Spirituality Matters 2017: January 5th - January 11th

* * * * *
(January 5, 2017: John Neumann, Bishop and Founder)
* * * * *

1 Jn 3:11-21 Ps100:1b-5 Jn1:43-51

“We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.…”

“This ‘American’ saint was born in Bohemia in 1811. He was looking forward to being ordained in 1835 when the bishop decided there would be no more ordinations: Bohemia was overstocked with priests. John wrote to bishops all over Europe but the story was the same everywhere: no one needed any more priests. But John didn’t give up. He had learned English by working in a factory with English-speaking workers so he wrote to the bishops in America. Finally, Bishop John Dubois of New York agreed to ordain him but John would have to leave his home forever and travel across the ocean to a new and rugged land. He was ordained the following year.”

“In New York, John was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. John’s parish in western New York stretched from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. His church had no steeple or floor but that didn’t matter insofar as John spent most days traveling from village to village anyway, climbing mountains to visit the sick, staying in garrets and taverns to teach, and celebrating the Mass at kitchen tables. Because of the work and the isolation associated with his remote outpost, John longed for community. In 1840, with the permission of Dubois, he applied to join the Redemptorist Fathers, was accepted, and entered their novitiate at St. Philomena's in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was their first candidate in the New World. He took his vows as a member of the Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, in January 1842. After six years of difficult but fruitful work, he was appointed as the Provincial Superior for the United States. Neumann became naturalized citizen on 10 February 1848. John was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. As bishop, he was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system: he increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to one hundred.”

“Neumann actively invited religious institutes to establish new houses within the diocese. In 1855, he supported the foundation of a congregation of religious sisters in the city, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. He brought the School Sisters of Notre Dame from Germany to assist in religious instruction and staffing an orphanage. He also intervened to save the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a congregation for African-American women, from dissolution. Neumann's efforts to expand the Catholic Church were not without opposition. The Know Nothings, an anti-Catholic political party representing descendants of earlier immigrants to North America, was at the height of its activities. They set fire to convents and schools. Discouraged, Neumann wrote to Rome asking to be replaced as bishop, but Pope Pius IX insisted that he continue.”

“John never lost his love and concern for the people—something that may have bothered the elite of Philadelphia. On one visit to a rural parish, the parish priest picked him up in a manure wagon. Seated on a plank stretched over the wagon’s contents, John joked, ‘Have you ever seen such an entourage for a bishop!’ The ability to learn languages that had brought John to America enabled him to learn enough Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch to hear confessions in, at least, six languages. When the wave of Irish immigration reached American shores, John learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, ‘Isn’t it grand that we have an Irish bishop!’ John Neumann died of a stroke on January 5, 1860 at the age of 48.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=70)

Notwithstanding his proficiency with languages, John Neumann is best remembered for mastering the one and only language that really matters – the language of love. In ways great and small, he laid down his life everyday for others.

How might we imitate his example just this day through our efforts at laying down our lives for others?

* * * * *
(January 6, 2017: Andre Bessette, Religious)
* * * * *

1 Jn 5:5-13 Ps 147:12-15, 19-20 Mk 1:7-11

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased…”

The life and legacy of Andre Bessette offers us a concrete example of what it looks like to “be begotten” by God:

“When Alfred Bessette came to the Holy Cross Brothers in 1870, he carried with him a note from his pastor saying, ‘I am sending you a saint’. The Brothers found that difficult to believe. Chronic stomach pains had made it impossible for Alfred to hold a job very long and since he was a boy he had wandered from shop to shop, farm to farm, in his native Canada and in the United States, staying only until his employers found out how little work he could do. The Holy Cross Brothers were teachers and, at 25, Alfred still did not know how to read and write. It seemed as if Alfred approached the religious order out of desperation, not for a vocation.”

“He may have had no place left to go, but he believed that was because this was the place he felt he should have been all along. The Holy Cross Brothers took him into the novitiate but soon found out what everybody else had learned - as hard as Alfred (now Brother Andre) wanted to work, he simply wasn't strong enough. They asked him to leave the order, but Andre, out of desperation, appealed to a visiting bishop who promised him that he would intercede on his behalf with the brothers so that Andre could stay and take his vows.”

“After his vows, Brother Andre was sent to Notre Dame College in Montreal (a school for boys aged seven to twelve) as a porter. His responsibilities were to answer the door, to welcome guests, find the people they were visiting, wake up those in the school, and deliver mail. Through kindness, caring, and devotion, Brother Andre helped many souls experience healing – in many documented cases, including physical healings.”

“As if that were not enough, in 1904 Bro. Andre received permission to construct a small chapel dedicated to St. Joseph, to whom he had a life-long devotion. By the 1930’s he had inaugurated the construction of a basilica on the highest point of the city on Montreal, but the Depression all-but-brought the project to a halt. At ninety-years old he told his co-workers to place a statue of St. Joseph in the unfinished, unroofed basilica. Brother Andre died soon after on January 6, 1937, and didn't live to see the work on the basilica completed. But in Brother Andre's mind it never would be completed because he always saw more ways to express his devotion and to heal others. As long as he lived, the man who had trouble keeping work for himself had never stopped working for God.”

On December 19, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a decree recognizing a second miracle at Blessed André's intercession and on October 17, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI formally declared sainthood for Blessed Andre. (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=18)

Clearly, God was well pleased by the life and legacy of Bro. Andre. This simple man was beloved by countless people through the simple practice of hospitality and his promise of prayers.

Today, how might we show that we, too, are “begotten” by God?

* * * * *
(January 7, 2017: Raymond of Penyafort, Priest)
* * * * *

I Jn 5:14-21 Ps 149:1-6a, 9b Jn 2:1-11

“We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us discernment to know the one who is true…”

Among his many abilities, Raymond Penyafort contributed a great deal in helping others to know the One who is true.

“Since Raymond lived to the age of one hundred, he had a chance to do many things. As a member of the Spanish nobility, he had the resources and the education to get a good start in life. By the time he was twenty, he was teaching philosophy. In his early thirties he earned a doctorate in both canon and civil law.”

“At the age of forty-one, he became a Dominican. Pope Gregory IX called him to Rome to work for him and to be his confessor. One of the things the pope asked him to do was to gather together all the decrees of popes and councils that had been made in 80 years since a similar collection by Gratian. Raymond compiled five books called the Decretals. They were looked upon as one of the best organized collections of Church law until the 1917 codification of canon law. Earlier, Raymond had written for confessors a book of cases. It was called Summa de Casibus Poenitentiae. More than simply a list of sins and penances, it discussed pertinent doctrines and laws of the Church that pertained to the problem or case brought to the confessor.”

“At the age of 60, Raymond was appointed archbishop of Tarragona, the capital of Aragon. He didn’t like the honor at all and ended up getting sick and resigning in two years. He didn’t get to enjoy his peace long, however, because when he was sixty-three he was elected by his fellow Dominicans to be the head of the whole Order, the successor of St. Dominic. Raymond worked hard, visited on foot all the Dominicans, reorganized their constitutions and managed to put through a provision that a master general be allowed to resign. When the new constitutions were accepted, Raymond, then sixty-five, resigned. Still, he would spend the next thirty-five years oppose heresy and working for the conversion of the Moors in Spain. Raymond finally ‘retired’ from his earthly ministry at the age of one hundred!” (http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1253)

Raymond is remembered not only for having lived a full life but also for having lived a fulfilling life.

Today, how might we follow his example?

* * * * *
(January 8, 2017: Epiphany of the Lord)
* * * * *

Is 60:1-6 Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13 Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 Mt 2:1-12

“They did him homage.”

“They set out. The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, found the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. They opened their coffers and presented him with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Not just today, but every day –– every hour, every moment –– we are called to follow the star that is our Lord, our Redeemer and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Each day, we are called to set out onto the road of life, following the signs of God’s love, justice, reconciliation and peace wherever we experience them. And like the astrologers in today’s Gospel, we, too, are called to “do him homage.”

Homage, an old-fashioned, quaint-sounding term, is defined in the dictionary as “special honor or respect shown publicly.”

Hmmm, perhaps not so quaint or out-of-date a notion after all!

How can we do Jesus homage? How can we publicly give him special honor and respect? What kind of gifts can we give to Christ –– and by extension, to one another –– day in and day out? Are such displays of respect limited to cross-continental treks or exotic, once-in-a-lifetime treasures?

Francis de Sales offers this advice:

“Let us not be at all eager in our work, for, in order to do it well, we must apply ourselves to it carefully indeed, but calmly and peacefully, without trusting in our labor, but rather, relying on God and God’s grace. Anxious searchings of the heart about advancing in perfection, and those endeavors to see if we are advancing, are not at all pleasing to God, and only serve to satisfy our own self-love, that subtle tormentor which grasps at so much but accomplishes so very little. One single good work, done with tranquil spirit, is worth far more than many done with anxious eagerness.”

Paying homage to Jesus –– showing special respect and honor in public –– is measured less by grandiose feats and more by simple, ordinary actions performed with great attention and intention. Paying homage to Jesus is not only about a multiplicity of good deeds but also more about fully immersing ourselves in each moment of each day as it comes. Paying homage to Jesus is less about trying to prove to Jesus how worthy we are and more about accepting our need for God and the actions of God’s grace in our lives. Paying homage to Jesus is less about prostrating ourselves before him and more about standing up for all that is righteous, peaceful, liberating and just.

How might our experiences this day –– and especially, the people whom we encounter in those experiences –– be inviting us to pay homage to Christ?

The answer - by paying special honor and respect to one another - one, single good work at a time.

* * * * *
(January 9, 2017: Baptism of the Lord)
* * * * *

Is 42:1-4, 6-7 Ps 29: 1-2, 3-4, 9-10 Mt 3: 13-17

“Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

“God is so good that he never ceases to work in our hearts to draw us out of ourselves, out of vain and perishable things, so that we can receive his grace and give ourselves wholly to him.” (Saint Jane de Chantal)

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. The Baptism of Jesus marks his inauguration into his public life. Isaiah in the first reading gives the blueprint for the ministry of Jesus. As Isaiah writes, “I will put my spirit upon him and he will bring forth justice to the nations. I have formed you……to open the eyes of the blind, to bring prisoners from confinement and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”

We know from the life of Jesus as recorded in the Scriptures, he fulfilled the blueprint Isaiah had written. He reached out to the marginalized, cured those who were sick, touched those who were believed “untouchable,” challenged his religious leaders to “do what they preached,” and was constantly traveling doing good works. With all the good that he accomplished for others, he was crucified. In the words of today’s Gospel, he was that “beloved Son in whom the Father was well pleased.”

In celebrating the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, we also celebrate our own Baptism. Just as the Baptism of Christ inaugurated his public life, so also our own Baptism inaugurates us into the Christian life. Christ gave us an example in his life to allow us to see how those who were baptized into him can live His life. St. Jane tells us, “God never ceases to work in our hearts to draw us out of ourselves so we can receive his grace and give ourselves wholly to him.” The reading from Acts tells us that “Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed with the devil, for God was with him.”

To live our lives as followers of Christ we also should “go out of ourselves” and “go about doing good” and bringing Christ’s healing presence and his peace to those whom the Lord sends our way. Like Christ, we too should visit the sick and reach out to the marginalized in our communities and in our families. We should speak with those toward whom we have had negative feelings or painful memories - anyone that we might consider “untouchable,” anyone at home, in the neighborhood or at work who we avoid, ignore or even despise.

We need to be people who put into identifiable action our profession of being a follower of Christ. This action requires strength and courage. Just as the Father was with the Son in his life, so also we have the presence of Christ within our minds and hearts to give us the strength and courage we need to be his authentic followers.

Today, let us then come out of ourselves and our own little worlds to see what good we can do and how we, relying on the strength of the Lord within us, might be agents of the Lord’s healing presence to all those around us.

* * * * *
(January 10, 2014: Leonie Aviat, OSFS, Religious and Founder)
* * * * *

(Readings: Colossians 3: 12-17; Psalm 15: 2-3, 3-5, 5; Matthew 18: 1-5, 10, 14)

“Anyone who welcomes one such child for my sake welcomes me...”

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Leonie Aviat, OSFS: religious, founder.

In the middle of the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution, there was a rapid expansion of the textile industry in the town of Troyes, France. The Industrial Revolution created opportunities for women to work outside of the home and/or the farm. Droves of young country girls came to the town in search of employment and adventure. They had no money, nowhere to live and were thus exposed to many potential hazards. With a remarkable intuition for overcoming obstacles, Father Louis Brisson took these girls into his care. He acquired a building, offering board and lodging and even work on the premises to a number of young female workers. He trained a group of volunteers to oversee the boarding house, but no matter how devoted they were, the undertaking lacked stability. It was not only necessary to provide room and board for the girls and young women, but also to educate them in their faith and guard them against moral danger. Fr. Brisson eventually determined that this new undertaking would be better served by a community of religious women who could devote themselves to this growing ministry.

Enter Leonie Aviat. Together with Fr. Brisson, she founded the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales who, during the course of her lifetime, saw many a child – and young adult, for that matter – welcomed for the sake of the Lord.

Children not only come in many shapes and sizes, but, as it turns out, children also come in a variety of ages. In the broadest sense, the “children” to whom Jesus alludes in today’s Gospel are anyone who is vulnerable, anyone who needs welcome, anyone who needs comfort and anyone who needs a safe place.

Today, who might be the children in our lives whom Jesus challenges us to welcome for his sake today?

~ OR ~

Throughout the history of Christian spirituality there frequently appears to be an uneasy relationship between prayer and work, between being and doing, and/or between resting in God and doing for/with God.

St. Francis de Sales offered a remedy for the temptation to dichotomize prayer and work. The “Gentleman Saint” identified – in broad strokes – three types of prayer.

First, there is vocal prayer. This is the type of prayer on which most – if not all – of us first cut our gums: the Our Father, the Hail Mary, Grace-before-Meals, etc, etc. It is a form of prayer of which we can make good use even into old age.

Second, there is mental prayer, or “prayer of the heart.” Some people experience this type of prayer as meditation; for other people, it is known as contemplation. This type of prayer relies a great deal less on words and makes greater use of thoughts, considerations, affections, images and silence. Unlike vocal prayer, it tends to be much less public and much more private. It seems to come easily for some folks, while it is appears to be more elusive or challenging for others.

Finally, there is what Francis de Sales referred to as the prayer of good life. It is the prayer that comes with doing good – with practicing virtue – in a very mindful, heart-filled, intentional and deliberate way at each and every moment: specifically, through the practice of the Direction of Intention!

Leonie Aviat clearly saw the Direction of Intention as the bridge linking prayer and work. Years after founding the Oblate Sisters, she would later remark:

“I still remember the words the Good Mother said to us one day on the subject. ‘The faithful practice of the Direction of Intention is the first rung on the ladder that will make us attain sanctity.’ She had been so faithful to this article that she knew its reward.” (Heart Speaks to Heart, p. 150)

Professor Wendy Wright notes that in the Salesian tradition the interior prayer of the Direction of Intention - be it with or without words - provides the foundation for both the life of the cloistered Visitandine and the very active life lived by an Oblate Sister. She again quotes Leonie Aviat:

“My children (wrote the Good Mother) you are not called to say the office for the moment. Your principal occupation is work. Give yourself to it as graciously as possible. Go to your work when the clock chimes. Set out joyfully according to our Rule, as if you were going to say the office and make meditation, because for you, work is a continual meditation.” (Ibid)

Whether we do our work prayerfully – or put our prayer to work – prayer and work are the inseparable sides of the same coin: the love of God, neighbor and self.

* * * * *
(January 11, 2017: Wednesday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Heb 2:14-18 Ps 105:1-4, 6-9 Mk 1:29-39

“He gives orders to unclean spirits and they obey him…”

M. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist (now deceased), wrote two books on the subject of “demons” -People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil and Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist's Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption.

Peck described in some detail several cases involving his patients. In People of the Lie he identified characteristics of an “evil” person, whom he classified as having a character disorder. In Glimpses of the Devil Peck went into significant detail describing how he became interested in exorcism in order to debunk the myth of possession by evil spirits – only to be convinced otherwise after encountering two cases which did not fit into any category known to psychology or psychiatry. Peck came to the conclusion that possession was a rare phenomenon related to evil, and that possessed people are not actually evil, but rather, they are doing battle with the forces of evil. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon)

In today’s Gospel – and all throughout the Gospels – we are told that Jesus drove out demons (“unclean spirits”) as a part of his ministry of proclaiming the power and promise of the Good News. Whether or not you believe in demons – regardless of your thoughts regarding exorcisms – we all struggle with things that plague us, that exasperate us or that appear to “possess” us to the extent that they prevent us from being the best version of ourselves. Despite our best efforts, these “demons” seem impervious to our feeble attempts at conquering, dispelling or exorcizing them. Perhaps therein lies the lesson - the greatest mistake we make in struggling with our own “demons” is to believe that we must do it alone; that we must battle with our “demons” all by ourselves.

However large, small, frequent or few they might be, are you willing to bring your “demons” to Jesus?