Spirituality Matters 2017: May 11th - May 17th

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(May 11, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 13:13-25     Ps 89:2-3, 21-22, 25 and 27     Jn 13:16-20

“Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”

In his Conference on Three Spiritual Laws, Francis de Sales remarked:

“Never was there a time when people studied as they do now. Those great Saints (Augustine, Gregory and Hilary whose feast we are keeping today!) and many others did not study much. They could not have done so, writing as many books as they did, preaching and discharging all the other duties of their office. They had, however, such great confidence in God and in God’s grace that they neither placed their dependence nor their trust in their own skill or labor, so that all the great works which they did were done purely by means of their reliance on God’s grace and almighty power. ‘It is You, O Lord,’ they said, ‘who gives us the work and it for you that we work. It is You who will bless our labors and give us a rich harvest.’ Therefore their books and their sermons bore marvelous fruit. By contrast, we who trust in our fine words, in our eloquent language and in our knowledge labor for that which ends up in smoke. We yield no fruit other than vanity.” (Conference VII, pages 116-117)

It is healthy to remind ourselves that however much good we may manage to accomplish today, it is God “who gives us the work”. It is God who helps us to work. It is God who will bring His work in us to completion. In so doing, what we do gives witness to the goodness of the Lord at work in us and at work among us.

Together, let us sing the goodness of the Lord! But don’t stop there! Together, let us do – and be – the goodness of the Lord in the lives of one another - today!

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(May 12, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 13:26-33     Ps 2:6-7, 8-9, 10-11ab     Jn 14:1-6

“Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

We all have deep-seated fears. Using the image of musical chairs, we fear, when the music stops, there won’t be a chair for us. Jesus promises that this will not happen because he has prepared a place for each and every one of us. This promise from Jesus is a great remedy for our fear of being left out.

From a Salesian perspective, however, the “place” that Jesus promises to create for us is not found exclusively in heaven, but Jesus has also created a unique place, role or niche for each of us here on this earth - a place in which we are called to be sources of his life and his love in the lives of other people.

How will that place – and the people in it – be better for the way you live your life today?

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(May 13, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 13:44-52     Ps 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4     Jn 14:7-14

"The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit…”

One of the manifestations of living life in the Spirit is happiness and joy. In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“The virtue of cheerfulness requires that we should contribute to holy and temperate joy and to pleasant conversation, which may serve as a consolation and recreation to our neighbor so as to not weary and annoy him with our knit brows and melancholy faces…..” (Conference IV, On Cordiality, Book IV, p. 59)

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal written not long after their first encounter during the Lenten mission that he preached, Francis specifically cites the relationship between joy and religious liberty:

“No loss or lack can sadden one whose heart is perfectly free. I am not saying that it is impossible for such a person to lose his joy, but it will not be for long.”…..” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 71)

In a letter to a young novice who attempted to live the life of a Benedictine sister (but who subsequently left the convent) Francis de Sales underscored the importance of being joyful…or, at least, of trying to be:

“Go on joyfully and with your heart as open and widely trustful as possible; if you cannot always be joyful, at least be brave and confident.”…..” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 46)

It’s no accident that we as Christians frequently refer to the term “Easter joy”. The power of the Resurrection – and the gifts of the Spirit that flow from it– should go a long way in helping us to be – among other things – joyful! Life being what it is, however, we aren’t always joyful people. When we find it tough to be joyful, let’s do our best to at least be brave and confident.

And perhaps even find joy in that!

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(May 14, 2017: Fifth Sunday of Easter)
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Acts 6:1-7     Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19     1 Pt 2:4-9     Jn 14:1-12

“Do not let you hearts be troubled. Have faith in God; have faith in me.”

William Barclay sets the context for Jesus’ assurance to his disciples in today’s Gospel. “In a very short time life for the disciples was going to collapse. Their world was going to disintegrate in chaos all around them. At such a time there was only one thing to do: stubbornly hold on to trust in God… There comes a time when we have to believe what we cannot prove and to accept what we don’t always understand. If, in the darkest hour, we believe that somehow there is a purpose in life and that this purpose is love, even the unbearable becomes bearable and even in the darkness there is a glimmer of light.”

There are many things in life that can trouble our hearts. Worldwide, we witness the ravages of terrorism, the violence of religious intolerance, the hatred of cultural and social genocide and the devastation of natural disasters. On the domestic front, Americans appear polarized around the uncertainties associated with such issues as national security, social security, energy independence and affordable health care. Even closer to home, we harbor concerns and anxieties about families, friends, other loved ones…perhaps, even ourselves

Truth is that there is always something, be it global or local, which distracts our minds and troubles our hearts.

In the face of these difficulties and so many other things that seize our hearts, Jesus asks us to have faith in God. In the face of all that shakes our faith, Jesus asks us to have faith in him.

St. Francis de Sales observed:

“What can I say to stop the flux of these thoughts in your heart? Do not strive to heal yourself of them, for such anxious striving would make your heart sicker... Do not struggle to overcome these anxieties, for this effort would simply strengthen them…Fix your mind on Christ crucified.” He continued by concluding “If the whole world turns topsy-turvy, if all around us is darkness and smoke and din, yet God is still with us. For if we know that God lives in the darkness and on Mount Sinai which is full of smoke and surrounded with the roar of thunder and lightning, shall not all be well with us as long as we keep close to God?” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 125)

There are those times in all our lives when we have done all we can to address a concern and need to leave the rest to God. There are other times when we do not even have a clue as to how to address a situation and need to place our trust in God. The wisdom of Francis de Sales’ advice is to recognize that to the extent that we allow our hearts to be troubled we lose the strength or ability to deal with those very things that trouble our hearts in the first place. Placing our trust in God – placing our trust in Jesus – placing our trust in the Spirit – better enables us to know how to better trust ourselves and others in dealing with the challenges of life. Placing our trust in God also reminds us that trusting ourselves and trusting others – even those we love the most – has its limits.

Placing our faith in God does not guarantee how the mystery of life will unfold. However, placing our faith in God should always be our first step in entering life’s mysteries more deeply…and faithfully.

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(May 15, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 14:5-18     Ps 115:1-2, 3-4, 15-16     Jn 14:21-26

“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me…”

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

“When I saw in St. Catherine of Siena’s life so many raptures and elevations of spirit, words of wisdom and even sermons uttered by her, I did not doubt that by the eye of contemplation she had ravished the heart of her heavenly Spouse. But I was equally edified when I saw her in her father’s kitchen, humbly turning the spit, kindling fires, dressing meat, kneading bread and doing the meanest household chores cheerfully and filled with love and affection for God. I do not have less esteem for the humble, little meditations she made during these ordinary, lowly tasks than for the ecstasies and raptures she experienced so often. Perhaps the latter were granted to her precisely because of her humility...I cite her life as an example so that you may know how important it is to direct all our actions – no matter how lowly they may be – to the service of his divine Majesty” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, p. 214)

The Salesian tradition reminds us that great ways of keeping God’s commandments are rare; opportunities to display our love for God in remarkable ways are few and far between. By contrast, opportunities to love God and to keep his commandments in everyday, ordinary ways are legion. It is interesting to consider the possibility that it was St. Catherine’s ability to recognize – and to love – God in the midst of the mundane responsibilities and demands of everyday life that enabled her to recognize – and to love – God – in extraordinary ways!

Today, how might we imitate St. Catherine’s example in our approach to the ordinary tasks that will be part and parcel of our experience today?

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(May 16, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 14:19-28     Ps 145:10-11, 12-13ab, 21     Jn 14:27-31a

“Peace I leave you; my peace I give you…”

In a conference to the Visitation Sisters, Francis de Sales observed:

“God wishes our care to be a calm and peaceful one as we proceed faithfully along the road marked out for us. As for the rest, we should rest in God’s fatherly care, trying as far as is possible to keep our soul at peace, for the place of God is in peace and in the peaceful and restful heart. You know that when the lake is very calm – and when the winds do not agitate its waters – on a very serene night the sky with all its stars is so perfectly reflected in the water that looking down into its depths the beauty of the heavens is as clearly visible as if we were looking up on high. So when our soul is perfectly calm, unstirred and untroubled by the winds of superfluous cares, unevenness of spirit and inconstancy it is very capable of reflecting in itself the image of Our Lord.” (Conference III, On Constancy, pp. 50-51)

Why were people able to see reflections of the Father in the person of his son, Jesus? Because in the depths of his soul – in his heart of hearts – Jesus managed to rest in his Father’s care. No matter what happened around him on any given day, Jesus was able to keep himself “calm, unstirred and untroubled”. If we are having trouble seeing reflections of that same Father in ourselves (or others), perhaps it is because we have some work to do in our own efforts to remain “calm, unstirred and untroubled” as we try to “proceed faithfully along the road marked out for us”.

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(May 17, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 15:1-6     Ps 122:1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5     Jn 15:1-8

“Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit…”

From the perspective of St. Francis de Sales, the fruit that first comes to mind when hearing these words from Jesus is the most important fruit of all: charity or the love of God. Of course, this fruit-of-fruits is manifested in a whole host of ways. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The man who possesses charity has his soul clothed with a fair wedding garment which – like that of St. Joseph – is wrought over will all the various virtues. Moreover, it has a perfection which contains the virtue of all perfections and the perfection of all virtues. Hence, ‘charity is patient, is kind. Charity is not envious,’ but generous. ‘It is not pretentious,’ but prudent. ‘It is not puffed up’ with pride but is humble. ‘It is not ambitious’ or disdainful, but amiable and affable. It is not eager to exact ‘what belongs to it’ but is generous and helpful. ‘It is not provoked,’ but peaceful. It ‘thinks no evil’ but is meek. It ‘does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth’ and in the truth. ‘It suffers all things, believes all things’ that are said concerning good to it easily, without stubbornness, contention or distrust. It ‘hopes all’ good things for its neighbor without ever losing hope of procuring his salvation. ‘It endures all things,’ waiting without agitation for what is promised to it…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 8, p. 219)

How well do we remain in Jesus? Well, how patient and kind are we? How humble, amiable and affable are we? How meek, generous and humble are we? How truthful and hopeful are we? How patient and long-suffering are we?

Simply put, how much – and what kind of – fruit do we bear?