Spirituality Matters 2017: March 2nd - March 8th

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(March 2, 2017: Thursday after Ash Wednesday)
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Dt 30:15-20    Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6    Lk 9:22-25

“If you are led astray and serve other gods…you will certainly perish…”

Other gods – idols – are defined as “an object of extreme devotion”. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales cautions us from going to extremes when it comes to fasting or any other form of devotion. Beginning with a quote from St. Jerome, he wrote:

“’Long, immoderate fasts displease me very much…I have learned by experience that when an ass’ foal grows tired, it tends to wander away,’ meaning that those who are weakened by excessive fasting easily turn to soft living. Stags run poorly in two situations – when they are too fat and when they are too lean. We are very exposed to temptation both when our bodies are too pampered and when they are too run down, for the one makes the body demanding in its softened state and the other desperate in affliction. Just as we cannot support the body when it is too fat, so, too, it cannot support us when it is too thin. Lack of moderation in fasting and other forms of austerity makes many people’s best years useless for the service of charity. After all, the more some people mistreat the body in the beginning, the more they tend to pamper it in the end. Wouldn’t people do better to have a program that is balanced and in keeping with the duties and tasks their state in life obliges them to do?” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 185)

A word of advice - When it comes to fasting of the body, the mind, the soul or spirit, avoid the temptation of going to extremes.

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(March 3, 2017: Friday after Ash Wednesday)
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Is 58:1-9a    Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19    Mt 9:14-15

“This is the fasting that I wish…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Both fasting and labor mortify and subdue the flesh. If your work is necessary for you to contribute to God’s glory, I much prefer that you endure the pains of work rather than of fasting. Such is the mind of the Church, for it exempts those who are working in the service of God and our neighbor even from prescribed fasts. One mind finds it difficult to fast, another to take care of the sick, visit prisoners, hear confessions, preach, comfort the afflicted, pray and perform similar tasks. These last sufferings are of far greater value than the first. In addition to disciplining the body, they produce much more desirable fruits…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 186)

And what are these “more desirable fruits”? Isaiah names a few: “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting fee the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

Today, what is the kind of fasting that God may wish from us? In general, the sacrifice, discipline and self-mastery that come more from focusing on what we can try to do, rather than on what we can try to do without.

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(March 4, 2017: Saturday after Ash Wednesday)
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Is 58:9b-14    Ps 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6    Lk 5:27-32

"If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech…light shall rise for you in the darkness..."

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say everything that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. You must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purposes, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth.’ As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or slippery soul. No artifice comes close to being so good and desirable as plain dealing …” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Whether in fasting from telling lies – or being more committed to telling the truth – what steps can we take today to make the light rise a bit higher and brighter in the darkness for ourselves and others by the type of speech we choose to speak?

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(March 5, 2017: First Sunday of Lent)
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Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7    Ps 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17    Rom 5:12-19    Mt 4:1-11

“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert where he was tempted by the devil.”

While Jesus was preparing to begin his public ministry – to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God – to be the kind of Messiah envisioned by His Father – to open up his mind and heart to the power and promise of the Holy Spirit – he was tempted.

Tempted to turn stone into bread and to use his saving power for his own convenience. Tempted to settle for earthly kingdoms and to be satisfied with passing glory and majesty. Tempted to throw himself from the temple and presumably, to convince people of his identity and authority through a single, dramatic, headline-grabbing event.

Fundamentally, Jesus was tempted to be someone other than the poerson God wanted him to be. Jesus was tempted to be a different kind of savior. Jesus was tempted to believe that there was an easier way to redeem, to save and to sanctify. Jesus was tempted to believe that there was a short cut to salvation, a “one-size-fits-all” road to redemption.

We can relate to this temptation. How often do we tell ourselves that we would be happier, healthier and holier if we were someone else? How often do we say that there must be another way (that is, an easier way, a less inconvenient way) to be a good wife, a good husband, a good son or daughter, a good sister or brother, a good friend or neighbor? The tragedy is that if we spend our lives believing that we’d be better off if we were someone or somewhere else, we would never live the one life – the only life – that God gives us.

Francis de Sales wrote:

“Don’t sow your desires in some else’s garden; just cultivate your own as best you can. Don’t long to be someone other than what you are; rather, desire to thoroughly be who you are. Direct your thoughts to being very good at that and to bear the crosses, little or great, that you find there. Believe me, this is the most important point– and least understood – in the spiritual life.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 112)

Jesus was tempted to be someone other than the one whom the Father wanted him to be. Jesus was tempted to forsake the authentic pathway of love for the hollow, devilish promise of a shortcut. Jesus was tempted to take the (seemingly) easy way out. However, his belief in God’s plan for him allowed Jesus to disavow the empty promise of a quick fix for the path that leads to true happiness, health and holiness. To use Matthew Kelly’s image, Jesus was tempted to settle for something less than “being the best version of himself”.

As we journey through this season of Lent, let us ask for the courage we need to recognize the voice of the tempter within us. Let us ask for the insight to see the ways in which we are tempted to spend our lives wishing we were someone else. Let us ask for the grace and the strength to follow the example of Christ, the one who shows us that love is not about quick fixes or short cuts, but that love is about being willing to go the distance…faithfully, one day, one person at a time.

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(March 6, 2017: Monday of the First Week of Lent)
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Lv 19:1-2, 11-18    Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15    Mt 25:31-46

“You shall not…You shall.”

Today’s readings remind us that being children of God comes with its share of “do’s” and “don’ts”.

  • The “don’ts” include:
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not lie or speak falsely.
  • You shall not defraud or rob.
  • You shall not withhold.
  • You shall not curse.
  • You shall not spread slander.
  • You shall not hate.
The “do’s” include:
  • You shall feed the hungry.
  • You shall satisfy the thirsty.
  • You shall clothe the naked.
  • You shall welcome the stranger.
  • You shall care for the sick.
  • You shall visit the imprisoned.
Many people experience the commandment to follow both the letter and the spirit of God’s Law to be burdensome. In today’s Gospel, Jesus insists that living by God’s Law is not only not burdensome, but in fact is the way to Beatitude – it is the way of experiencing blessing by being blessing in the lives of others.

Be it through “do’s” or “don’ts”, how might God be asking you to be a source of divine Beatitude – that is, a blessing – in the lives of others today?

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(March 7, 2017: Tuesday of the First Week of Lent)
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Is 55:10-11    Ps 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19    Mt 6:7-15

“Do not babble like the pagans…”

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives instruction on the proper way to pray. He cautions us to “not babble like the pagans”, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.

In a sermon given on April 5, 1615, Francis de Sales made the following observation regarding prayer in general, and vocal prayer in particular:

“To mutter something with the lips is not praying if one’s heart is not joined to it. To speak it is necessary first to have conceived interiorly what we wish to say. There is first the interior word, and then the spoken word, which causes what the interior has first pronounced to be understood. Prayer is nothing other than speaking to God. Now it is certain that to speak to God without being attentive to Him and to what we say to Him is something that is most displeasing to Him…God tests more the heart of the one who prays rather than the words pronounced by one who prays.” (Fiorelli, OSFS, Sermons on Prayer, p. 18)

Authentic prayer is not a matter of words. Authentic prayer is a matter of the heart, a heart whose stirrings must ultimately be displayed in actions.

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(March 8, 2017: Wednesday of the First Week of lent)
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Jon 3:1-10    Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19    Lk 11:29-32

“When God saw how they turned from their evil way, He repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them…”

Today’s reading from the Book of Jonah illustrates two things about God. First, God is just. God expects us to turn away from evil. God expects us to turn toward the good. Our failure to do so can result in clear and unambiguous consequences. Second, God’s justice toward us is outdone only by His mercy toward us. There appears to be no doubt that God is always prepared to give us the benefit of the doubt, even if we are making only a modicum of progress in the love of God and neighbor.

Indeed, God is love, a love that tempers – that is, strengthens – justice with mercy.

It’s always tempting to get tough on other people who don’t measure up to our expectations. Ironically enough, this seems especially true in our relations with those we love. Perhaps, their lack of progress isn’t because we aren’t being tough enough, but perhaps it’s because we aren’t being merciful enough.

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