Spirituality Matters 2017: November 16th - November 22nd

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(November 16, 2017: Thursday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The Kingdom of God is among you…”

In today’s Gospel we hear: “Asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus said in reply, ‘The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ The Kingdom of God is among you.”

Jesus seems to be saying that the Kingdom of God isn’t about finding a thing, place or location, because in the context of the Gospel, the Kingdom of God is a person - in this case, the person of Jesus Christ.

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

“God is in all things and in all places. There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are we find God present.”

He continued:

“God is not only in the place where you are but also in a most particular manner in your heart – in the very center of your spirit. Just as the soul is diffused throughout the entire body but resides in a special manner in the heart, so, too, God is present in all things but always resides in a special manner in our spirit.” (IDL, Part Two, Chapter 2, pp. 84-85)

So, where would you expect to find the Kingdom of God today? Try looking for it in the Body of Christ - look for it within yourself and look for it within others.

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(November 17, 2017: Elizabeth of Hungary – Wife, Widow and Religious)
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Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Elizabeth of Hungary: wife, mother, widow and religious.

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

“St. Elizabeth, daughter of the King of Hungary, often visited the poor. For recreation among her ladies she sometimes clothed herself like a poor woman, saying to them, ‘If I were poor I would dress in this manner.’ O God, how poor was…this princess in the midst of all her riches and how rich was their poverty!” (IDL, Part III, Ch. 15)

The richness of poverty. Interesting concept.

In the Salesian tradition, poverty of spirit (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for to them belongs the kingdom of heaven”) is less about doing without; rather, it has a lot more to do with how generous I am with what I have. Elizabeth didn’t serve those without by renouncing what she had. No, she served the poor by placing what she had at their disposal.

Today, how might we practice poverty and know the true richness – and wealth – that flows from that practice?

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(November 18, 2017: Saturday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says…”

And what did the unjust judge say? Essentially, he said this: “I will do justice to this woman just to get her off my back.”

Have you ever done something good simply to get someone else to stop bugging you? Have you ever done the right thing just to get someone else to go away? Have you ever done the just thing just to get someone else to shut up?

Let’s face it. Isn’t it true that sometimes we do the right thing for a less-than-admirable motive?

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

“Let us purify all our intentions as best we can. Since we can diffuse throughout all various acts to sacred motive of divine love, why should we not do so? On all occasions we will reject every kind of vicious motive, such as vainglory and self-interest, and consider all the good motives we can have for undertaking the act before us so as to choose the motive of holy love - which is the most excellent of all – and to flood it over all other motives, steeping them in the greatest motive of all....” (TLG , Book XI, Book 14, p. 237)

One might ask, “So, am I supposed to wait until my motives are totally pure before I attempt to do something right?” The Lord knows that if that were the case, then the world would really be out of luck! In a perfect world we would always do what is good, righteous and just for only good, righteous and just reasons. But insofar as this is an imperfect world, we should not cease our attempts to do what is good for goodness sake. Rather, we should acknowledge the need to purify our intentions even as we struggle to live our lives with other people in a reasonable, just and equitable manner.

May God give us the courage we need just this day to not only do the right thing but also to do the right thing for the right reason!

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(November 19, 2017: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Well done. You are an industrious and reliable servant. Since you were dependable in a small matter, I will put you in charge of larger affairs. Come, share your master’s joy.”

“Judgment Day”. The term has as a sense of finality to it, doesn’t it? Well, it should!

St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Consider the majesty with which the sovereign Judge will appear, surrounded by all the angels and saints. Before him will be borne his cross, shining more brilliantly than the sun, the standard of mercy to the good and of punishment to the wicked. By his awful command, which will be swiftly carried out, this sovereign Judge will separate the good from the bad, placing the one at his right hand and the other at his left. It will be an everlasting separation and after it these two groups will never again be together. When this separation has been made and all consciences laid bare we will clearly see the malice of the wicked and the contempt they have shown for God, and we will also see the repentance of the good and the effect of the graces they received from God. Nothing will lie hidden.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 14)

In the next life, nothing will be hidden. In this life, one thing in particular should never be hidden - our God-given gifts, abilities, talents, skills and graces.

Today's Gospel issues this stern and stark warning: we must not return unused the gifts (no matter how great or small) that God gives us.

To be sure, to invest these gifts in the lives of others requires our willingness to take risks. There are few guarantees in life. We cannot be certain on any given day how well we will use our gifts, to say nothing of whether or not our gifts will be appreciated, honored, accepted or welcomed by others. Still, we must endeavor to take prudent care of and make good use of our God-given time, talents and treasure in this effort, but the risks that we take in generously sharing ourselves with others should not be rash or reckless.

But as risky as naming, embracing and investing our gifts might be, we must never allow the anxieties of an uncertain world to tempt us to do the unthinkable - to bury our talents. To act as if we possessed nothing with which to give honor to God or to meet the needs of others is far worse than any mistake we might generally make on any given day in using our abilities.

Of course, we will make mistakes in our attempts to make good use of our God-given graces. But there is no greater mistake than to live our lives as if we had no gifts to use in the service of God or others by burying them - obscuring them from the light of day.

When in doubt, keep those gifts out: for you, for God and for others to see and to share. And, in the process, share your Master’s joy…today!

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(November 20, 2017: Monday, Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Lord, please let me see…”

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

“God is in all things and places. There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Everyone knows this truth in theory, but not everyone puts this knowledge to good effect. Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore do not show him the respect they do after being informed of his presence. However, because they do not actually see the prince they easily forget he is there, and once they forget this fact, they still more easily lose the respect and reverence owed to him. Unfortunately, we frequently lose sight of the God who is with us. Although faith assures us of his presence, we forget about him and behave as if God were a long way off because we do not see him with our eyes. While we may tell ourselves and others that God is present in all things, we often act as if this were not true because we fail to remind ourselves of God’s presence.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p.84)

Despite the fact that the blind man in today’s Gospel could not actually see Jesus, it is crystal clear that he showed Jesus respect and reverence. What is the moral of the story? Even when we lose sight of how Jesus acts in our lives and in the eyes of other people day in and day out, it is always within our power to show him the respect and reverence by acting as Jesus did in showing respect respect and reverence for others.

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(November 21, 2017: Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“And he came down quickly and received him with joy…”

The story of Jesus and Zacchaeus highlights an aspect of the Salesian notion of devotion: enthusiasm. Jesus only has to tell Zacchaeus once to “come down quickly.” For his part, Zacchaeus came down as quickly as he could!

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

“When charity reaches a degree on perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also to do this carefully, frequently and promptly. It is called devotion. Ostriches never fly; hens fly in a clumsy fashion, near the ground and only on occasion; but eagles, doves and swallows fly aloft, swiftly and frequently. Good people who have not as yet attained this devotion by toward God by their good works but do so infrequently, slowly and awkwardly. Devout souls fly to him more frequently, promptly and with lofty flights.” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 4, p. 64)

This description certainly describes Zacchaeus to a tee. Here is a man with a great sense of urgency. He literally flew down to Jesus at the invitation to spend time with him. Once he arrived at his home with Jesus, Zacchaeus was just as quick to declare his intention to share his good fortune with those less fortunate than him as well as to make things right with anyone who might have a grievance against him.

How quickly will we be this day to respond to Jesus’ invitation to spend time with him? How quick will we be to share our good fortune with others? How quickly will we be to make things right with anyone who might have a grievance against us?

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(November 22, 2017: Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr)
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Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Saint Cecilia.

“Although Cecilia is one of the most famous of the Roman martyrs, the familiar stories about her are apparently not founded on historical documentation. There is no trace of honor being paid her in early times. A fragmentary inscription of the late fourth century refers to a church named after her, and her feast was celebrated at least in the year 545.”

“According to legend, Cecilia was a young Christian of high rank betrothed to a Roman named Valerian. Through her influence Valerian was converted, and was martyred along with his brother. The legend about Cecilia’s death claims that after being struck three times on the neck with a sword, she lived for three days, and asked the pope to convert her home into a church. Since the time of the Renaissance Cecilia has usually been portrayed playing a viola or a small organ…and is considered the patron of musicians.” (http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1207)

We know more about Cecilia’s death than we do about her life, but insofar as God is “not the God of the dead, but of the living”, how can we imitate what we know of her life by sharing with others the presence of the living God within us?