Spirituality Matters 2017: August 31st - September 6th

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(August 31, 2017: Thursday, Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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1 Thes 3:7-13     Ps 90:3-5a, 12-13, 14 and 17     Mt 24:42-51

“Be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones…”

“The concept of blamelessness in the Old Testament carries with it two different, yet not dissimilar ideas. The first refers to sacrificial animals that were ‘without defect’. (Lev 1:3; Leviticus 3:1 Leviticus 3:6; Num 6:14) Only animals that were undefiled physically were worthy of being offered to the Lord. Sacrificing blemished animals was a violation of biblical law and a demonstration of brazen disrespect for God (Mal 1:6-14).”

“From this religious ritual idea comes the notion of moral perfection for individuals. ‘Blameless’ people are those who cannot be accused of wrongdoing before people or God (Psalm 15:2; 18:23). David prays, ‘Keep your servant also from willful sin. Then will I be blameless’. (Psalm 19:13) David is seeking blamelessness not in a physical but in a moral sense.”

“The New Testament The concept of moral blamelessness is heightened in the New Testament and employed almost exclusively as a characteristic of Christ and his followers. The sacrificial terminology is applied to the work of Jesus Christ when he is described as ‘a lamb without blemish or defect’. (1 Pt 1:19), who ‘through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God’. (Heb 9:14). The blameless character of Christ is seen in his continuing work as the believer's high priest who ‘meets our need, one who is holy blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens’. (Heb 7:26)”

“When applied to Christians, the quality of blamelessness is both a positional benefit of salvation and a moral character to be achieved. Each person is worthy of accusation in the sight of God. The blameless character of Christians, however, is the intention of God, who ‘chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight’. (Eph 1:4) Christ's love and sacrifice for the church were such that he could present her to himself ‘without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless’. (Eph 5:27)”

“This positional quality of blamelessness is not earned by personal gain, but imputed by the death and resurrection of Christ. (Col 1:22) God's power and protection ensure that the believer maintains a blameless status until the final judgment (1 Cor 1:8; Jude 24). In these occurrences, the legal connotation of deliverance from accusation is clearly seen. God alone has the power and right to accuse the believer and pronounce condemnation, but through his grace and power God renders the believer blameless in his sight.”

“In light of the positional reality, the believer is called to live in such a way as to attain the quality of blamelessness. In these cases, it is evident that blamelessness refers to public respectability as an outgrowth of private moral character. Christians must ‘make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him’. (2 Peter 3:14) By growing in discernment and avoiding a critical spirit, believers can become ‘pure and blameless’ in an age marked by wickedness.” (Phil 1:10; 2:14-15) (http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/blameless.html)

What’s the bottom line? In our attempts to “Live + Jesus”, being “blameless” is not about never doing anything wrong as much as it is about doing our level best to do what is right when it comes to love of God, self and others.

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(September 1, 2017: Friday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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1 Thes 4:1-8     Ps 97:1 and 2b, 5-6, 10, 11-12     Mt 25:1-13

“God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.”

In the book Saints are not Sad (1949,) we read

“Holiness, in Francis de Sales’ conception of it, should be an all-around quality without abruptness or eccentricity. It should not involve the suppression in us of anything that is not in itself bad, for the likeness to God which is its essence must be incomplete in the proportion that it does not extend to the whole of us. So we must be truthful to ourselves and about ourselves, and we shall lose as much by not seeing the good that really is in us as by fancying that we see good that is not there at all. It is as right and due that we should thank God for the virtue that His grace has established in us as that we should ask His forgiveness for our sinfulness that hinders His grace.” (Select Salesian Subjects, # 0377, p. 85)

God calls us to holiness. God calls us to walk in his ways. Imperfect as we are, we can make great progress in this quest by accepting the grace of God, by putting God’s grace to work in action and by relying on the love, support and encouragement of others. This call to holiness also challenges us to be truthful with ourselves and about ourselves - to recognize what is good in us, as well as anything in us needing to be purified. While we will always be imperfect, there is always a place for more purity in our own lives and in our lives with one another.

How can we live in – and practice – that truth today?

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(September 2, 2017: Saturday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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1 Thes 4:9-11     Ps 98:1, 7-8, 9     Mt 25:14-30

“After a long time, the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them…”

In today’s Gospel Jesus issues what law enforcement professionals refer to as a “BOLO”: Be on the L ookout! Stay awake! Watch out, for you know “neither the day nor the hour” when the master will return and settle up with his servants.

For reasons that are obvious, the early Christians – and we later Christians – almost always (and perhaps, even exclusively) associate this “BOLO” with a warning to be on the lookout for the end of the world, be it globally (everybody’s) or individually (our own). In the Salesian tradition, this “BOLO” is not limited to the “end of days” - it’s great advice for every day, especially when it comes to being on the lookout for opportunities to make good use of the talents, skills, gifts and abilities with which God has gifted us! Francis de Sales preached:

“There is no need to worry overmuch when or where we shall die; in what town or in what country we shall die; whether alone or with others we shall die. What doe sit matter? Leave it to God, for He will never fail us whether in life or in death…All we have to do is to leave ourselves to God’s providence, asking nothing and refusing nothing: that is the essence of human perfection. Don’t ask God for death; don’t refuse death when God sends it. Happy those who practice this indifference, who prepare for a happy death – whenever God should decree it – by living a good life! This is what all the saints have done. Some of them set aside a certain time each year to think about death. Some of them did it once a month, others once a week, or even every day, at a fixed time. By frequently remembering the inevitability of death, they tried to ensure a successful journey from this world to the next.” (Pulpit and Pew, pp. 290-291)

Put your God-given talents to work. Do your level best each and every day to make a good return on the investment that God has made in you. To the extent that you are faithful to this effort, the day when the master returns to settle up with you will not be filled with dread – but with rejoicing!

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(September 3, 2017: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Jer 20:7-9     Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9     Rom 12:1-2     Mt 16:21-27

“If a person wishes to come after me he must deny his very self, take up his cross and follow in my footsteps.”

By now we are all-too-familiar with this invitation – and its accompanying challenge – to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and what it requires on our part.

Perhaps, too all-too-familiar.

Ever read/listen to this admonition s-l-o-w-l-y? C-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y? Jesus does not challenge us to carry his cross. No, Jesus calls each of us to carry our own personal, particular, one-of-a-kind cross. To understand what it means to carry our crosses, we must first consider what we mean if we are considering the cross of Christ.

The “cross of Jesus Christ” was not just the cross that Jesus carried on the last day of his public ministry and the cross on which Jesus gave his life, but the cross of Jesus Christ was his entire life. The cross that Jesus carried each day was his willingness to be faithful to whom the Father had called him to be and to embrace everything – success, setback and everything else in between – that came with his state, stage and mission in life.

In particular, the cross that Jesus carried was his fidelity to embracing life – and giving his life – regardless of the difficulties and challenges that frequently accompanied his efforts at proclaiming the reign of God.

We are also followers of Jesus. By virtue of God’s creative, redeeming and inspiring love – a love publicly demonstrated in baptism – we must take up our crosses – we must understand the person God calls us to be – and we must embrace all the challenges that come with giving our lives in service to others. In short, we must come to recognize our place in life\ and have the courage to take it.

This fact is especially true when it comes to the challenges that we do not or would not choose: raising a difficult child, dealing with an unanticipated change of job or residence, receiving an unexpected diagnosis of a life-threatening disease or illness, working with a troublesome colleague or neighbor, fighting depression or losing a wife, husband or other loved one. St. Francis wrote: “You are quite willing to have a cross, but you want to choose what sort it is to be…I want your cross and mine to be no other than Jesus Christ’s cross, both regarding its kind and the way in which it is laid upon us.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 79 – 80)

Do you want to follow Jesus today? Then carry your cross – embrace your life more deeply and fully – as it comes each day from the hands of a God who calls you to continue Jesus’ ministry in your own day - at home, at work, at school, wherever you find yourself. In the end, however, it is not enough for any of us to merely carry it. St. Francis de Sales observed: “The more wholly a cross comes from God, the more we ought to love it.” (Ibid)

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(September 4, 2017: Monday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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1 Thes 4:13-18     Ps 96:1 and 3, 4-5, 11-12, 13     Lk 4:16-30

“He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”

The selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah that is cited in today’s Gospel lists signs associated with the coming of the Messiah – liberty to captives, sight to the blind and freeing the oppressed.

These signs require a great deal of work!

A week from today we will observe Labor Day in the United States of America. This federal holiday affords us a great opportunity to reflect upon the great work to which each of us is called as American Catholics – to continue the creating, healing and inspiring action of Jesus Christ in the lives of others in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Eucharistic Prayer IV in the former Sacramentary put it this way:

“Father, we acknowledge your greatness: all your actions show your wisdom and love. You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you, his creator, and to rule over all creatures…To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to those in sorrow, joy…And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth…”

On this Labor Day – which, for so many of us, signifies that it is time to get back to work - how might we do something to help complete Christ’s work on earth in our relationships with one another?

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(September 5, 2017: Tuesday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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Lk 4:16-30     Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14     Lk 4:31-37

“Encourage one another and build one another up…”

In the beginning of Part III of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Some virtues have almost general use and must not only produce their own acts but also communicate their qualities to the acts of all the other virtues. Occasions do not often present themselves for the exercise of fortitude, magnanimity and great generosity, but meekness, temperance, integrity and humility are virtues that must mark all our actions in life. We must always have on hand a good supply of these general virtues since we can use them almost constantly.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 1)

Today, what virtues might we employ in our attempts to encourage and build up others?

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(September 6, 2017: Wednesday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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Col1:1-8     Ps 52:10, 11     Lk 4:38-44

“Just as in the whole world the Good News is bearing fruit and growing, so also among you…

Near the beginning of Part I of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind. In like manner God commands Christians – the living plants of the Church – to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to one’s position and vocation. Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the laborer, the servant, the prince, the young girl and the married woman. Not only is this true but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strengths, activities and duties of each particular person.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 1)

We are the living plants of the Church. That being said –today, what kind of fruits can we produce in the lives of others in our attempts to help grow the Good News of Jesus Christ in our own little corners of the world?