Spirituality Matters 2017: May 25th - May 31st

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(May 25, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 18:1-8     Ps 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4     Jn 16:16-20

“He stayed with them and worked…”

This snippet from the Acts of the Apostles reveals something noteworthy about the person of Paul. It seems that when he wasn’t working at preaching in the synagogue, he was working to earn his keep – at least, as we are told, until Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia. Put another way, notwithstanding the important work that Paul was doing in Corinth, he did not take Pontus’ and Priscilla’s hospitality for granted. No, he did what he could to support himself, or at least, to make himself less of a burden.

That action on Paul’s part may have provided just as powerful a message – if not more so – than the preaching he did in the synagogue.

This action of Paul brings to mind the famous saying of St. Francis of Assisi (for whom St. Francis de Sales was named): “Preach always, and when necessary, use words.”

Just this day how can our attempts to do our part in supporting ourselves help us to appreciate what others do for us? How can our willingness to pitch in be an expression of our gratitude for the generosity of others?


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(May 25, 2017: The Ascension of the Lord)
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Acts 1:1-11     Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9     Eph 1:17-23     Mt 28:19a, 20b

“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Well, the day in question has finally arrived. Jesus was taken up into heaven; Jesus returned to the Father. After standing there in silence for what must have seemed like an eternity, one of the eleven eventually broke the quiet by asking the question: “Now what?”

The rest – as they say – is history.

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

“After Jesus had shown himself for a little while to the disciples, he ascended up to heaven, and at length a cloud surrounded him, took him and hid him from their eyes. Jesus Christ, then, is hidden in heaven in God. Jesus Christ is our love, and our love is the life of the soul. Therefore our ‘life is hidden in God with Christ Jesus, and when Christ who is’ our love and therefore our spiritual life ‘shall reappear’ in the Day of Judgment, we shall also appear ‘with him in glory.’” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

In his Catholic Controversies (p.286) Francis de Sales outlines the activity of the Apostles – especially Peter and Paul – following the Ascension. Simply put, it would appear that once the dust of the Ascension settled, Jesus’ disciples got to work.

This same work continues for us today. Our task in the wake of the Ascension is to make the “hidden” Christ “reappear” through the quality of our love for others.

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(May 26, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 18:9-18     Ps 47:2-3, 4-5, 6-7     Jn 16:20-23

“You will grieve but your grief will become joy…”

These words spoken by Jesus in today’s Gospel have a familiar ring to those acquainted with the Salesian tradition. They sound like a remarkably simple – but powerful – summarization of St. Francis de Sales’ teaching on what he called “spirit of liberty”:

“The first sign (of this spirit of liberty) is that the heart enjoying this liberty is not at all attached to consolations and accepts afflictions with all the meekness possible to the flesh. I am not saying that the soul does not love consolation and long for it, but without clinging to it. The second sign is that the man enjoying this spirit does not set his heart on spiritual exercises: if illness or some other emergency prevents them he is on no way upset. I am not saying that he does not love them but that he is not attached to them. Thirdly, he does not lose his joy, because no loss or lack can sadden one whose heart is perfectly free. I am not saying that it is impossible for him to lose his joy, but it will not be for long. (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 70 - 71)

What’s the bottom line? Into everyone’s life a little rain must fall. Into everyone’s picnic ants will sometimes intrude. Into everyone’s success some setbacks will eventually surface. But for those who are freed by the spirit of liberty, any grief associated with these (and any other hard knocks in life) will – eventually – turn into joy.

Over and over again!

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(May 27, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 18:23-28     Ps 47:2-3, 8-9, 10     Jn 16:23b-28

"Ask and you shall receive…”

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

“If a man prays to God and perceives that he is praying, he is not perfectly attentive to his prayer. He diverts his attention from the God to whom he prays in order to think of the prayer by which he prays…A man in fervent prayer does not know whether he prays or not, for he does not think of the prayer he makes but of God to whom he makes it.” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

Today, here’s a question for you. When you “ask the Father for anything” in Jesus’ name, upon what do you focus - that for which you ask or the person from whom you ask it?

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(May 28, 2017: Ascension of the Lord)
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Acts 1:1-11     Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9     Eph 1:17-23     Mt 28:16-20

“Go, make disciples of all nations.”

In speaking on the mystery of the Ascension of Our Lord, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We forsake our merely human life in order to live a loftier life above ourselves. We hide all this new life in God with Jesus Christ who alone sees it, knows it and gives it. Our new life is heavenly love, which vivifies and animates our soul, and this love is wholly hidden in God and the things of God with Jesus Christ. As the sacred words of the Gospel say, after Jesus had shown himself for a little while to his disciples, he ascended up to heaven, and at length a cloud surrounded him, took him and hid them from their eyes. Jesus Christ, then, is hidden in heaven in God. Jesus Christ is our love, and our love is the life of our soul. Therefore our life is hidden in God with Jesus Christ, and when Jesus who is our love and therefore our spiritual life shall appear in the Day of Judgment, we shall also appear with him in glory. That is, Jesus Christ, our love, will glorify us by communicating to us his own joy and splendor.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book VII, Chapter 6)

Our life is indeed hidden in God. The deepest reality of whom we are is known only to God. Still, for Francis de Sales, living a life hidden in God is not the same as keeping that life a secret. No, it is about giving witness to the deepest truth of whom we are - and who God is - by the quality of our relationships with one another. Consequently, it is appropriate that Francis de Sales would desire us to practice the hidden virtues, “those little, humble virtues which grow like flowers at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of your family, with all the tasks that go with such things and with all that useful diligence that will not allow you to stand idle.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 35)

Through the Ascension, Jesus has been removed from our sight - at least, from the view of our physical sight. Nevertheless, the same authority that Jesus claimed from his Father is given to us by virtue of our creation and confirmed in our baptism. We are called to continue the work that Jesus began, that is, to make disciples -- followers, leaders, believers -- of all nations. We are called to be convincing signs of the ongoing redemptive and challenging activity of the Triune God, but in the simple, ordinary and everyday tasks of everyday life.

Paradoxically, to the extent that we are faithful to practicing the little virtues -- the hidden virtues -- that grow “at the foot of the cross”, Jesus is no longer hidden. He becomes clearly visible in our love, our concern, our pursuit of justice, our promotion of peace, our willingness to forgive and our attempts to heal.

What could be a more powerful - and convincing - way of making disciples of all nations?

Or, at the very least, the people with whom we interact every day.


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(May 28, 2017: Seventh Sunday of Easter)
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Acts 1:12-14     Ps 27:1, 4, 7-8     1 Pt 4:13-16     Jn 17:1-11a

“When they entered the city…they devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.”

A prayer life is essential for those who wish to live a life of devotion. Francis de Sales described prayer as “a stream of holy water that flows forth and makes the plants of our good desires grow green and flourish and quenches the passions that lie within our hearts.” ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II, Chapter 1)

What is prayer? In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis wrote:

“Prayer, generally speaking, comprehends all the acts of contemplation...a conference or conversation with God...a discussion with the divine majesty...an ascent or elevation of the mind to God. To the extent that prayer is a colloquy, discussion, or conversation of the soul with God, then by prayer we speak to God and God in turn speaks to us. We aspire to God and breathe in God; God reciprocally inspires us and breathes upon us.” (Book VI, Chapter 1)

Of all the methods of prayer, Francis recommended “mental prayer, the prayer of the heart, and particularly that which centers on the life and passion of our Lord. By often turning your eyes on Christ in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with him. You will learn Christ’s ways and form your actions after the pattern of his.” (Introduction, Part II, Chapter 1)

Regarding Mental prayer. Meditation and Contemplation, Francis observed: “They might seem to be words from another world, so few people try to grasp their meaning.” (Pulpit and Pew, page 191) For many of us, therein lies the rub: we are intimidated by and/or are discouraged in our attempts to practice mental prayer. We tell ourselves that we aren’t good at it, we get too distracted or it requires too much time or effort.

And so we stop praying.

Francis was no stranger to the challenges of practicing mental prayer, meditation, contemplation or “prayer of the heart”. He realized that just as there are a variety of people and personalities, there is more than one way to pray. He mentions two other approaches: (1) Vocal prayer, and (2) prayer of life or good works. “Vocal prayer consists in making use of a ready-made formula of words provided for us, trying to mean what we say.” ( Pulpit and Pew, page 180) “The prayer of life is the prayer of our good deeds, a hidden prayer. The good deed treasured in poor peoples’ hearts speaks for us to God.” (Ibid, p. 181)

Common to these (and other) forms of prayer is the simple — yet powerful — act of asking. “All prayer implies asking God for something: God’s glory or our need. It is our duty to pray, for...although God has no need of our prayers, they are useful to us by keeping alive in us the sense of our obligations to God.” (Ibid)

Prayer is to the soul what breathing is to the body; neither can continue nor flourish without the other. But adapt your devotion and practice of prayer to the state, stage and circumstances of life in which you find yourself. Don’t make prayer more complicated than it needs to be, while keeping it as important as it ought to be.

A story is told of a novice who, in the course of a monthly interview, told his novice master that, much to the former’s embarrassment and frustration, he was convinced that he could not pray deeply. The novice master replied: “If you cannot pray deeply, at least be a deep person...who prays.”

However deep, shallow, long or short, devote yourself to prayer any way, all ways...each and every day.

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(May 29, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 19:1-8     Ps 68:2-3ab, 4-5acd, 6-7ab     Jn 16:29-33

“In the world you will have trouble but take courage...”

In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (dealing with Christ’s prediction of persecution in the last two verses of the Beatitudes), William Barclay wrote the following:

“One of the outstanding qualities of Jesus was his sheer honesty. He never left men in any doubt what would happen to them if they chose to follow him. He was clear that he had come ‘not to make life easy, but to make men great’.” (The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 111)

Jesus – in his sheer honesty – tells us to expect trouble; Jesus – in his sheer honesty - doesn’t promise to shield or protect us from trouble. He does, however, challenge us to take courage, that is, to be people of heart. Recall some of the lyrics in a song from the musical Damn Yankees:

You've gotta have heart
All you really need is heart.
When the odds are sayin' you'll never win
That's when the grin should start.

When your luck is battin' zero
Get your chin up off the floor.
Mister you can be a hero
You can open any door.

You've gotta have heart
Miles 'n miles n' miles of heart.
Oh, it's fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart.
First you've gotta have heart.

Who minds those pop bottles flyin'?
The hisses and the boos
The team has been consistent
Yeah, we always lose
But we're laughin' cause... We've got heart
We've got heart... We've got heart

So, for what will you pray today? Will you ask God to spare you from trouble or will you ask God for the courage to deal with any trouble – big or small – that may come your way? Either way, be it with or without trouble being a person of courage is its own reward!

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(May 30, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 20:17-27     Ps 68:10-11, 20-21     Jn 17:1-11a

“This is eternal life: that they should know you, the only true God and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ…”

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

“‘Life is in the will of God,’ says the Psalmist, not only because our temporal life depends on the divine will but also because our spiritual life consists in its fulfillment, by which God lives and reigns in us and makes us live and subsist in God….Ah, Lord God, we are in this world not to do our own will but that of your goodness, which has placed us here. It was written of you, O Savior of my soul, that you did the will of your eternal Father. Ah, who will give my soul the grace to have no will but the will of God!” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 7, p. 73)

To know God is to know God’s will. To love God is to love God’s will. To know and do God’s will is to experience eternal life. Nowhere do we see this love demonstrated more clearly and convincingly than in Jesus’ knowledge, love and obedience to his Father’s will throughout his entire earthly ministry. Note the impact: not only did following the Father’s will not diminish Jesus, but it also empowered Him to be faithful to and effective in his purpose for living: that “we might have life, and have life to the full”. (John 10:10)

If eternal life is found by knowing and loving God – and, by extension, by knowing, loving and living God’s will in our lives – then the eternal life that Jesus offers us is not limited to the next life; it is available here and now in this life.

Let us pray: God, not our will, but your will be done in us, in order that we might know something already on this earth of the eternal life you offer us in the One whom you sent in order that we might know and love you!

Jesus Christ.

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(May 31, 2017: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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Rom 12:9-16     Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6     Lk 1:39-56    

“Anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal…”

No sooner had Mary received the announcement from the Angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of the Messiah than she “set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. (Recall that in the context of the Annunciation, Mary had learned that her cousin was pregnant.) As if Mary didn’t have enough on her plate already, she dropped whatever she was doing in order to offer assistance to Elizabeth for “about three months”. Mary didn’t wait for the request; Mary anticipated the need.

One of the hallmarks of the Salesian tradition is this notion of “anticipating the need of our neighbor”. This quality invites us to be “on the lookout” for opportunities to do good for others. Simple things like holding open a door for another, offering to help carry someone’s groceries, assisting someone who may have dropped something on the floor, checking in on someone who’s under the weather, being the first to greet someone or to call someone by name, asking how someone is doing today. These actions are ordinary, everyday ways of honoring others by simply acknowledging their presence, by recognizing that they exist.

Here is where Paul’s admonition in his Letter to the Romans comes into play. Insofar as each day is loaded with countless opportunities to honor people by anticipating their needs – by “looking out” for their interests – such efforts could understandably become wearisome over time. In the Salesian tradition, we need to approach each new day as yet another-God given gift - the invitation to offer to do good things for others rather than waiting for others to ask us to do good things for them.

Mary embodied the virtue of anticipating the need of another in her decision to offer her cousin Elizabeth assistance without waiting to be asked. In so honoring her cousin she brought honor to herself.

Today, how might we honor Mary by following her example through our willingness to anticipate the needs of one another?