Spirituality Matters 2017: January 19th - January 25th

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(January 19, 2017: Thursday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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Heb 7:25-8:6 Ps 40:7-10, 17 Mk 3:7-12

“Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”

In the beginning of Part II of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales

“I counsel you to practice mental prayer, the prayer of the heart, and particularly that which centers on the life and passion of the Lord. You will learn his ways and form your actions after the patterns of his. He is ‘light of the world’, and therefore it is in him and by him and for him that we must be instructed and enlightened. He is the tree of desire in whose shade we must be refreshed. He is that living ‘fountain of Jacob’ in which we can wash ourselves clean of all our stains. Just as little children learn to speak by listening to their mothers and lisping words with them, so, too, by keeping close to our Savior in meditation and observing his words, actions and affections we learn by his grace to speak, act and will like him.” (IDL, II, Chapter 1, p. 81)

Indeed, Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him. Most especially, by showing us how to live – as He lived. As He intercedes for us, let us, in turn, pray for the grace to become more and more like Jesus in our relationships with one another.

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(January 20, 2017: Fabian, Pope/Martyr; Sebastian, Martyr)
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Heb 8:6-13 Ps 85:8,10-14 Mk 3:13-19

“He sent them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons…”

This scene from the third chapter of Mark’s Gospel is a major event in the relationship between Jesus and his Apostles/Disciples: he gives them the power to preach and to drive out demons! Their apprenticeship – as it were – is over.

Well, perhaps not completely over.

In Matthew’s Gospel (17: 10 – 21) and in Luke’s Gospel (9: 37 – 45) a man asks Jesus to save his son from a demon. The interesting detail here is that the man comes to Jesus only after some of Jesus’ own disciples (names unknown, or, at least, unmentioned!) failed in their attempts to drive the demon out. While some of Jesus’ followers may have been appointed to drive out demons, it would appear that having the power did not always guarantee success.

We might not think about it much, but by virtue of our creation (made as we are in God’s image and likeness) we are disciples of Jesus. We, too, are appointed to preach and to drive out demons. Oh, these demons may not resemble those described in the Scriptures, but they are nonetheless very real. They are evil spirits that plague countless people on any given day. These demons have many names, including: hatred, resentment, anxiety, sadness, jealousy, despair, loneliness, frustration, anger, envy, cynicism and hopelessness. While we (like Jesus’ first disciples) may not always be successful, we are called to do our level best to drive out these demons (or, at least, reduce their effect) through our attempts to embody the spirits of confidence, hope, joy, contentment, solidarity, gratitude, reconciliation and love in our relationships with others.

Or, perhaps, by our efforts to drive out those same demons in ourselves!

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(January 21, 2017: Agnes, Virgin and Martyr)
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Heb 9:2-3, 11-14 Ps 47:2-3,6-9 Mk 3:20-21

“When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

In a perfect world, being true to yourself – being the person that God wants you to be – should be its own reward. But as even Jesus discovers in today’s Gospel, being true to yourself – being the person that God wants you to be – can bring with it some unwarranted and unwelcomed resistance and rejection.

Especially from family, friends and other loved ones!

Only three pages into his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales deals with this phenomenon head-on.

“The men who discouraged the Israelites from going into the Promised Land told them that it was a country that ‘devoured its inhabitants.’ In other words, they said that the air was so malignant it was impossible to live there for long and its natives such monsters that they ate men like locusts. It is in this manner that the world vilifies holy devotion as much as it can. It pictures devout persons are having discontented, gloomy, sullen faces and claims that devotion brings on depression and unbearable moods.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 2)

In short, others may tell you that any attempt to live a holy life is just plain crazy!

In St. Francis de Sales’ opinion, being the kind of person that God wants you to be is not only not crazy but it is, in fact, the sanest decision you could ever make. He suggests:

“Devotion is true spiritual sugar for it removes discontent from the poor, anxiety from the rich, grief from the oppressed, pride from the exalted, melancholy from the solitary and exhausting from those in society. It serves with equal benefit as fire in winter and dew in summer. It knows how to enjoy prosperity and how to endure want. It makes honor and disgrace alike useful to us. It accepts pleasure and pain with a heart that is nearly always the same, and it fills us with a marvelous sweetness.” (Ibid)

Are we crazy to live a life of devotion? From Jesus’ perspective, we’d be crazy not to do so!

Why not begin today?

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(January 22, 2017: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Is 8:23-9:3 Ps 27: 1, 4, 13-14 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17 Mt 4:12-23

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”

In her book entitled The Bond of Perfection, Wendy Wright makes the following observation about St. Francis de Sales:

“It is difficult to accurately characterize any person’s spiritual state over the course of a lifetime but it is possible to make a few broad generalizations. The geography of Francis de Sales’ ongoing relationship with the divine and the vistas of self that he experienced in pursuing that relationship were, on the whole, like broad plateaus and open prairies. There is a certain sense of freedom and spaciousness, a view of wide horizons and the feel of light about him.” (p. 141)

In his own way, St. Francis de Sales was indeed a light to the people of his time. Through his writing, preaching and human touch, he was a light that widened peoples’ horizons, lightened their burdens and helped them to pursue a life of devotion precisely in the state and stage of life in which they lived each day. He was a light who scattered the gloom of ignorance, anxiety, fatalism and fear. He was a light who gave people the heart they needed to embrace life as it was…and to dream about life as it could be.

We recognize this man as a saint precisely because his own light reflects so clearly the light of Jesus Christ. Christ is the light who casts out darkness. Christ is the light who forgives sins. Christ is the light who strengthens drooping knees and sagging hearts. Christ is the light that scatters the gloom of sin and sadness. Christ is the light who ushers in a new era of happiness and joy, purpose and promise.

The selection from Matthew’s Gospel - as well as the life of St. Francis de Sales - give powerful testimony to the nature of this divine light of Christ, which is meant to be shared. Just as Christ called his apostles to share his light, just as Christ called Francis to share his light, so, too, Christ calls each and every one of us to be sources of that same light for one another. Each of us is called to scatter the gloom of discouragement and despair in the hearts of others. Each of us is called to relieve the burdens of others. Each of us is called to be a source of hope for others.

Make no mistake. There are burdens that come with being sources of Christ’s light in the lives of others. Our light must face the darker side of life: evil, sin, cynicism, hostility, suspicion, prejudice and fear, just to name a few. Our light must not only shine out on others, but it must also illuminate and purify our own minds, hearts, attitudes and actions. Our light requires that we really come to know ourselves…and truly come to know one another.

Jesus claims that this burden of being his light is, paradoxically, lighter than any other burden we might choose to carry through life. (Matthew 11: 29 – 30) How is this so? Christ’s light raises us up! How blessed, how happy, how “light-hearted” are we when we seize opportunities each day to raise up - to lift up - one another!

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(January 23, 2017: Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of the Unborn)
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Heb 9:15, 24-28 Ps 98:1-6 Mk 3:22-30

On this anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s decision, Roe vs. Wade, all dioceses in the United States are encouraged to observe a “Day of Prayer” for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. It is suggested that the faithful throughout the country celebrate the Mass “For Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life.”

Over 400 years ago St. Francis de Sales made the following statement in his Introduction to the Devout Life: “Consider the nature God has given us. It is the highest in this visible world. It is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to God’s Divine Majesty.” (IDL, Part One, Chapter 9)

What is more precious – what is more profound – what is more promising – what is more powerful – than the God-given gift of life? What better way to express our gratitude for this greatest of gifts than to treat life in all its forms with profound respect and reverence from conception until natural death!

And at every single step in between!

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(January 24, 2017: Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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Prv 16: 16-2 Ps 34: 2-3, 4 and 6, 9 and 12, 14-15 JAS 3:13-18 Mk 5: 23-28

We offer for your reflection on this feast day of Francis de Sales the forward of a fifty-four page devotional booklet published in 2008 in the United Kingdom (written by a J. Barry Midgley) regarding the life and legacy of “The Gentleman Saint”.

"In some ways the Age in which St. Francis de Sales lived has similarities to our own. Then, as now, the world was experiencing dramatic change, and the mind of the Church was necessarily focused on spiritual, intellectual and institutional renewal: correcting aggressive heresy, reaffirming doctrine and practice, and preserving the ministerial priesthood that is at the heart of Catholic life. The Church continues to work for the revival of evangelization and the conversion of nations, withstanding secular assaults on faith, reversing the dilution of doctrine and protecting the accessibility of the sacrifice of the Mass. In every season, the 'Barque of Peter' navigates some stormy waters but, thankfully, there are saints like Francis de Sales whose eager and powerful intercession does not diminish with the passing of time."

"God - in His kindness - provides every season with holy men and women to encourage God's people, and the Holy Spirit breathes an impetus to refresh faith, doctrine, religious leadership and energy in the mission Christ delegated to His people. Francis de Sales is a luminous example of the local apostle who preserves and teaches the faith received by the twelve Apostles personally from Our Lord. As a bishop, his priorities were to preach the Gospel, to preside at Mass, to care for the clergy and to ensure that spiritual centers of liturgical and cultural excellence stimulated hope and the practice of devotion. Francis helped those entrusted to his care understand that prayer opens the mind and heart to God's word and to respond to his (Francis') belief that everyone plays a part in God's plan of salvation through a personal conception of His Son. Indeed, Francis de Sales truly was a fascinating figure, so balanced, courageous, sensible and devout: another 'man for all seasons.'"

"I am grateful...for a renewed appreciation of this wonderful man."

Through the example and intercession of St. Francis de Sales, may each of us - in ways fitting to the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves - strive to be "balanced, courageous, sensible and devout" in our efforts to "Live Jesus”.

To be - in word, in deed - people for all seasons…in every season!

~ OR ~

“A patient person is better than a warrior, and those who master their tempers are stronger than one who would capture a city.”

So close, yet so far.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that that’s how Francis de Sales might have characterized his feelings regarding one of his greatest hopes that remained – sadly – unfulfilled - the return of Catholicism to the city of Geneva. Notwithstanding his success in the Chablais Region during the first four years of his priesthood, his pivotal prominence as Bishop of Geneva, his reputation as a man who could reach minds and soften hearts, his gift for shuttle diplomacy, and as one who “befriended many along the road to salvation,” the full restoration of his See remained frustratingly beyond his reach.

It’s easy to overlook, but Francis de Sales isn’t remembered for having the “Midas Touch.” It’s not like every initiative or endeavor that the “Gentleman Saint” touched turned to gold or ended with overwhelming success. Nevertheless, the Church recognizes him as a spiritual giant precisely because of his willingness to master the city of his own temper, to curb the city of his own enthusiasm and to discipline the city of his own passion in pursuing God and the things of God by choosing to focus his energies on evangelizing those whom he could reach rather than becoming embittered about those he could not reach. True to Fr. Brisson’s assessment of the Salesian method for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, Francis de Sales met people where they were – not where they weren’t.

Not unlike Our Lord Himself!

On his Feast day of the “Bishop of Geneva” let us ask for the grace to imitate his example! May we experience the self-mastery that is even “better than a warrior” by focusing our energies and effort on everything that is within our power to do for the love of God and neighbor, and to let go of whatever is not.

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(January 25, 2017: Conversion of Paul, Apostle)
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Acts 22:3-16 Ps 117:1-2 Mk 16:15-18

It seems that St. Francis de Sales had a special place in his heart for the person whose conversion we celebrate: Paul of Tarsus. Throughout his writings Francis not only refers to Paul by name but Francis also refers to Paul by two titles reserved solely for him: “The Apostle” and “The Great Apostle.”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:

“The glorious St. Paul speaks thus. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, constancy and chastity.’ See how this divine Apostle enumerates these twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit but sets them down as only one fruit. He does not say, ‘The fruits of the Spirit are…,’ but rather ‘the fruit of the Spirit is…’ Charity is truly the sole fruit of the Holy Spirit, but this one fruit has an infinite number of excellent properties….He means that divine love gives us inward joy and consolation together with great peace of heart, which is preserved in adversity by patience. It makes us kind and gracious in helping our neighbor with a heartfelt goodness toward him. Such goodness is not whimsical; it is constant and persevering and gives us enduring courage by which we are rendered mild, pleasant and considerate to all others. We put up with their moods and imperfections. We keep perfect faith with them, as we thus testify to a simplicity accompanied with trust both in our words and in our actions. We live modestly and humbly, leaving aside all that is luxurious and in excess regarding food and drink, clothing, sleep, play, recreation and other such desires and pleasures. Above all, we discipline the inclinations and rebellions of the flesh by vigilant chastity. All this so to the end that our entire being may be given over to divine dilection both interiorly by joy, patience, long-suffering goodness and fidelity, but also exteriorly by kindness, mildness, modesty, constancy and chastity.” (Book 11, Chapter 19)

From what we see in the life of St. Paul, he obviously did more than speak merely of the fruit of the Spirit. He lived it. His life was transformed by it. He shared it as a gift with all those whose lives he touched. Like Francis de Sales, may we, too, not only admire the example of “the glorious St. Paul,” but also let us imitate his example in our own lives. Let us do our level best to embody and share the gift of the Spirit which indeed has so many excellent properties.