Spirituality Matters 2017: February 23rd - March 1st

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(February 23, 2017: Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr)
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Sir 5:1-8    Ps 1:1-4, 6    Mk 9:41-50

“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward…”

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

“You must be ready to suffer many great afflictions for our Lord, even martyrdom itself. Resolve to give him whatever you hold dearest if it pleases him to take it…. However, as long as divine Providence does not send you great piercing afflictions…bear patiently the slight injuries, the little inconveniences and the inconsequential losses that come to you each and every day…(A)ll such little trials – when accepted and embraced with love – are highly pleasing to God’s mercy. For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful a sea of perfect bliss.” (IDL, Part 3, Ch. 35, pp. 213-214)

Polycarp made the ultimate sacrifice in bearing witness to his faith in God. Odds are that most of us (while not being asked to make such a huge sacrifice) can nonetheless bear witness to our faith in God by doing simple, everyday good things for one another.

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(February 24, 2017: Friday, Seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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Sir 6:5-17    Ps 119:12, 16, 18, 27, 34-35    Mk 10:1-12

“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price; no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.”

In our quest to pursue a life of devotion, in our attempts to grow in holiness and in our desire to become the best version of ourselves one shouldn’t be a lone wolf or one shouldn’t go it alone. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must above all have a faithful friend who, by advice and counsel, guides our actions and thus protects us from the snares and deceits of the wicked one. For us, a friend will be a treasure of wisdom in affliction, sorrow and failure. A friend will serve as a medicine to ease and comfort out hearts and afflicted by spiritual sickness. A friend will guard us from evil and make our good still better. Should any infirmity come upon us, a friend will assist us and keep it from being unto death.” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 4, p. 46)

Francis de Sales once referred to knowledge as the “Eighth Sacrament”. For members of the Salesian tradition, perhaps “befriending” could be considered the “Ninth Sacrament”.

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(February 25, 2017: Saturday, Seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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Sir 17:1-15    Ps 103:13-18    Mk 10:13-16

“God from the earth created man, and in his own image he made him. He makes man return to earth again, and endows him with a strength of his own. He created for them counsel, and a tongue and eyes and ears, and an inventive heart, and filled them with the discipline of understanding.”

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

“God has drawn you out of nothingness to make you who you are now and has done so solely out of his own goodness. Consider the nature God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world. It is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty. God has placed you in this world to exercise his goodness to you by giving you his grace and glory. For this purpose, he has given you intellect to know him, memory to be mindful of him, imagination to picture to yourself his benefits, eyes to see his wonderful works, tongue to praise him, and so on with the other faculties…” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 4, p. 46)

All of this begs the question - on any given day, how often do we consider the nature that God has given us? How well do we make use of that divinely-given nature in our relationships with one another?

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(February 26, 2017: Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Is 49:14-15    Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9    1 Cor 4:1-5    Mt 6:24-34

“Do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes,
for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts…”

In Part Three, Chapter 28 of his Introduction to the Devout Life, dealing with the topic of “Rash Judgment”, Francis de Sales quotes verbatim the above selection from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Jumping off from here, Francis takes an in-depth look at the human tendency – and temptation – to judge other people. He wrote:

“How offensive to God are rash judgments! The judgments of the children of men are rash because they are not the judges of one another, and when they pass judgements on others they usurp the office of our Lord. They are rash because the principal malice of sin depends on the intention and counsel of the heart, and to us mortals these are ‘hidden things of darkness’. Such judgments are rash because every person has enough about which to judge oneself without presuming to judge one’s neighbor.”

“To avoid rash judgment it is equally necessary to both refrain from judging others as well as to judge ourselves. Just as our Lord forbids the former, so also The Apostle enjoins us to do the latter, for he says, ‘If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged’. But, O God, how differently we actually act! By judging our neighbor on every occasion we never stop doing what is forbidden and we never do what is required of us, namely, to judge ourselves.”

Francis de Sales attributes our tendency – and temptation – to judge others to a variety of reasons and origins: personality, temperament and environment, just to name three. But what is far more important is to consider his advice for remedying our tendency – and temptation – to judge others. The cure for rash judgments?

“Drink as deeply as you can of the sacred wine of charity. It will set you free from the perverse moods that cause you to make such judgments…Charity is the supreme remedy for every evil, especially for the evil of rash judgments…Whoever wants to be cured must apply remedies not to the eyes or intellect but to the affections…If your reflections are kind, your judgments will also be kind. If your affections are charitable, your judgments will be charitable.”

Francis’ diagnosis of rash judgment – and his cure for it – are pretty cut and dry. That said, let us end with a closing observation on this subject by the Gentleman Saint:

“To conclude, those who look carefully into their own consciences are not very likely to pass rash judgments. Just as bees in misty or cloudy weather stay in their hives to prepare honey, so also the thoughts of good people do not go out in search of things concealed among the cloudy actions of our neighbors. To avoid meeting them they retire into their own hearts and make good resolutions for their own amendment. It is the part of an unprofitable soul to amuse itself in examining the lives of others people.”


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(February 27, 2017: Monday, Eighth Week of Ordinary Time)
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Sir 17:20-24    Ps 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7    Mk 10:17-27

“You shall not…You shall.”

Today’s readings remind us that being children of God comes with its share of “do’s” and “don’ts.”

The “don’ts” include: You shall not steal. You shall not lie or speak falsely. You shall not defraud or rob. You shall not withhold. You shall not curse. You shall not spread slander. You shall not hate.

The “do’s” include: Honor your father and mother. Sell what you have and give to the poor.

We are approaching yet another season of Lent. It is a time when it is customary for people to focus on not doing the “don’ts” of life. In the Salesian tradition, however, we’re probably better off investing our time and energy by pursuing the “do’s” of God’s Kingdom as a more effective remedy for the “don’ts.” For example, why settle for giving up lying when you can tell the truth? Why promise to stop being stingy when you can redouble your efforts at being generous? Why refrain from being envious of others’ possessions when you can commit yourself to treasuring what you do possess? Why merely turn away from hatred when you can turn toward healing? Why simply renounce revenge when you can accomplish much more with reconciliation?

Standing at the threshold of yet another Lent can be daunting. Acknowledging our need to do certain things and to not do other things can leave us wondering: is change, is growth, is conversion really possible?

When we remember that with God all things are possible.

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(February 28, 2017: Tuesday, Eighth Week of Ordinary Time)
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Sir 35:1-12    Ps 50:5-6, 7-8, 14 and 23    Mk 10:28-31

“With each contribution show a cheerful countenance, and pay your tithes in a spirit of joy. Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means.”

In the Preface I for the Eucharistic Prayer for the season of Lent, we hear:

“For by your gracious gift each year your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts
with the joy of minds made pure, so that, more eagerly intent on prayer and on the works of charity.”

People associate the season of Lent with all kinds of experiences: sacrifice, self-denial, self-discipline, penitence, sorrow and suffering, just to name a few. The experience of joy probably wouldn’t appear anywhere near the top of most peoples’ list…if at all. But indeed, Lent can be a joyful season, provided that we understand the nature and the basis of authentic Christian joy: striving to be the best version of yourself.

In a letter to her brother Andre Fremyot, the Archbishop of Bourges, Jane de Chantal wrote the following:

"Try to perform all your actions calmly and gently. Keep your mind ever joyful, peaceful and content. Do not worry about your perfection, or about your soul. God, to whom it belongs, and to whom you have completely entrusted it, will take care of it and fill it with all the graces, consolations and blessings of His holy love in the measure that they will be useful in this life…” (LSD, page 203)

How might we keep our minds joyful during the season of Lent? How about by beginning each and every day of Lent by recalling all that God – in his mercy, generosity and love – has done for you! Consider who God has made you, and who God continues to call you to be.

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(March 1, 2017: Ash Wednesday)
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Jl 2:12-18    Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17    2 Cor 5:20—6:2    Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Lent is a time when each of us is challenged to recognize our need for conversion. We are invited to closely examine our relationship with God, ourselves and one another. Simply put, Lent asks us to name those sins, vices, weaknesses -- anything -- that may prevent us from growing in thought, word and deed in our God-given dignity.

A popular way of ritualizing this inner journey is to "give up" something for Lent. Some refrain from tobacco; others eschew alcohol; still others pass up all desserts. Some of us may give up something good during Lent; some of us may give up something bad during Lent, and still others may give up a combination of both.

Using traditional language, Lent is a time for fasting. Fasting, however, is only half of the story. Lent, in its fullest expression, is also a season for feasting!

In their book A Sense of Sexuality, (Doubleday 1989) Drs. Evelyn and James Whitehead remind us that "fasting, at its finest, is neither solely punishment nor denial. We fast not only to avoid evils but to recapture forgotten goods." Put another way, “the 'no' of fasting is fruitful only if we have some deeply valued 'yes' in our life." The arduous discipline of feasting complements our fasting; we need something for which to fast.

That's right. Feasting requires no less discipline than fasting. The discipline of feasting celebrates well and heartily the God-given blessings that we enjoy without engaging in selfishness and excess.

Lent, then, is as much a matter of “doing” as it is of "doing without". St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

“Both fasting and working mortify and discipline us. If the work you undertake contributes to the glory of God and to your own welfare, I much prefer that you should endure the discipline of working than that of fasting.”

He continued:

“One person may find it painful to fast, another to serve the sick, to visit prisoners, to hear confessions, to preach, to assist the needy, to pray, and to perform similar exercised. These latter pains have as much value as the former.”

Whether through fasting or feasting, turning away from sin or turning toward virtue, these forty days of Lent are about out “insides:: our heart, mind, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, hopes and fears. It is the journey of the soul and spirit. “As for myself,” says Francis de Sales, “it seems to me that we ought to begin with the interior.”

And so we pray: God give us the grace to make a new beginning with the first of these forty days....and with every day that will follow hereafter.