Spirituality Matters 2017: March 9th - March 15th

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(March 9, 2017: Thursday of the First Week of Lent)
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Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25    Ps 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 7c-8    Mt 7:7-12

“Ask and it will be given…”

In today’s Gospel Jesus continues to give instruction on prayer. He tells us “everyone who asks, receives; the one who seeks, finds; to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

In a sermon given on April 5, 1615, Francis de Sales made the following observation regarding asking for things in prayer:

“We have said that there are two kinds of goods for which we may ask in prayer: spiritual goods and corporal goods. There are two kinds of spiritual goods. One kind is necessary for our salvation: for these (faith, hope and charity) we ought to ask God simply and without condition, for he wants to give them to us. The other kind (ecstasies, raptures, spiritual comforts and consolations) – although also spiritual – we ought to ask for under the same rubric as corporal goods, namely, only if it is God’s will and if it is for His greater glory. Under these conditions we may ask for anything.” (Fiorelli, OSFS, Sermons on Prayer, p. 15)

Of course, when Jesus assures us that we will receive when we ask, we cannot assume that He means we will always receive precisely that for which we ask. Insofar as God does hear us, God will always answer our petitions, albeit not necessarily in accordance with our wishes. When God’s response does not appear to match our request, Francis encourages us to not become discouraged, since “perfection does not consist in having these goods, but rather in having our will united to that of God. It is this that we may and ought to ask from the Divine Majesty continually and unconditionally.” (Ibid, p. 16)

Referring to the order in which the petitions are ranked in the Lord’s Prayer, Francis notes:

“We ought to ask first that His Name be hallowed, that is to say, that He may be acknowledged and adored by all. Next, we must ask for what is most necessary for us, namely, that His Kingdom come for us, so that we may be inhabitants of Heaven. Third, we ask that His will be done. After these three requests we add, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Jesus Christ makes us say, ‘Give us our daily bread,’ because under this word ‘bread’ are included all temporal goods. (Ibid, pp. 16-17)

We’ve all heard the dictum: “Be careful what you pray for.” Jesus tells us something altogether different. He says: ask for anything, but be careful about the reasons for which you ask. Is it for your comfort and consolation or is it for God’s honor and glory?

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(March 10, 2017: Friday of the First Week of Lent)
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Ez 18:21-28    Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8    Mt 5:20-26

“If the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die…”

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

“Our Savior’s redemption touches our miseries and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. The angels, says our Savior, have ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just that have no need for repentance.’ So, too, the state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence. Truly, by the watering of our Savior’s blood, made with the hyssop of the cross, we have been restored to a white incomparably better than that possessed by the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we come out of the stream of salvation more pure and clean that if we had never had leprosy. This is to the end that God’s majesty, as he has ordained for us as well, should not be ‘overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good’… (TLG, Book II, Chapter 5, pp. 115 – 116)

This display of God’s generosity is nothing if not breathtaking. God loves us so much that not only does God not hold our sins against us if we should repent from our evil ways. No, God goes even further by applying his grace to our repentance in ways that can transform us into something more beautiful than if we had never committed sin in the first place! How generous is God? God can even turn our sins into a means of our salvation if we but trust in his unconditional and abiding love for us. But should this act of God really surprise us? After all, have you ever noticed that some of the greatest of saints started out by being the greatest of sinners?

Are there any ways in which you are disfigured by the leprosy of sin? Don’t be ashamed; rather, be assured that God can transform your spiritual disfigurement into something – actually, someone – far more beautiful than you could ever have believed possible.

And God will effect this transformation beginning even today!

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(March 11, 2017: Saturday of the First Week of Lent)
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Dt 26:16-19    Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8    Mt 5:43-48

"Be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul..."

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

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to the Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also do this carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Indeed, “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!”

Carefully, frequently and promptly!

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(March 12, 2017: Second Sunday of Lent)
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Gn 12:1-4a    Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22.    2 Tm 1:8b-10 Mt 17:1-9

“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

Those who recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah certainly do their level best to “listen to him”. Of course, disciples of Jesus can’t limit discipleship to merely listening to him. They have to put into action what Jesus says to them. They have to imitate him; they have to follow his example.

We certainly hear an example of this discipleship in Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. He encourages this community of Christians – followers of Jesus – to not only listen to what Paul has to say, but also to imitate his example of how to put the Good News of Jesus Christ into action. The specific advice that Paul offers to Timothy includes:

  • Living a holy life
  • To follow God’s designs
  • To cooperate with God’s grace
  • To be a source of life
  • To be a source of light
By all means let us listen to the Lord today. But remember: just as talk can be cheap, so too, can listening if it fails to lead to a change of mind, heart, soul and spirit…in ways that can be experienced by others.

How do we know if we are listening to Jesus? The answer is only to the extent that we are “Living” Jesus.

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(March 13, 2017: Monday of the Second Week of Lent)
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Dn 9:4b-10    Ps 79:8, 9, 11 and 13    Lk 6:36-38

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful…”

What does it mean to be merciful as the Father is merciful? As the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel suggests, it is about being generous and loyal. Daniel wrote: “Lord, great and awesome, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those people who love you and observe your commandments!” Daniel then proceeds to remind his audience that the Lord also keeps his merciful covenant with those people who rebel against God’s commandments and laws through sin, evil and wickedness. Of course – as we know from our own experience - there is something of both within each one of us, because each one obeys and disobeys God’s commandments. And still, for all that, God remains loyal to us in good times, in bad times and in all the times in between. God stands by us in all things. God loves us no matter what. God is, after all, “compassion and forgiveness”.

Of course, God’s mercy, generosity and fidelity come with some very high expectations. God’s forgiveness should lead us to practice compassion, not complacence. As God doesn’t judge us, so we should not judge others! As God doesn’t condemn us, so we should not condemn others! As God forgives us, so we should forgive others! As God gives to us, so we should give to others! The measure with which we measure to others should measure up to how generously God measures to us…in all kinds of times, places and situations!

Would you like to be “great and awesome” in the eyes of God? Then try to do your level best to be merciful to others today as God is clearly merciful to you!

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(March 14, 2017: Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent)
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Is 1:10, 16-20    Ps 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23    Mt 23:1-12

“Let us set things right…”

Today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah offers us some particularly appropriate and timely advice as we continue to journey through Lent. We are challenged to:

  • To wash ourselves clean
  • To put aside our misdeeds
  • To cease doing evil
  • To learn to do good
  • To be willing to obey
In short, we are called to do the right thing.

Of course, we know from our own lived experience that as hard as we try to do the right thing, we don’t always get it right. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offers us a practical for-instance:

“I constantly advise you that prayers directed against and pressing anger must always be said calmly and peaceably, and not violently. Thus rule must be observed in all steps taken against evil. However, as soon as you see that you are guilty of a wrathful deed, correct the fault right away by an act of meekness toward the person with whom you were anger. It is a sovereign remedy against lying to contradict the untruth upon the spot as soon as we realize that we have told one. So also we must repair our anger instantly by a contrary act of meekness. Fresh wounds are quickest healed, as the saying goes…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 8, pp. 148-149)

What is the moral? When it comes to doing good, we can always try our level best to make things right at a later time (but not too late!) in the event that we don’t always get things right the first time.

This Lent might be a perfect time to do just that!

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(March 15, 2017: Wednesday of the Second Week of lent)
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Jer 18:18-20    Ps 31:5-6, 14, 15-16    Mt 20:17-28

What do you wish…?”

“What’s in it for me?” On some level that’s essentially what the mother of James and John is asking Jesus in today’s Gospel story. Whether her sons put her up to it or she came up with it all by herself, she is basically asking, “Why should my sons follow you? What’s the pay-off?” On the face of it, her request is perhaps reasonable, given Jesus’ prediction of his own falling out with the chief priests and the scribes that will lead to his being condemned, mocked, scourged and crucified. She wants some guarantee that her boys will have something to show for their trouble that she intuits will invariably come.

Really – what mother wouldn’t be concerned?

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

We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

There is no way around it – the experience of enduring injuries, denials and discomforts is part-and-parcel of the life that comes with drinking the chalice from which Jesus drinks. Following Jesus – who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – isn’t all smiles and sunshine. And somewhere down deep inside us, the mother of James and John also whispers variations of her question to Jesus: “Why are you following Him? What’s in it for you? What do you hope to get out of this?”

“Must good be repaid with evil?” Some days it sure feels that way! Be that as it may, why do we continue to follow Jesus? Why do we drink from the chalice from which He drank?

Today, ask yourself the question: “What’s in it for me?”