus, there is something in life even stronger than being tough: God’s transforming love!

What could be more merciful – more generous – than that?

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(April 24, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 4:23-31     Ps 2:1-3, 4-7a, 7b-9     Jn 3:1-8

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness…”

Many of us have been brought up to believe that boldness is something that we should eschew. This unfortunate situation may be especially true for those who have ever been addressed at some point in their lives as a “bold, brazen article”! Certainly not an accolade that folks would normally seek!

Not so for Peter and John. No sooner had they been released from imprisonment that they resumed proclaiming the Good News publically with vim and vigor, apparently without much – if any – care or concern about their own health, wealth or welfare. There can be no doubt that the Pharisees, Scribes and Elders might have considered Peter and John to be – in their own way – “bold, brazen articles”! Then again, these same Pharisees, Scribes and Elders had the same opinion of Jesus.

It’s probably safe to say that on most days we preach and practice the Gospel in measured, discrete and considerate ways. We’re not trying to make waves; we’re not trying to draw crowds. But there are times in our lives when it is both fitting – and perhaps even imperative – that we proclaim and preach the Gospel in ways that other people might consider bold, perhaps even brazen!

In those moments, do we have the courage to do so?

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(April 25, 2017: Mark, Evangelist)
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1 Pt 5:5b-14     Ps 89:2-3, 6-7, 16-17     Mk 16:15-20

“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…” (1 Peter 5: 5B-14)

Humility is one of the great hallmarks of the Salesian tradition. It is one of two qualities that Jesus used to describe himself. Obviously, then, our attempts to practice humility help us in our efforts to imitate Christ, to “Live + Jesus”.

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

“Many men neither wish nor dare to think over and reflect on the particular graces God has shown them because they are afraid that this might arouse vainglory and self-complacence. In so doing they deceive themselves. Since the true means to attain to love of God is consideration of God’s benefits, the more we know about them the more we shall love them. Nothing can so effectively humble us before God’s mercy as the multitude of his benefits and nothing can so deeply humble us before his justice as our countless offenses against him. Let us consider what he has done for us and what we have done against him, and as we reflect on our sins one by one let us also consider his graces one by one. There is no need to fear that knowledge of his gifts will make us proud if only we remember this truth: none of the good in us comes from ourselves. A lively consideration of graces received makes us humble because knowledge of them begets gratitude for them.” ( IDL, Part III, Chapter 5, pp. 134-135)

To humble ourselves does include acknowledging our sins, weaknesses and deficiencies. Unfortunately, many of us stop there. True humility challenges us to name not only our sins but also to name God’s graces. True humility challenges us to count not only our weaknesses but also to count God’s blessings. True humility challenges us to acknowledge not only our littleness but also to acknowledge our greatness.

In the end, the Salesian practice of humility has far less to do with putting ourselves down and a great deal more to do with remembering how God continues to raise us up.

The Almighty has done great things for us; holy is his name and humble is our name!

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(April 26, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 5:17-26     Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9     Jn 3:16-21

“Whoever lives the truth comes to the light so that his works may be clearly seen…”

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

“When our mind is raised above the natural light of reason and begins to see the sacred truth of faith, O God, what joy ensues! As yet we do not see his face in the clear day of glory, but as it were in the first dawn of the day. If divine truths are so sweet when proposed in the obscure light of faith, O God, what shall those truths be like when we contemplate them in the noonday light of glory! We will see God manifest with incomprehensible clarity the wonders and eternal secrets of his supreme truth and with such light that our intellect will see in its very presence what it had believed here below!” (TLG, Book III, Chapter 29, pp. 189-190)

Living in the light of God’s truth enables us to see clearly God’s works in our lives. May our attempts at living in the light of God’s truth also enable other people to see clearly our works in their lives! After all, while we do walk by faith, we also walk by sight!

Today, what will people see in us that gives witness to the truth of what God sees in all of us?