Spirituality Matters 2017: February 2nd - February 8th

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(February 2, 2017: Presentation of the Lord)
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Mal 3:1-4    Ps 24:7-10    Heb 2:14-18    Lk 2:22-40

"Since the children are people of blood and flesh, Jesus likewise has a full share in these..."

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that He wills all of us to be saved that no one can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose, God made us ‘in his own image and likeness’ by creation, and by the Incarnation God has made himself in our image and likeness, after which he suffered death in order to ransom and save all mankind.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 8, Chapter 4)

We are probably familiar with the notion that through creation we are made in God’s image and likeness. In contrast, we are probably far less familiar with the notion that God, through the Incarnation, made Himself in our image and likeness. Familiar or not, both statements are true.

St. Francis de Sales was captivated by the notion that God loved us so much that he not only came among us, but he also became one of us! God took on our very nature! In the person of Jesus, God gained and experienced first-hand knowledge of what it means to sleep, to wake, to work, to rest, to dance, to cry, to mourn, to struggle, to succeed and to dream. In this experience Jesus not only redeems what it means to be human, but Jesus also celebrates what it means to be human - to be human as God dreams.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews likewise believed this truth. He writes that “Jesus had a full share” in blood and flesh...and “had to become like his brothers (and sisters) in every way.” In this way, Jesus could not only redeem us but also he could truly understand us.

This truth is, indeed, a great mystery and a supreme expression of intimacy. God so loved us that he took on our nature…He made himself into our image and likeness – the truest and best nature as God intended from the beginning of time. In a manner of speaking, through the Incarnation God shows us how to be comfortable in our own skin. How? By showing us that God is comfortable in our skin in the person of his son, Jesus Christ!

Put simply, it is in God’s nature to meet us where – and how – we are.

And so, how can we imitate God’s example through our willingness to meet others where and how they are today?

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(February 3, 2017: Blaise, Bishop and Martyr)
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Heb 13:1-8    Ps 27:1, 3, 5, 8-9    Mk 6:14-29

"Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you."

There’s an old Irish expression that goes something like this: “Be careful what you pray for.” Today’s Gospel offers a variant of this wisdom: “Be prudent about what you promise.”

Herod is so captivated – one might say even star-struck – by the dance performed by his daughter that he impulsively promises her whatever she desires, even “up to half of his kingdom.” Of course, the daughter dutifully asks her mother what she should request. Herodias seizes the opportunity to settle the score with John the Baptizer and instructs her daughter to ask Herod for the head of the prophet.

And we know how this story ends for Herod…and for John.

Perhaps a pithy – but a no-less-powerful – point to ponder today is - think twice before you say something. Words once spoken cannot be retrieved. Don’t lose your head – or someone’s else’s for that matter – over an impulsive proposition or promise.

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(February 4, 2017: Saturday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Heb 13:15-17, 20-21    Ps 23:1-6    Mk 6:30-34

"His heart was moved…for they were like sheep without a shepherd..."

In today’s Gospel we hear that Jesus’ heart was moved by the sight of the crowd who “were like sheep without a shepherd.” In other words, the people were lost.

“Lost” is defined as:

  • not made use of, won, or claimed
  • no longer possessed or no longer known
  • ruined or destroyed physically or morally
  • taken away or beyond reach or attainment
  • unable to find the way
  • no longer visible
  • lacking assurance or self-confidence
  • helpless
  • not appreciated or understood
  • obscured or overlooked during a process or activity
  • hopelessly unattainable

It’s safe to say that we all have the experience of being “lost” from time-to-time. Sometimes, we might experience being “lost” in any number of ways for long periods of time. Fortunately for us, one of the reasons that Jesus became one of us was to find the lost.

Today, consider yourself found!

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(February 5, 2017: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Is 58: 7-10    Ps 112: 4-9 1    Cor 2:1-5    Mt 5: 13-16

“You are salt of the earth. You are light of the world.”

Jesus proclaims to all who wish to follow him that they are to be light to the world, and salt of the earth. These are powerful images, as powerful today as they were when Christ first proclaimed them. For disciples of every time and place, these images are not mere ego boosters. No, they are a constant challenge which dares to become for God and others what Jesus was so clearly.

To be a light to the world is to illumine others with God’s truth and mercy. Likewise, that same light must expose the sins of pride, envy, meanness, indifference, injustice and anything else that blinds us from the divine truth and mercy that Christ has gained for us. Insofar as sin is anything that makes it more difficult to see in ourselves and one another the light and love of Jesus Christ, exposing such sin not only frees us from darkness but also better enables us to do all that is good and life-giving.

In Jesus’ light, we see the source of all light. We see the Father’s creative love; we receive Jesus’ redeeming love; we experience the Spirit’s inspiring love. Still, it is not enough to let this light shine out upon others, but we must also allow that light to penetrate and permeate every fiber of our being. The greatest encouragement that our God-given light can give to others is to show to others how that light is, in fact and at first, transforming us.

To be salt is to accept that fact that our efforts – or lack thereof – to follow Christ have an impact upon others, regardless of whether we are always aware of that impact or not. There are times in our lives when we lose our taste for God and/or the things of God. More frequently than not, this loss is displayed by our own feelings of inadequacy and/or indifference when it comes to practicing virtue. We all have our moments when we are tempted to believe that our day- to-day efforts at following Christ simply don’t make a positive difference in the lives of others, let alone in God’s overall plan for salvation. Unlike salt, however, we can regain that taste for doing what is righteous and good through prayer, the sacraments and, perhaps most practically, by doubling – even tripling – our efforts at practicing those very virtues that we are tempted to cease pursuing.

When we are tempted to wonder about our own efficacy in witnessing to the power and promise of God’s creative, redeeming, inspiring, healing and challenging love in our everyday, imperfect lives we should take consolation and encouragement about something which is true about both light and salt: even the smallest amounts of each go a very, very long way.

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(February 6, 2017: Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs)
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Gn 1:1-19 Ps 104:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12, 24, 35 Mk 6:53-56

“They begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.”

People continued to bring the sick – and themselves – to be healed by Jesus. The account in today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark provides an interesting detail - folks coming to Jesus for help believed that if they merely touched his clothing they would experience healing power.

It would seem that just a little bit of Jesus – even the smallest touch of Jesus – went a very long way.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote: “Among sacred lovers there are some who so completely devote themselves to exercises of divine love that its holy fire devours and consumes their life…” (Book VII, Chapter 10, p. 41) Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of this love. His love for others was so intense that even the smallest sampling of it changed forever the lives of those he touched.

Today, will the same be said of our love?

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(February 7, 2017: Tuesday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 1:20-2:4a    Ps 8:4-9    Mk 7:1-13

“How wonderful your name in all the earth!”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “Remember that God is not only in the place where you are: God is present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit.” (Part II, Chapter 2, p. 85)

Clearly, this truth was completely lost on many of the Pharisees and scribes. If they had realized that God dwells less in temples, laws, precepts and traditions and more within and among human beings, then they would had put their priorities in order. However, they were more concerned about protecting their own ways of doing things at the expense of promoting the ways of God, The result? The Pharisees and scribes became stumbling blocks for themselves and others when it came to recognizing that the wonder of God’s name touches every dimension of earthly life – most especially, the day-to-day experiences of ordinary people…people like you and me.

Just this day, how might we honor the name of God not merely with our lips but also with our lives?

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(February 8, 2017: Jerome Emiliani)
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Gn 2:4b-9    Ps 104: 1-2, 27-30    Mk 7:14-23

“Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile…”

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

“Physicians learn a great deal about a person’s health or sickness by looking at the tongue. In the same way, our words are a true indication of the state of our souls. ‘By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned,’ says the Savior. ‘The mouth of the just man shall meditate on wisdom and his tongue shall speak of judgment.’”

“An evil word falling into a weak heart grows and spreads like a drop of oil on a piece of linen cloth. Sometimes it seizes the heart in such a way as to fill it with a thousand unclean thoughts and temptations. Just as bodily poison enters through the mouth, so what poisons the heart enters through the ear and the tongue that utters it is guilty of murder…” (IDL, p. 193; 195)

Today, do you want to check the state of your spiritual health? Then start the diagnosis by examining the words that come out of your mouth.