Spirituality Matters 2017: August 3rd - August 9th

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(August 3, 2017: Thursday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 40:16-21, 34-38     Ps 84:3, 4, 5-6a and 8a, 11     Mt 13:47-53

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.”

What should I hold onto in life? What should I let go of in life? What’s good for me? What’s not good for me? These kinds of questions are the stuff of discernment. John Crossin, OSFS offers for our consideration three aspects of any discernment process, that is, any attempt to determine God’s will.

Mind you, discernment is not an exact science. While we can come to know God’s Will in broad strokes – and sometimes even in the particular – we can’t presume to know it all. And sometimes, we may even get it wrong.

Still, some of the things that can help us to know what to keep and what to give away in life include:

  • God’s Signified Will – This is the information we already have at our disposal from the Scriptures, Commandments, Counsels etc. These clearly communicate what God considers to be good, virtuous and life-giving values, attitudes and actions.
  • Feedback from Others – We should make good use of the wise counsel of friends, clergy, mentors, counselors and other people whom we trust. True friends will know when to tell us what we want to hear and when to tell us what we need to hear.
  • Flexibility – Francis de Sales observed that while all the saints are recognized for their conformity to God’s will, no two saints followed God’s Will in exactly the same way. We need to remind ourselves that discernment is about what God wants us - not others - to do in any particular situation. Sometimes, this discernment may require us to “think outside of the box” - we need to be open to change.
Today, life being what it is, we may catch all kinds of things in the nets of our lives. Some things are always good for us; other things are always bad for us. However, there may be some things we catch that used to be good but no longer are. On the other hand, there may be other things - once considered bad - that may now be actually very good.

Decisions, decisions - What do I keep? I keep the things that promote the Kingdom of heaven at the present moment! What do I throw away? I throw away the things that don’t!

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(August 4, 2017: John Vianney, Priest)
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Lv 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34b-37     Ps 81:3-4, 5-6, 10-11ab     Mt 13:54-58

“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place, in his own house...”

It isn’t an accident that prophetic people are often the most unappreciated by those closest to them. It isn’t by chance that prophetic voices encounter the most resistance from members of their own family, relatives or friends. It isn’t a surprise that prophetic movements are often far easier to export abroad than to practice at home. Recall the saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Strangers don’t see our foibles. Strangers don’t see our weaknesses. Strangers don’t experience our dark side. But as we know all-too-well, those who know us well do see those things…and much, much more.

We are all disciples of Jesus. We are all commissioned by virtue of our Baptism to preach in word and especially in deed. So, what are we to do? Preach freely to strangers but remain silent when in the presence of those with whom we labor, live and love? No, that won’t do. When it comes to following Jesus, we know that there’s extra pressure when we are among our own. We realize that there is extra scrutiny in our own (glass!) house. We accept that there is greater expectation (and perhaps more skepticism) in our native place. So, how should would-be prophets deal with this reality?

The answer - make sure that you’re already making your best efforts to put into practice what you are pondering to preach.


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(August 5, 2017: Saturday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Lv 25:1, 8-17     Ps 67:2-3, 5, 7-8     Mt 14:1-12

“Therefore, when you sell any land to your neighbor or buy any from him, do not deal unfairly but stand in fear of your God. I, the LORD, am your God.”

Francis de Sales clearly understood and appreciated the spirit of today’s selection from the Book of Leviticus. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he counseled:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and your neighbor in yours, and then you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell, and then you will sell and buy justly. A person loses nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously and with a royal, just and reasonable heart. Resolve to examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor as you would have your neighbor’s heart to be toward you. This is the touchstone of true reason....” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 36, p. 217)

When it comes to the give and take of daily life, do I take fairly – and give generously?

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(August 6, 2017: Transfiguration of the Lord)
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Dn 7:9-10, 13-14     Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 9     2 Pt 1:16-19     Mt 17:1-9

“He was transfigured before their eyes and his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than the work of any bleacher could make them.”

Something remarkable happened on that mountain.

Consider the possibility that it was not Jesus who changed but rather it was Peter, James and John who were transformed. Imagine that this account from Mark’s Gospel documents the experience of Peter, James and John as their eyes were opened; their vision widened, enabling them to see without impediment the virtually blinding light of Jesus’ love that flowed from every fiber of his being.

Indeed, every day of Jesus’ life something of that remarkable brilliance, that remarkable passion and that remarkable glory was revealed to people of all ages, stages and states of life. The shepherds and magi saw it; the elders in the temple saw it; the guests at a wedding feast saw it; a woman caught in adultery saw it; a boy possessed by demons saw it; a man born blind saw it; a good thief saw it.

If so many others could recognize Jesus’ glory in a word, a glance or a touch, why might Peter, James and John have required such extra effort in helping them to see it? Perhaps, it was because they were so close to Jesus. Perhaps, it was because they were with him every day. Perhaps, it was because, on some level, they had somehow taken his glory for granted.

What about us? Do we recognize that same divine glory present in us, present in others, present in creation and present in even the simplest and most ordinary, everyday experiences of justice, truth, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion?

Or do we take it for granted?

St. Francis de Sales saw the Transfiguration as a “glimpse of heaven.” May we grow in our ability, through the quality of our lives, to make that “glimpse of heaven” more clearly visible and available to the eyes – and in the lives – of others. May God help us to recognize the remarkable things that occur every day in our own lives…and in the lives of one another.


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(August 7, 2017: Monday, Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Nm 11:4b-15     Ps 81:12-13, 14-15, 16-17     Mt 14:13-21

“Give them some food yourselves.”

The disciples were concerned for the welfare of the crowd that had followed Jesus to a remote place. It had been a long day. Evening was fast approaching and there was no place nearby for the people to get food or, for that matter, shelter. Fearful of the possible consequences, the disciples suggested to Jesus that he should send the crowd away.

On the face of it, this was a very reasonable suggestion. From a purely practical point of view, the disciples were fearful of the possible results of the people being stranded in a deserted place without provisions. All the more remarkable that instead of dismissing the crowd, Jesus said to the disciples: “Give them some food yourselves”.

What possibly could have motivated Jesus to respond this way?

Consider the possibility that Jesus recognized a deeper level of fear in the disciples, a fear far more terrifying than the prospect of scores of men, women and children going without food or water. Perhaps, the disciples were afraid that the crowd would turn to them for help…or maybe even turn against them for failing to help. Faced with this overwhelming prospect, the disciples, in effect, decided to suggest to Jesus that sending folks away would fix the problem.

To be sure, there are some situations or circumstances in our own lives – and in the lives of those we love – that seem far beyond any time, talent or treasure that we might possess. As Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” character suggests, “A man’s got to know his limitations”. Faced with our own limitations it is wise, indeed, to turn to Jesus in times of need.

But this scene from Matthew’s Gospel challenges us to consider circumstances in which we are tempted to turn to God too quickly for answers without first considering how God may be asking us to act as instruments of life and love for others. To be sure, bringing peace to the Middle East is way beyond my singular abilities. Therefore, I pray to God for peace and pray for those who are working for that peace. But closer to home, how often do I expect God to feed the hungry without first considering how I might be called to offer myself as food and drink to others? How often do I ask God to heal a relationship without first making any effort on my own to be a source of healing? How many times in my life do I immediately expect God to fix the problem without ever considering how God may be asking me to be a part of the solution?

In short, living a life of devotion – following the example of Jesus – avoids two extremes – expecting God to do everything, or expecting us to do everything. Life is about balance, about discernment and about accepting the situations in which when we depend on God to bring about something good, as well as recognizing the circumstances in which God is depending on us to make good things happen.

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(August 8, 2017: Dominic, Priest)
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Nm 12:1-13     Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 6cd-7, 12-13     Mt 14:22-36

“Take courage, do not be afraid…”

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Scriptures tell us that St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, grew afraid; and as soon as he was afraid he began to sink and drown, so he cried out: ‘O Lord, save me!’ And our Lord caught hold of his hand and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Look at this holy apostle; he walks dry foot on the water, the waves and the winds could not make him sink, but fear of the wind and the waves will make him perish unless his master saves him. Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 125, p. 198)

His advice to Saint Jane de Chantal is also great advice for us. He recommended:

“Do not be afraid. You are walking on the sea, surrounded by wind and water, but you are with Jesus: so what is there to fear? If terror seizes you, cry out loudly: O Lord, save me. He will stretch forth his hand towards you; clasp it tight and go joyfully on your way. In short, don’t philosophize about your trouble; don’t argue with it, just go straight on, quite simply. If the whole world is topsy-turvy – if all around is darkness and smoke and din – God is still with us.” (Ibid)

In there anything in particular that is weighing heavily on your mind or heart? Are there any issues or concerns that are attempting to paralyze you? Is there anything about which you find yourself afraid?

Remember: God is with you! Take his hand, clasp it tight and go joyfully on your way.

As bravely as you can!

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(August 9, 2017: Wednesday, Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Nm 13:1-2, 25–14:1, 26a-29a, 34-35     Ps 106:6-7ab, 13-14, 21-22, 23     Mt 15: 21-28

“O woman, how great is your faith!”

Today’s Scripture readings offer us a study in contrast. In the Book of Numbers we see how the faith of the Israelites was shaken when they learned that the land of “milk and honey” promised by the Lord was already occupied by other people and not just any other people. No, because they were strong, fierce giants living in well-fortified towns. It would seem that the Israelites simply expected to inherit the Promised Land unopposed without any effort or resistance.

Contrast this situation with the faith demonstrated by the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel. Three times Jesus rebuffed her request to drive a demon out of her daughter. Undaunted, the woman continued to press Jesus to the point where he was not only impressed by her faith but also granted her request.

The Israelites teach us that having a strong faith in God’s Providence doesn’t mean that God’s promises always come easily. Many good things in life require hard and difficult work. For her part the Canaanite woman demonstrates that strong faith in God does not require passivity, but in fact, it often requires persistence and tenacity.