Spirituality Matters 2017: June 22nd - June 28th

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(June 22, 2017: Thursday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor 11:1-11     Ps 111:1b-2, 3-4, 7-8     Mt 6:7-15

“Please put up with me.”

In a letter of spiritual direction and encouragement, St. Francis de Sales made the following observation:

“To be a servant of God means to be charitable towards one’s neighbor, have an unshakable determination in the superior part of one’s soul to obey the will of God, trusting in God with a very humble humility and simplicity, to lift oneself up as often as one fails, endure oneself with all one’s abjections and quietly put up with others in their imperfections.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 140)

As followers of Jesus we are challenged to “put up” with one another as an expression of our love for one another. Note, however, that while Francis de Sales says in this case that we must “put up” with another’s imperfections, in other cases he also reminds us that if we really love others we must not put up with another’s sinfulness or immorality. In the case of the latter we are obligated to draw their attention to it, not as an occasion to embarrass them, but as an opportunity to help them to become more of the person that God wants them to be.

What’s the moral to the story? When it comes to the people we love, there is a distinction that we need to make – there are some things with which we need to put up, but there are other things about which we need to be put out.

And to point it out!

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(June 23, 2017: Most Sacred Heart of Jesus)
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Dt 7:6-11     Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 10     1 Jn 4:7-16     Mt 11:25-30

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”

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

“God’s love is seated within the Savior’s heart as on a royal throne. He beholds through the cleft of his pierced side all the hearts of the children of men. His heart is the king of hearts, and he keeps his eyes fixed on our hearts. Just as those who peer through a lattice see clearly while they themselves are only half seen, so too, the divine love within that heart, or rather, that heart of divine love, always clearly sees our hearts.” (TLG, Book V, Chapter 11, p. 263)

In the person of the meek and humble Jesus, God makes room in his heart for all of humanity. In imitation of that divine, Sacred Heart, let us try our level best to make room in our hearts for all those people whom we encounter - just this day.

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(June 24, 2017: Nativity of St. John the Baptist)
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Is 49:1-6     Ps 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 14c-15     Acts 13:22-26     Lk 1:57-66, 80

“The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

Francis de Sales wrote:

“I have often wondered who is the most mortified of the saints that I know, and after some reflection I have come to the conclusion that it was St. John the Baptist. He went into the desert when he was five years old, and knew that our Savior came to earth in a place quite close by, perhaps only one or two days’ journey. How his heart, touched with love of his Savior from the time he was in his mother’s womb, must have longed to enjoy Christ’s presence. Yet, he spends twenty-five years in the desert without coming to see our Lord even once; and leaving the desert he catechized without visiting him but waiting until our Lord comes to seek him out. Then, after he has baptized Jesus, he does not follow him but stays behind to do his appointed task. How truly mortified was John’s spirit! To be so near his Savior and not see him, to have Him so close and not enjoy His presence! Is this not a completely detached spirit, detached even from God himself so as to do God’s will, and to serve God, as it were to leave God for God, and not to cling to God in order to love him better? The example of this great saint overwhelms me with its grandeur.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, Page 74)

“How truly mortified was John the Baptist’s spirit.” What does Francis de Sales mean? The American Heritage Dictionary defines mortify as “to discipline by self-denial or self-inflicted privation.” John did, indeed, discipline himself: he denied himself many things in order to be faithful to his understanding of whom God wanted him to be: a light to the nations, a light to highlight the coming of Jesus.

Think about it! John spends twenty-five years in the desert preparing to announce Christ’s coming. Despite growing up in the same general area, John meets Christ only once – when he baptized him at the Jordan River – only to remain behind as Jesus recruited others to be his apostles and disciples! John never sees his cousin again before dying in prison at the hands of one of King Herod’s executioners.

John was faithful to the role God wanted him to play in the plan of salvation and he played that role supremely well. Listen to what Jesus himself said: “I tell you the truth: among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11: 11) “Yet,” Jesus continues, “anyone who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” John shows us that being faithful to God’s will often requires that we deprive ourselves of the desire to “have it all” and to dedicate ourselves to discerning – and embracing – our unique roles in God’s plan of salvation.

Today, what unique role might God ask you to play in his ongoing plan of salvation just this day?

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(June 25, 2017: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Jer 20:10-13     Ps 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35     Rom 5:12-15     Mt 10:26-33

“Do not fear those who deprive the body of life but cannot destroy the soul.”

“Fear, dread, fright, alarm, panic, terror, trepidation mean painful agitation in the presence of or anticipation of danger. Fear is the most general term and implies anxiety and usually the loss of courage; dread usually adds the idea of intense reluctance to face or meet a person or situation and suggests aversion as well as anxiety; fright implies the shock of sudden, startling fear; alarm suggests a sudden and intense awareness of immediate danger; panic implies unreasoning and overwhelming fear causing hysterical activity; terror implies the most extreme degree of fear; trepidation adds to dread the implications of timidity, trembling and hesitation.” (Webster's Dictionary)

As with so many other emotions, fear - as well as its related feelings - is a part of life. Who of us has never been afraid, alarmed or anxious? Who of us exercises ultimate control over the things, people or situations that may cause us to fear?

While we may be unable to avoid fear, we do have a choice as to how to deal with it. Francis de Sales observed: “St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, was afraid; and as soon as he was afraid, he began to sink and to drown, so he called out: ‘Lord, save me.’ And Our Lord caught hold of his hand and said to him: ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Look at this holy apostle; he walks dry footed on the water, the waves and the winds could not make him sink; but fear of the wind and the waves will make him perish unless his Maker saves him. Fear is a greater evil than evil itself. Oh you of little faith, what do you fear? No, do not be afraid; you are walking on the sea, surrounded by wind and water, but you are with Jesus: so what is there to fear? But if terror seizes you, cry out loudly: O Lord, save me. He will stretch forth his hand towards you; clasp it tightly and go joyfully on your way.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 125)

The secret to dealing with fear is to be patient, to be self-possessed, that is, to be centered and grounded. Francis de Sales wrote: "By your patience you will win your souls. It is our great happiness to possess our own souls, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls." (Introduction, Part III, Chapter 3) Regardless of the intensity of the fear that we may experience, we cannot be ultimately overwhelmed or defeated so long as we do not lose possession of our souls.

“In short, don't philosophize about your trouble; don't argue with it, just go straight on, quite simply. God would not allow you to be lost while you live according to your resolutions so as not to lose him. If the whole world turns topsy-turvy, if all around is darkness and smoke and din, God is still with us.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 125)

Fear is a part of life. It is a powerful and troubling part of life that can have a profound effect upon us. However, no matter how formidable or frequent, fear cannot prevail…unless, of course, we allow it to rob us of our courage…to rob us of our hearts.

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(June 26, 2017: Monday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 12:1-9     Ps 33:12-13, 18-19, 20 and 22     Mt 7:1-5

“The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you…”

In his commentary on today’s selection from the Gospel of Matthew, William Barclay wrote:

“Many a time the Rabbis warned people against judging others. ‘He who judges his neighbor favorably,’ they argued, ‘will be judged favorably by God. They decreed that there were six great works which brought a person credit in this world and profit in the world to come – namely, study, visiting the sick, hospitality, devotion in prayer, educating children in the Law and thinking the best of other people. The Jews believed that kindliness in judgment was nothing other than a sacred duty.” ( Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 119-120)

“There is hardly anyone who has not been guilty of gross misjudgment; there is hardly anyone who has not been the victim of someone else’s misjudgment. And yet, the fact is that there is hardly any commandment of Jesus which is more consistently broken and neglected than temptations to judge other people.” (Ibid)

There are three great reasons why we should not judge other people:

  1. We never know all of the facts or everything about the person.
  2. We are rarely impartial in our judgment.
  3. None of us is so perfect as to presume to judge any other person.
    (The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 119-120)
If these reasons aren’t enough to curb our tendency to judge other people, then heed Jesus’ warning: “The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”

In that case, if we can’t refrain from judging others, it might be in our best interest to judge people in the most positive light, that is, to presume the best in others.

With the hope that God – in his mercy – will look for the best in us.

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(June 27, 2017: Tuesday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 13:2, 5-18     Ps 15:2-3a, 3bc-4ab, 5     Mt 7:6, 12-14

"Do to others whatever you would have them do to you…”

The “Golden Rule” has been around for a very long time. It predates Jesus, but it’s still important enough for Jesus to refer to it in the context of his “Sermon on the Mount”. It also predates St. Francis de Sales, but it is still important enough for him to refer to it in the context of his Introduction to the Devout Life. He wrote:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and him in yours, and then you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell and buy justly. Resolve to examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor as you would like his to be toward you were you in his place. This is the touchstone of true reason.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

The “Golden Rule” seems so simple, doesn’t it? It’s tempting to say, “You mean to tell me that living the Gospel boils down to doing something so simple? Heck, anybody can do that!” Maybe so, but we know that not everybody actually does does it when push comes to shove.

Do you?

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(June 28, 2017: Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr)
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Gn 15:1-12, 17-18     Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9     Mt 7:15-20

“By their fruits you will know them…”

Imagine yourself walking through a lush forest in which you encounter a variety of fruit-bearing plants. What would you expect to find along the boughs of an apple tree? Why, apples, of course! What would you expect to find hanging from the branches of a peach tree? Peaches, no doubt! What would you expect to find near the top of a banana tree? Clearly, you’d look for bananas! You approach grape vines. What would you expect to find throughout them? You’d hope to see grapes!

In the opening chapters of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind. In like manner he commands Christians, the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one according to his position and vocation.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 3)

Insofar as we are “living plants of the Church,” what kind of fruit(s) should we be producing? He offers some ideas in a letter he wrote four hundred years ago to Mademoiselle de Soulfour: “Let us practice those ordinary virtues suited to our littleness…patience, forbearance toward our neighbor, service to others, humility, gentleness of heart, affability, tolerance of our own imperfections and similar little virtues…” (LSD, p. 98)

How would other people describe us by the fruits that they discover growing in and on us today?