Spirituality Matters 2017: August 17th - August 23rd

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(August 17, 2017: Thursday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Jos 3:7-10a, 11, 13-17     Ps 119:135     JMT 18:21–19:1

“This is how you will know that there is a living God in your midst.”

For the purposes of our reflection this morning, let us rephrase that statement from today’s reading from the Book of Joshua as a question: “ How will you know that there is a living God in your midst?” One of the most visible ways of recognizing the living God in our midst is through our daily practice of devotion - in particular, as Jesus clearly states in today’s Gospel, through the practice of a very specific virtue.

That virtue – forgiveness!

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(August 18, 2017: Friday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Jos 24:1-13     Ps 136:1-3, 16-18, 21-22 and 24     Mt 19:3-12

“His mercy endures forever.”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales writes what some have described as his “colloquy” of God’s mercy. In Part 1, Chapter 11, we read:

“Consider the corporal benefits that God has bestowed on you – the body itself, goods provided for its maintenance, health, lawful comforts, friends and helps. Consider all this in contrast to so many other persons more deserving than yourself but destitute of such blessings.”

“Consider your gifts of mind. How many people there are in the world who are dull of mind, mad or insane…How many there are who have been brought up harshly and in gross ignorance while God’s providence has brought you up in freedom and dignity!”

“Consider your spiritual favors. You are a child of the Church. How often has he given his sacraments to you! How often you have received his inspirations, interior lights and admonitions for your amendment! How often has he forgiven your faults! How often has he delivered you from those occasions of damnation to which you have been exposed! Were not all those past years a time of leisure and opportunity to improve your soul’s good?”

What’s the bottom line? Francis writes:

“Marvel at God’s goodness. How good my God has been in my behalf! How good indeed! Lord, how rich is your heart in mercy and how generous in good will! My soul, let us always recall the many graces he has shown to us.”

Indeed, beginning today “let us always recall the many graces he has shown to us”.

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(August 19, 2014: Saturday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Jos 24:14-29     Ps 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 11     Mt 19:13-15

“As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

On a day-to-day basis, what does it mean to serve the Lord? From a Salesian point of view, serving the Lord is most readily seen through the practice of virtue. However, in the Salesian tradition it isn’t enough to do what is good, but one also has to do what is good in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which one finds oneself.

In her book Earth Crammed with Heaven, Elizabeth Dreyer wrote:

“Francis de Sales stands out as one who was firmly convinced that people in every walk of life are called to holiness. His life’s effort, truly innovative in his day, was to help people find God in their particular life calling. The nearness of God was not the exclusive domain of any one group in the church. ‘True devotion,’ he said, ‘adorns and beautifies any vocation or employment.’ He constantly opposed the tendency, frequently found among those who want to live a spiritual; life, to seek the virtues of another state in life while neglecting those proper to one’s vocation. The home is not a convent and the virtues of the monastic life are not lived in the same way in family life…” (p. 46)

We will truly serve the Lord to the extent that we practice virtue. We shall truly serve the Lord to the full to the extent that we practice the virtues proper to the events, circumstances and relationships that we experience day in and day out.

Today, what virtue might God be calling you to practice today?

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(August 20, 2017: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Is 56:1, 6-7     Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8     Rom 11:13-15, 29-32     Mt 15:21-28

“Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.”

Our God can be described in many ways: a God of love, a God of life, a God of salvation, a God of reconciliation and a God of peace. As today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah reminds us, our God is also a God of justice. What this description of God means that God is just, that God is fair. God is morally righteous. God is reasoned, reasonable and truthful.

In other words, God gives people their due.

We are made in the image and likeness of God. To that end, like God, we are also called to be people of justice and to give others their due.

Insofar as God calls us to live justly, one of our greatest temptations is to act in an unjust manner, that is, to live with “two hearts”. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“In general we prefer the rich to the poor…we even prefer those who are better dressed. We rigorously demand our own rights, but want others to be considerate in insisting on theirs. We complain easily about our neighbors, but we would expect them to never complain about us. What we do for others always seems so very great, but what others do for us seems like nothing at all. In short, we have two hearts. We have a mild, gracious and courteous attitude toward ourselves but an entirely different demeanor that is hard, severe and unyielding toward others.” (Part III, Chapter 36)

Francis de Sales challenged us:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbors' place and them in yours, and then you will live justly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell and buy justly……In the end, we lose nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously and with a royal, just and reasonable heart. Examine your heart frequently to see if it is disposed toward your neighbor as you want your neighbor's heart to be disposed toward you.” (Ibid)

Justice, then, is not merely imitating some remote, unachievable attribute. Justice is not solely an issue of remedying social inequity. Justice is not limited to working for some noble, global purpose. Justice must be the hallmark of even the smallest, most mundane dimensions of the lives of all those who wish to follow Jesus, who wish to live a devout life. It is, in truth, about being more fully - and deeply - human.

To the extent that we treat others as we would want them to treat us in the small and ordinary exchanges of everyday life - fairly, reasonably, rightly - we reveal something of God's divine justice. What better way is there for us to give what is due to God, than by giving what is due to one another…and, in the process, to know the blessedness that comes with being single-hearted?

And why not begin today?

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(August 21, 2017: Monday, Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Jgs2:11-19     Ps 106:34-35, 36-37, 39-40, 43ab and 44     Mt 19:16-22

“If you wish to be perfect, sell what you have and give to the poor…”

And the man went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Listen carefully to Jesus’ words. He doesn’t say, “Give it all to the poor”. He does say, “Give to the poor.” This presumes that what – or how much – is given to the poor is left to the individual to decide. In the case of the unnamed young man in today’s Gospel, perhaps his sadness was caused by the fact that he didn’t want to give anything – not one bit – to the poor. His unwillingness to share even the smallest amount of his good fortune with others makes his reluctance he even more saddening.

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

“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches that God has given us. Frequently give up some of your property by giving it with a generous heart to the poor. To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become. It is true that God will repay us not only in the next world but even in this world…Oh, how holy and how rich is the poverty brought on by giving alms!” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 15. p. 165)

Listen carefully to Francis’ words: “Frequently give up some of your property…”

Count your blessings. Name your possessions. Be they material, like money, or non-material, like influence, time or talent, what transforms our riches into wealth is our willingness to share them with the poor, with the impoverished, with the less-fortunate and with those who have fallen on hard times.

Do you want to gain eternal life? How many – or much – of your possessions are you willing to share with anyone poor or needy?

Just today?

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(August 22, 2017: Queenship of Mary)
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Jgs 6:11-24a     Ps 85:9, 11-12, 13-14     Mt 19:23-30

“It will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Riches themselves are not the greatest obstacle to our entering into the Kingdom of God. From a Salesian perspective, it is our desire for riches that poses the problem - the grandeur with which we protect them and the passion with which we pursue them.

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

“Your heart must be open to heaven alone and impervious to riches and all other transitory things. Whatever part of them you may possess, you must keep your heart free from too strong an affection for them. Always keep your heart above riches: even when your heart is surrounded by riches, see to it that your heart remains distinct from them and master over them. Do not allow your heavenly spirit to become captive to earthly things. Let your heart remain always superior to riches and over them – not in them… I willingly grant that you may take care to increase your wealth and resources, provided this is done not only justly but also properly and charitably.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 163)

How can we determine if our possessions might be holding us back from the Kingdom of Heaven? Francis wrote:

“If you find your heart very desolated and devastated at the loss of anything you possess then believe me when I tell you that you love it too much. The strongest proof of how deeply we are attached to possessions is the degree of suffering we experience when we lose it.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 164)

Are we experiencing any difficulties as we strive to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven during our journey here on earth? Perhaps, it is because our possessions have somehow managed to possess us!

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(August 23, 2017: Wednesday, Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Jgs 9:6-15     Ps 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-7     Mt 20:1-16

“Are you envious because I am generous?”

The parable in today’s Gospel certainly suggests that those who labored the longest surely were envious! They felt cheated, because as we are told, they “grumbled” –when they realized that the landowner had paid them the same amount as those who had barely worked a few hours!

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

“We must be most careful not to spend much time wondering why God bestows a grace upon one person rather than another, or why God makes his favors abound on behalf of one rather than another. No, never give in to such musings. Since each of us has a sufficient – rather, an abundant measure of all things required or salvation – who in all the world can rightly complain if it pleases God to bestow his graces more largely on some than on others?” (Living Jesus, 0618, p. 246)

Of course, given how generous God is to us we would never be envious or complain about somebody else having more than we do - would we?