Spirituality Matters 2017: June 8th - June 14th
(June 8, 2017: Thursday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Imagine yourself to be standing in an open field with your guardian angel and that you see the devil seated high upon a huge throne, attended by many infernal spirits and surrounded by a great throng of worldly people who, with uncovered heads, hail him as their lord and pay him homage, some by one sin and some by another. Note the faces of all the unfortunate courtiers of that abominable king. See how some of them are furious with hatred, envy and anger, while others are consumed with care and burdened down by worries as they think and strive to heap up wealth. See how others are bent upon their own vain pursuits that bring empty and unsatisfying pleasure and how others are defiled, ruined and putrefied by their brutish lusts. See how they are without rest, order and decency. See how they despise one another and make only a false show of love. In a word, you see a kingdom lying in ruins and tyrannized over by this accursed king.”
“In the other direction you see Jesus Christ crucified. With heartfelt love he prays for those poor tormented people so that they may be set free from such tyranny, and he calls them to himself. Around him you see a great throng of devout souls together with their guardian angels. Contemplate the beauty of this devout kingdom. How beautiful it is to see this throng of virgins – both men and women – all whiter than lilies, and this gathering of widows filled with sacred mortification and humility! See the crowded ranks of the married who live so calmly together in mutual respect, which cannot be attained without great charity. See how these devout souls wed care of the exterior house to that of the interior, that is, the love of their earthly spouse with that of the heavenly Spouse. Consider them all as a group and see how all of them in a holy, sweet and lovely manner attend our Lord and how they long to place Him in the center of their hearts. They are joyful, but with a gracious, loving and well-ordered joy. They love one another with a most pure and sacred love. Among these devout people those who suffer afflictions are not over-concerned about their sufferings and never lose courage. To conclude, look upon the eyes of the Savior who comforts them and see how all of then together aspire to Him” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 18, pp. 69-70)
Conversely, at any given moment in our lives we are, indeed, not far from the kingdom of God. However, it is also true that at any given moment in our lives we are likewise not far from the kingdom of Satan.
Today, which kingdom will you choose during the course of these moments -Satan’s or God’s?
(June 9, 2017: Friday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the just. The LORD protects strangers.”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, St. Francis de Sales wrote:
“You see this glass of water or that little piece of bread which a devout soul gave to some poor man in the name of God. It is a little matter, certainly, a thing almost unworthy of consideration according to human judgment. Yet, God rewards it and in return for it God immediately gives an increase in charity…A soul endowed with charity not only works naturally excellent but little deeds as well in holy love.” (LSD, Book III, Chapter 2, pp. 45-46)
The Lord loves the just. And who are the just? They are the people who raise up those who are bowed down and protect the stranger. Such examples may seem like little things, but in the eyes of God, little things mean a lot.
(June 10, 2017: Saturday Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness.”
Part and parcel of the spiritual life is the need to closely examine our relationship with God, ourselves and one another in an ongoing manner. One dimension of this examination is acknowledging our need to name those sins, vices, weaknesses -- anything -- that prevent us from making real in thought, word and deeds our God-given dignity.
A popular way of ritualizing this inner journey is to fast – to “give up” something. Some people may refrain from tobacco; others may eschew alcohol; still others may pass on desserts. Some people may give up something good; other people may give up something bad, while still others may give up a combination of both.
Fasting, however, is only part of the program of self-discipline and self-mastery. In its fullest expression, feasting is also as important as fasting in the spiritual life.
In their book A Sense of Sexuality, (Doubleday, 1989) Drs. Evelyn and James Whitehead remind us that “fasting, at its finest, is neither solely punishment nor denial. We fast not only to avoid evils but to recapture forgotten goods”. Put another way, “the ‘no’ of fasting is fruitful only if we have some deeply valued ‘yes’ in our life”. The arduous discipline of feasting complements our fasting; we need something for which to fast.
That's right. Feasting requires no less discipline than fasting. The discipline of feasting celebrates well and heartily the God-given blessings that we enjoy without engaging in selfishness and excess.
A life of devotion, then, is as much a matter of ‘doing’ as it is “doing without”. St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life:
“Both fasting and working mortify and discipline us. If the work you undertake contributes to the glory of God and to your own welfare , I much prefer that you should endure the discipline of working than that of fasting .” (Emphasis editor)
“One person may find it painful to fast, another to serve the sick, to visit prisoners, to hear confessions, to preach, to assist the needy, to pray, and to perform similar exercised. These latter pains have as much value as the former.”
Whether through fasting or feasting, turning away from sin or turning toward virtue, living a life of devotion consists in integrating our spiritual interior in such a way as it can be seen as a source for good on the outside.
(June 11, 2017: Most Holy Trinity)
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“Encourage one another. Live in harmony and peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
St. Francis de Sales had this to say about one of the most profound mysteries of our faith - the Triune Nature of God.
“From all eternity there is in God an essential communication by which the Father, in producing the Son, communicates his entire infinite and indivisible divinity to the Son. The Father and the Son together, in producing the Holy Spirit, communicate in like manner their own proper divinity to him. So also this sovereign sweetness was communicated so perfectly outside itself to a creature that the created nature and the godhead each retained its own properties while still being united together in such wise that they were only one self-same person…In short, God's supreme wisdom has decided to intermingle this original love with his creatures’ will in such wise that love would not constrain the will but leave it possessed of its freedom.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 2, Chapter 4)
What can we hope to consider or explain about the profound mystery of the Trinity in a way that makes a practical difference in our lives and in the lives of those we touch? For the sake of simplicity, let us look at each person of the Trinity in very broad strokes, looking at those activities – in our attempt to take in the mystery of the divine nature – which we associate with the Father, the Son and the Spirit in recalling the history of our salvation:
- In the Trinity, we experience a Father who creates us out of love.
- In the Trinity, we experience a Son who redeems and reconciles us out of love.
- In the Trinity, we experience a Spirit who encourages and enlivens us out of love.
We are most like the Trinity when we establish and sustain in ourselves the things that most clearly reflect our God-given, Trinitarian nature - when we create, feed and nourish relationships in which we are redeemed, reconciled and inspired to live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the words of St. Paul, we are faithful to our divine dignity and destiny when we “encourage one another…living in harmony and peace…”
We are most like the Trinity when we forgive, when we are willing to let go of hurts, disappointment, injury and betrayal. We are most like the Triune Godhead when we inspire, encourage, challenge and support one another to do the same.
Today, might we best act in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit? How might we encourage (a word that literally means, “give heart to”) one another?
(June 12, 2017: Monday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement…”
In his Spiritual Conferences, Francis de Sales observed:
“It is a good practice of humility not to study the actions of others save to discover their virtues, for as to their imperfections, as long as we are not in charge of them we must never turn either our eyes or our consideration in that direction. Whatever we see our neighbor do, we must always interpret another’s conduct in the best manner possible. In doubtful situations, we must persuade ourselves that what we may have noticed was not wrong, but that it was our own imperfection which caused us to think it was wrong. This helps us to avoid making rash judgments of the actions of others. Even in cases in which someone is doing something that is undoubtedly wrong, we must be full of compassion and humble ourselves for our neighbor’s faults as for our own, praying to God for their amendment with the same fervor as we should employ if we were subject to the same faults,”
God is the source of all compassion and encouragement. We imitate our God by being compassionate toward others when experiencing their faults and by encouraging others when witnessing their goodness.
(June 13, 2017: Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church)
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"You are the salt of the earth.”
Today’s Gospel makes it crystal clear the kind of people that Jesus expected his disciples to be. Jesus challenged them to be “salt of the earth”.
In the time of Christ, salt was highly prized. Salt was indispensable as a preservative for food, especially meats, foul and fish. Obviously, salt was used as a seasoning. Salt added zest and tang to food, making it more palatable and enjoyable. Sometimes, new-born babies were rubbed with salt for what was believed to be medicinal purposes. Salt was even used to seal covenants of friendship (which were also called covenants of salt), inviolable and unbreakable covenants to be preserved for life.
Salt was considered to be as valuable as a person's life – in some cases, even more valuable than a person’s life. Soldiers were often paid for their work with bags of salt. In fact, the Latin word for salt is the root for the English word salary.
Ironic, isn’t it, that something so small is so powerful. Salt makes a huge difference even in very small quantities. A mere pinch has an effect out of all proportion to its weight. Yet, salt is inconspicuous, ordinary and often admixed with a variety of other common things. Take it away and you can tell immediately that it is missing. (Just ask anyone who has been on a salt-free diet.)
Like Jesus’ first disciples, we, too, must be salt of the earth. Jesus challenges us to preserve all that is good, loving and life-giving in life. Jesus commissions us to add zest to life with ingredients such as joy, laughter, enthusiasm, truth, peace, and justice. Jesus calls us to be a healing remedy for anxiety, alienation, marginalization and isolation. Jesus encourages us to immerse ourselves into the thick of things, to enrich and enliven the stew that is our lives. Jesus urges to use all of our God-given abilities, skills, time and talent for the benefit of others. In short, Jesus expects us to be worth our salt.
Jesus tells us, “You are the salt of the earth.” In our day and age, salt might be an everyday thing, but from Jesus’ perspective, being salt of the earth is everything. Just this day, how can we be salt of the earth in the lives of others?
(June 14, 2017: Wednesday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Our qualification comes from God…”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“The Sacred Council of Trent assures us that God’s friends, going from ‘strength to strength’ are ‘renewed from day to day’.” That is, by good works they increase their justice they have received from divine grace, and they are more and more justified in accordance with heavenly admonitions: He who is just, let him be justified still, and he who is holy, let him be sanctified still more.” (TLG, Book 3, Chapter 1, p. 163)
Our qualification – our justification – isn’t something we earn. Our qualification – our justification – is a gift from God. Our qualification – our justification – is from beginning to end a result of God’s grace.
However, our God-given qualification – our God-given justification – can be augmented by how we live our lives day in and day out. In other words, while our qualification – our justification – comes from God, God expects us to make good use of it by putting it to work for our own good and the good of one another.
Francis de Sales elaborated:
“We know from our own experience that plants and trees have not reached full growth and maturity until they have brought forth seeds and pods that serve to raise up other trees and plants of the same kind. Our virtues never come to full stature and maturity until they beget in us desires for progress, which, like spiritual seeds, serve for the production of new degrees of virtue. I think that the earth which is our heart has been commanded to bring forth plants of virtue bearing the fruits of holy works, ‘each one after its kind’, and having as seeds desires and plans of ever multiplying and advancing in perfection...In this world, nothing is either lasting or table, but even more especially it is said of man that ‘he never remains in the same state.’ It is necessary, then, for us to either move forward or to fall behind.” (TLG, Book 8, Chapter 7, pp. 75-76)
We are justified by God, but we can increase that justification by doing what is just for one another.