Spirituality Matters 2017: January 12th - January 18th

* * * * *
(January 12, 2017: Thursday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Heb 3:7-14 Ps 95:6-7c, 8-11 Mk 1:40-45

“The leprosy left him immediately...”

Time and time again throughout the four Gospels, we witness how Jesus cured people on the spot – their infirmity was healed, removed or eradicated immediately. In the case of today’s Gospel selection from Mark, Jesus immediately healed a person afflicted with leprosy.

But not all miracles happen in an instant. Some require several steps. Others require more time.

In Chapter 9 of the Gospel of John, Jesus cures a man born blind by first mixing spittle and mud before applying the mixture to the man’s eyes. In Chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel, the healing of another blind man requires two stages. In Chapter 2 of John’s Gospel Jesus turns water into wine seemingly as a last resort. And in the Gospels of Mark (7:25-30) and Matthew (15:21-28) Jesus agreed to heal the possessed daughter of the Syrophoenician woman only after what sometimes appears to have been a protracted negotiation. For that matter, in the Old Testament (2 Kings 5) Naaman the Syrian was cured of his leprosy only after bathing seven times in the River Jordan.

Whether in an instant, over several stages or during the course of a lifetime, all miracles share one thing in common – they begin by asking God for help.

If even only as a first step, from what might we need to be healed, freed or liberated by God today?

* * * * *
(January 13, 2017: Hilary, Bishop & Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *

Heb 4:1-5, 11 Ps 783, 4bc, 6c-8:8-19, 15 Mk 2:1-12

“Do not forget the works of the Lord…”

Romanian-born Jewish-American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once remarked: “When a person doesn't have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity”.

Today’s Gospel offers us a powerful illustration of how the absence of gratitude can diminish one’s humanity.

When Jesus healed a paralytic in two phases (first, by forgiving the man’s sins and second by curing the man’s infirmity), there wasn’t an ounce of gratitude to be found anywhere among the scribes, because the only thing they seemed capable of feeling was resentment. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the scribes seemed to be suffering more from something missing in their humanity - they come off in this story as being sorry excuses for human beings.

Maybe the reason that the scribes failed to recognize a singular work of the Lord in the present (at the hands of Jesus) was due to the fact that they had managed to forget the collective works of the Lord in the past. Absorbed by their own sense of smug self-importance, the scribes appear to have lost their capacity for gratitude. These men of God seem to no longer display any need for God.

Do you feel as if something is missing from your humanity? Experiencing any resentment? “Do not forget the works of the Lord.” For that matter, do not forget the works of all the people in your life who have helped to make you who you are today.

Remember: be grateful. Your humanity depends on it!

* * * * *
(January 14, 2017: Saturday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Heb 4:12-16 Ps 19:8-19, 15 Mk 2:13-17

“I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners…”

As word of Jesus’ reputation for helping those in need spread through the region, we are told in today’s Gospel that lots of folks (including Levi, a customs official) from lots of places travelled lots of distances to see him, to behold his face, to hear his voice, to experience his healing power and to know his love.

In one of his Conferences to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales remarked:

“It is very good for us to know and feel our misery and imperfection, but we must not allow that to discourage us; rather, our awareness of our miseries should make us raise our hearts to God by a holy confidence, the foundation of which ought to be in Him…The throne of God’s mercy is our misery; therefore, the greater our misery the greater should be our confidence in God.” (Living Jesus, page 45)

Today’s Gospel challenges sinners of all sizes and stripes not to avoid God but to pursue God. An awareness of our sinfulness or our neediness should not drive us away from God but should draw us closer to God. Have confidence that God will help you. Have confidence that God will heal you. Have confidence that God will empower you.

Why? Because God does love us! How? In the person of his Son, Jesus.

* * * * *
(January 15, 2017: Second Sunday in ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Is 49:3, 5-6 Ps 40: 2, 4, 7-10 1 Cor 1:1-3 Jn 1:29-34

“You have been consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be a holy people.”

St. Francis de Sales believed that all people are called to be saints. In other words, all people are called to be holy. We have read or heard it many times before, but some things - most especially, important things - bear repeating: “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 holiness, each according to one’s position and vocation.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 2)

Striving for perfection - growing in holiness - “living Jesus” - is a formidable challenge. Embracing a life of virtue requires strength and courage. Renouncing sin requires strength and courage. Turning a deaf ear to temptation requires strength and courage. On any given day, our progress in devotion is marked by both success and setback.

However, this striving to be holy is made even more difficult when we attempt to be holy in a way that doesn’t fit our state or stage of life - a way of living that doesn’t fit who we are. While we are all indeed called to be holy, we are not called to be holy in the in exactly the same way as others. Francis reminds us:

“Devotion (holiness) must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the prince the widow the young girl and the married woman. I ask you, is it fitting for a bishop to want to live a solitary life like a monk? Or for a married man to want to own no more property than a monk, for a skilled workman to spend his whole day in a church, for a religious to be constantly subject to every sort of call in service to one’s neighbor, which is more suited to the bishop? Would not such holiness be laughable, confused and impossible to live?” (Ibid)

Francis de Sales put it another way in a Conference (On the Virtues of St. Joseph) to the early Visitation community: “Some of the saints excelled in one virtue, some in another, and although all have saved their souls, they have done so in very different ways, there being as many different kinds of sanctity as there are saints.” (Conference XIX, p. 365)

A more contemporary reflection on this issue comes from Nobel prize-winning author and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “There are a thousand and one gates leading into the orchard of mystical truth. Every human being has his or her own gate. We make a mistake of wanting to enter the orchard by any gate other than our own.” (Night, Page 3)

To be sure, if there is indeed one model of Christian holiness, we find it in Jesus Christ, the one in whom all of us are consecrated. But to be holy - like Jesus is holy - is not about trying to be like someone else. Rather, being holy is about having the strength, integrity and courage to be who and how God wants each one of us to be, precisely in the places, circumstances and relationships in which we find ourselves each day.

So today, be who you are, and be that well.

* * * * *
(January 16, 2017: Monday, Second Week of Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Heb 5:1-10 Ps 110:1-4 Mk 2:18-22

“Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, and your disciples do not fast?”

What distinguishes your run-of-the-mill comedian from a truly great comedian? Well, aside from having good material, the almost-universal answer is: “Timing”. Successful comedians are gifted with – or learned to develop – an incredible sense of timing.

The point that Jesus is trying to make in today’s Gospel is no laughing matter. In many cases, timing is everything. Fasting and feasting (among other things) are both good things. The challenge is to develop the sense to know the proper time to do one or the other. Recall the words found in the Book of Ecclesiastes 3, verse 1: “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…”

In the Salesian tradition, developing this sense of timing goes hand-in-hand with the practice of virtue. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “A great fault in many who undertake the exercise of some particular virtue is thinking they must practice it in every situation. Like certain great philosophers, they wish either always to weep or always to laugh. Still worse, they condemn and censure others who do not practice the same virtues they do. The apostle (St. Paul) says, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep,’ and ‘charity is patient, is kind,’ generous, prudent, discreet and considerate.”

Jesus’ sense of timing - his knack for reading a situation, for recognizing his surroundings and for knowing what was called for with a particular person – enabled him to do the right thing at the right time in the right way. Unlike the “one-size-fits-all” approach of the disciples of John and the Pharisees, Jesus shows us that the authentic practice of virtue must be “tailor-made”.

Indeed, “there is a time for every purpose under heaven”. What time is it now? What are the things that God is calling us to do today?

* * * * *
(January 17, 2014: Anthony, Abbot)
* * * * *

Heb 6:10-20 Ps 111:1-2, 4-5, 9, 10c Mk 2: 23-28

“This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm…”

In an undated letter addressed to “A Gentleman” who apparently been struggling with a debilitating illness that had seriously challenged his confidence and faith in pretty much everything, Francis de Sales wrote:

“It is of great concern to me that everyone says that in addition to your physical illness, you are suffering from deep depression…Please tell me sir, what reason have you for remaining in this dark mood which is so harmful to you? I am afraid that your mind is still troubled by some fear of sudden death and the judgment of God. That is, alas, a unique kind of anguish! My own soul – which once endured it for six weeks – is in apposition to feel compassion for those who experience it.”

“So, sir, I must have a little heart to heart chat with you and tell you that anyone who has a true desire to serve our Lord and flee from sin should not torment himself with the thoughts of death or divine judgment: for while both the one and the other are to be feared, nevertheless, the fear must not be the terrible kind of natural fear which weakness and dampens the ardor and determination of the spirit, but rather a fear that is so full of confidence in the goodness of God that in the end grows calm…This is not the time to start questioning whether or not we are strong enough to entrust ourselves to God.”

“So, now, since you want to belong entirely to God, why be afraid of your weakness – upon which, in any case, you shouldn’t be relying in the first place? You do hope in God, don’t you? And will anyone who hopes in God ever be put to shame? No, sir, never!” (LSD, page 180)

In good times, in bad times, and in all the times in between, what is our hope and what is the anchor of our souls? Are our hope and anchor sure and firm? Well, actually, it isn’t a “what” at all, but rather, a “who”.

Jesus Christ!

* * * * *
(January 18, 2017: Wednesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Heb 7:1-3, 15-17 Ps 110:1-4 Mk 3:1-6

“Grieved at their hardness of heart…”

Recall last week’s account of Jesus and the paralyzed man? Jesus healed a paralytic in two phases (first, by forgiving the man’s sins and second, by curing the man’s infirmity). As astonishing as that two-fold miracle may have been to those who witnessed it, perhaps the only thing even more astonishing was the intractability of the scribes who questioned Jesus’ authority for doing so. Those men of God appeared to have lost any sense of their need for God.

We see the same dynamic played out in today’s Gospel. Jesus is painfully aware that the Pharisees are looking for any excuse to discredit him, even if it requires demonizing an objectively good and righteous act! In another case of putting the cart before the horse (or perhaps dropping the cart on the horse altogether!) the Pharisees – this time through their cold, calculating silence – are placing the primacy of the Sabbath far ahead of the opportunity to restore someone’s health, in effect, to bring them back to life.

We are told at the end of the day that the Pharisees were undaunted in their pursuit of pettiness and parochialism, hardening their hearts to God’s providence at every opportunity. Fortunately for us, Jesus was even more undaunted in his pursuit of righteousness. Grieved as he might have been, Jesus never allowed others’ hardness of heart to harden his heart.

Today, as followers of Jesus, can the same be said of us?