Spirituality Matters 2017: August 10rd - August 16th

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(August 10, 2017: Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr)
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2 Cor 9:6-10     Ps 112:1-2, 5-6, 7-8, 9     Jn 12:24-26

“Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…”

In the Gospel of John, we hear: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

If you sow bountifully, you will reap bountifully; if you give, you shall receive; however, your measure will be measured back to you. What we are talking about is the challenge – the command – to be generous. But sowing bountifully and reaping bountifully isn’t necessary all smiles and sunshine – what if the call to be generous should require your very life from you, as in the case of the martyr whose life we celebrate today, St. Lawrence?

Salesian spirituality holds the practice of generosity in high esteem. So much so that Francis de Sales gave an entire conference to the Sisters of the Visitation on the subject in which he described an intimate relationship of two virtues: humility and generosity. He observed:

“Humility believes that it can do nothing, considering its poverty and weakness when it comes to depending upon ourselves; by contrast, generosity makes us say with St. Paul, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.’ Humility makes us mistrust ourselves; generosity makes us trust in God. You see, then, that these two virtues of humility and generosity are so closely joined and united to one another that they never are and never can be separated...The humility which does not produce generosity is undoubtedly false, for after it has said, ‘I can do nothing; I am absolute nothingness,’ it suddenly gives way to generosity of spirit, which says, ‘ There is nothing – and there can be nothing – that I am unable to do, so long as I put all my confidence in God, who can do all things.’” (Conferences, pp. 75 - 77)

Humility calls us to stand in awe of how good, caring, patient, solicitous and generous God is on our behalf - to consider our good fortune and to count our blessings. This virtue, in turn, should produce in us a similar spirit of generosity, by which we imitate God’s generosity by sharing our good fortune and blessings with others. But as Jesus reminds us, this generosity brings with it dying to self and letting go, often in small ways but sometimes in the biggest ways of all.

In another place, St. Francis de Sales put it this way: “The measure of love is to love without measure.”

Today, how will our generosity to others measure up in the eyes of God?

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(August 11, 2017: Clare, Virgin)
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Dt 4:32-40     Ps 77:12-13, 14-15, 16 and 21     Mt 16:24-28

“What can one give in exchange for one’s life?”

“St. Clare of Assisi was born in Assisi on July 16, 1194, as Chiara Offreduccio, the beautiful eldest daughter of Favorino Sciffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso and his wife Ortolana. Tradition says her father was a wealthy representative of an ancient Roman family and her mother was a very devout woman belonging to the noble family of Fiumi.”

“As a young girl, Clare dedicated herself to prayer. At 18-years-old, she heard St. Francis of Assisi preach during a Lenten service in the church of San Giorgio and asked him to help her live according to the Gospel. On Palm Sunday in 1212, Clare left her father's home and went to the chapel of the Porziuncula to meet with Francis. While there, Clare's hair was cut off and she was given a plain robe and veil in exchange for her rich gown.”

“Clare joined the convent of the Benedictine nuns of San Paulo, near Bastia, under Francis' orders. When her father found her and attempted to force her back into his home, she refused and professed that she would have no other husband than Jesus Christ. In order to give her the greater solitude she desired, Francis sent Clare to Sant' Angelo in Panzo, another Benedictine nuns monastery. Clare's sister Catarina, who took the name Agnes, joined her at this monastery. The two remained there until a separate dwelling was built for them next to the church of San Damiano.”

“Overtime, other women joined them, wanting to also be brides of Jesus and live with no money. They became known as the "Poor Ladies of San Damiano." They all lived a simple life of austerity, seclusion from the world, and poverty, according to a Rule which Francis gave them as a Second Order. St. Clare and her sisters wore no shoes, ate no meat, lived in a poor house, and kept silent most of the time. Their lives consisted of manual labor and prayer. Yet, they were very happy, because the Lord was close to them all the time.”

“San Damiano became the center of Clare's new order, which was then known as the "Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano." For a brief period of time, the order was directed by St. Francis himself and by 1216, Clare became the abbess of San Damiano. Ten years after Clare's death, the order became known as the Order of Saint Clare.” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=215 )

There was a great deal that Clare gave up in her desire to live according to the Gospel in a very radical way. But as we see in the case of Clare, giving up things didn’t take away from her life – in fact, her willingness to live with less enabled her to live her life even more.

There is nothing that we can give in exchange for our lives. That said, today what are some things with which we could do without that might help us in our desire to live according to the Gospel that fits the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves?

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(August 12, 2014: Jane Frances de Chantal, Wife, Mother, Religious and Founder)
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~ Proper of Readings ~

A reading from the book of Deuteronomy (16: 3-9)

Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them,
that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping
with the promise of the LORD, the God of your
fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey.

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD
alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.
Drill them into your children. Speak of them at
home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.
Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as
a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the
doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

Word of the Lord.

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Responsorial Psalm

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall ever
be in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the
lowly will hear me and be glad.

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

Glorify the Lord with me; let us together extol his
name. Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

Taste and see how good the Lord is; happy the man
who takes refuge in him. Come children, hear me; I
will teach you the fear of the Lord.

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking
guile; turn from evil and do good; seek peace and
follow after it.

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

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A reading from the first Letter of Peter (4: 7-11)

The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be
serious and sober for prayers. Above all, let your love for one
another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.
Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has
received a gift, use it to serve one another as good
stewards of God's varied grace.
Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God;
whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God
supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified
through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and
dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Word of the Lord.

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Gospel Acclamation

R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like
children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Those who humble themselves like this child are the
greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

R. Alleluia, alleluia.


+ A reading from the Holy Gospel according to
Matthew (13: 44-46)

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a
field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of
joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of
great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys

Gospel of the Lord.

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In the Introduction to the book, Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction, we read:
“Jane de Chantal continued with her work of overseeing the large family of religious to whom she was the chief spiritual mother. She wrote ardent letters to superiors, novice-mistresses and novices which reflect her struggle to institute a way in which the authentic Salesian spirit might come to be observed everywhere.”
“In her letters of spiritual direction (where her concern was to stay close to the very Salesian spirit of beginning right where one is and with the facts at hand, Jane de Chantal continued to show herself as a masterful director of souls. She brought to this task her won particular life-experience and temperament. The experience of motherhood was chief among those experiences. Since her youth she had been engaged in the art of biological mothering, and since midlife she had exercised her spiritual maternity. The correspondence she maintained with the superiors of the Visitation reflects a self-conscious cultivation of attitudes and skills she believed were congruent with maternal care. Superiors were enjoined to be true mothers, tolerant of their children’s weaknesses, encouraging their small steps, never overly ambitious for their advancement until they themselves grew into the maturity of spiritual wisdom…This task of cultivating and disseminating this spirit of motherly direction occupied Jane de Chantal for many years. It was part of her long-term effort to ensure the survival – both institutional and spiritual – of the Salesian charism in its manifestation as the order of the Visitation.” (LSD, p. 32)

The selection from the Book of Deuteronomy underscores the importance of having a legacy – of making intentional efforts at passing on our hard-earned learning and wisdom to those with whom we live and work now, as well as to those who will follow in our footsteps tomorrow. Jane de Chantal shows us a sure and certain method for accomplishing this goal, namely:

  • Beginning right where we are with the facts at hand
  • Nurturing others
  • Tolerating others’ weaknesses
  • Encouraging small steps
  • Allowing others to experience spiritual maturity at their own pace.
We are the beneficiaries of Jane de Chantal’s efforts to ensure the survival of the Salesian charism.
Today, how can we pick up where she left off?

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(August 13, 2017: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a     Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14     Rom 9:1-5     Mt 14:22-33

“Go outside and stand before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.”

Conscious of them or not, we all have expectations. We expect things of our family; we expect things of our spouses; we expect things of our children; we expect things of our parents; we expect things of our friends; we expect things of our priests, our doctors, our dentists; we expect things of our employers.

We even expect things from God, especially when it comes to expecting where to find God.

Some expectations are reasonable. We expect to find God in a church, in a sunrise, in a sunset; we expect to find God in the miracle of birth, in the laughter of children and in the gift of friendship.

The problem - rather, the truth – is that God is in many, many more places, people and things than we might expect.

Elijah expected to find God in the obvious places: a strong, rushing wind or a powerful earthquake. Instead, God spoke to him in a tiny whisper. The last place that the disciples expected to find Jesus in the wee hours of the morning was walking on a lake during a storm - yet, there he was!

We should expect to find God in the obvious places, but we must also learn to look for and find God in the places that we least expect. Indeed, the Scriptures are filled with story after story of how God chose to enter the lives of men, women and children in ways that they did not expect.

While our God is a dependable God, our God is also a God of surprises. Our God frequently acts in ways that supersede - and sometimes even shatter - our expectations. Recall the question or criticism levied by some people against Jesus: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Where should we expect to find God? “God is in all things and all places,” wrote St. Francis de Sales.

“There is no place or thing in this world where God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are we find God present. Everyone knows this truth but not everyone manages to remain mindful of it.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II, Chapter 2)

Like God, opportunities for doing what is just, peaceable, honest, loving, healing and caring can be found everywhere. To what degree are we too enamored of our own expectations of God to recognize God's expectations of us, especially in the smallest and more ordinary things, events and circumstances?

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(August 14, 2017: Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr)
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Dt 10:12-22     Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20     Mt 17:22-27

Today we remember the ultimate sacrifice made by the Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, Maximilian Kolbe.

“During the Second World War, he provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów. On 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On 28 May, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670. At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander to select ten men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected for reprisal cried out, ‘My wife - my children’, Kolbe volunteered to take his place.”

“In the starvation cell, he celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners. He led the other condemned men in song and prayer. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards administered to Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_Kolbe )

In today’s Gospel selection from Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples that “The Son of Man will be handed over to men, and they will kill him.” Maximilian Kolbe shared the same sacrifice as his Lord and Savior by the manner in which he died, offering his life for another.

Today, how far would we be willing to go to sacrifice for the good of someone else?

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(August 15, 2017: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab     Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16     1 Cor 15:20-27     Lk 1:39-56

“Blessed are you among women ...”

Our Salesian reflection for this Solemnity – the Assumption – comes entirely from Francis de Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God, Book 7, Chapter 14.

“I do not deny that the soul of the most Blessed Virgin had two portions, and therefore two appetites, one according to the spirit and superior reason, and the other according to sense and inferior reason, with the result that she could experience the struggle and contradiction of one appetite against the other. This burden was felt even by her Son. I say that in this heavenly Mother all affections were so well arranged and ordered that love of God held empire and dominion most peaceably without being troubled by diversity of wills and appetites or by contradiction of senses. Neither repugnance of natural appetite nor sensual movements ever went as far as sin, not even as far as venial sin. On the contrary, all was used holily and faithfully in the service of the holy love for the exercise of the other virtues which, for the most part, cannot be practiced except amid difficulty, opposition and contradiction…”

“As everyone knows, the magnet naturally draws iron towards itself by some power both secret and very wonderful. However, there are five things that hinder this operation: (1) if there is too great a distance between magnet and iron; (2) if there is a diamond placed between the two; (3) if the iron is greased; (4) if the iron is rubbed with onion; (5) if the iron is too heavy.”

“Our heart is made for God, and God constantly entices it and never ceases to cast before it the allurements of divine love. Yet five things impede the operation of this holy attraction: (1) sin, which removes us from God; (2) affection for riches; (3) sensual pleasures; (4) pride and vanity; (5) self-love, together with the multitude of disordered passions it brings forth, which are like a heavy load wearing it down.”

“None of these hindrances had a place in the heart of the glorious Virgin. She was: (1) forever preserved from all sin; (2) forever most poor in spirit; (3) forever most pure; (4) forever most humble; (5) forever the peaceful mistress of all her passions and completely exempt from the rebellion that self-love wages against love of God. For this reason, just as the iron, if free from all obstacles and even from its own weight, would be powerfully yet gently drawn with steady attraction by the magnet – although in such wise that the attraction would always be more active and stronger according as they came closer together and their motion approached its end – so, too, the most Blessed Mother, since there is nothing in her to impede the operation of her Son’s divine love, was united with him in an incomparable union by gentle ecstasies without trouble or travail.”

“They were ecstasies in which the sensible part did not cease to perform its actions but without in any way disturbing the spiritual union, just as, in turn, perfect application of the spirit did not cause any great distraction to the senses. Hence, the Virgin’s death was the most gentle that can be imagined, for her Son sweetly drew her after the odor of his perfumes and she most lovingly flowed out after their sacred sweetness even to the bosom of her Son’s goodness. Although this holy soul had supreme love for her own most holy, most pure, and most lovable body, yet she forsook it without any pain or resistance…At the foot of the cross love had given to this divine spouse the supreme sorrows of death. Truly, then, it was reasonable that in the end death would give her the supreme delights of love.”

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(August 16, 2017: Wednesday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Dt 34:1-12     Ps 66:1-3a, 5 and 8, 16-17     Mt 18:15-20

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

In the book, Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction, we read:

“The Salesian spirit is contextual. It is relational. Making Jesus live is not something that occurs solely in the isolated individual vis-à-vis his or her own God. It is not something that is forged only out of the solitary vigil of silence represented by the hermit monk. (The word monk itself comes from the root ‘monos” or ‘alone’.) A better word to portray the Salesian spirit might be ‘between’. It is what goes on between persons – in their relationships – that are of the essence in making Jesus live. The interpersonal dimension of the Salesian spirit deepens the importance of the insight that it is in the midst that one loves God. For it is not that one glimpses God despite the persons around one, but rather that one finds God precisely through and with those persons.” (LSD, p. 46)

Indeed, our attempts at making Jesus live in us can only be completely achieved by our willingness to help others to do the same in their own unique ways. In other words, when it comes to our individual attempts at “Living Jesus”, we are in this together!