Spirituality Matters 2017: November 23rd - November 29th

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(November 23, 2017: Miguel Pro, Priest and Martyr)
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“If this day you only knew what makes for peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.”

Have you ever noticed throughout many of the stories in Scripture how often people recognized God-given opportunities to do something good only after the fact? While hindsight is better than having no sight at all, there are certain limitations that come with recognizing how God has been active in one’s life only after subsequent reflection. This pattern gets played out time and time again in numerous accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. People frequently did not recognize what Jesus had done for them or who had been with them, until after the fact.

It’s safe to say that this occurrence is a pretty common human experience. In a scene from the movie Field of Dreams (1989), Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (played by Burt Lancaster) observes:

“You know, we just don't recognize life's most significant moments while they're happening. Back then I thought, ‘Well, there'll be other days.’ I didn't realize that that was the only day.”

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

“Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore they do not show him the respect they owe him until only after being informed oh his presence. However, because they do not actually see him they easily forget his presence, and having forgotten it, they still more easily lose the respect and reverence owed to him.” (IDL, Part Two, Chapter 2, p. 84)

The aim of the Spiritual Directory – the goal of the Direction of Intention – is to help us to acquire foresight when it comes to recognizing the activity and presence of God in our lives. Through our efforts to anticipate the variety of ways in which God may choose to reveal himself, may we recognize God’s divine activity and presence as it actually occurs in each and every present moment – whether significant or insignificant – and not only after the fact.

And so, be on the lookout for how God may invite you to be instruments of His peace - today!


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(November 23, 2017: Thanksgiving)
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“He fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him…”

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

“Consider that a certain number of years ago you did not yet exist. God has drawn you out from nothingness so as to make you what you are now and has done so solely out of his own goodness. Consider the nature God has given you. It is the highest in this visible world, is capable of eternal life and able to be perfectly united with God’s Divine Majesty…God has placed you in this world not because God has any need of you but because God wishes to exercise his goodness in you by giving you his grace and glory. For this purpose God has given you intelligence to know him, memory to be mindful of him, will to love him, imagination to picture his benefits to yourself, eyes to see His wonderful works, and tongues to praise him, just to mention a few…Consider the corporeal benefits that God has bestowed on you: the body itself, all goods provided for its maintenance, health, comforts friend, supporters and other helps… By noting each and every particular blessing you will perceive how gentle and gracious God has been to you.” (IDL, Part I, Chapters 9- 11, pp. 53 -57)

How can we possibly even begin to give thanks for everything that God has given – and continues to give – to us? Francis de Sales offers this suggestion - just as God has been gentle and gracious to us, may we strive to be equally – or at least, somewhat – as gentle and gracious to others on this Thanksgiving Day…and every day!

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(November 24, 2017: Andrew Dung Lac and Companions, Martyrs)
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“My house shall be a house of prayer…”

This quote from today’s Gospel goes much deeper than talking about a building. This quote has little or nothing to do with why we should be quiet in church. From a Salesian point of view, this quote goes to the heart of what it means to be human.

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

“God is not only in the place where you are, but God is also present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit. He enlivens and animates it by his divine presence, for he is there as the heart of your heart and the spirit of your spirit. Just as the soul is diffused throughout the entire body and is therefore present in every part of the body but resides in a special manner in the heart, so also God is present in all things but always resides in a special manner in our spirit.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 85)

God dwells in a very particular way within the heart – within the spirit and soul – of each and every one of us. Using the words from the Communion Rite, notwithstanding that we may be unworthy to have God enter “under our roof,” God is very much alive and at work in the very core of our being, enlivening us and animating us to meet the demands, challenges and invitations that come our way each and every day.

Each us, then, is a house of prayer. Each of us is a particular manifestation and expression of the God in whose image and likeness we are created. And insofar as prayer is a dialogue, our fundamental vocation is to be engaged in conversation with God as we try our level best to bring out the best in our little corners of the world.

Today, how can we be that house of God in the lives of one another?

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(November 25, 2017: Saturday, Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob…is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

In his commentary on this passage from the Gospel of Luke, William Barclay makes the following observations:

“The Sadducees came with this question about who would be the husband in heaven of the woman who was married to seven different men. They regarded such a question as the kind of thing that made belief in the resurrection of the body ridiculous. Jesus gave them an answer which has a permanent valid truth in it. He said that we must not think of heaven in terms of earth. Life there will be quite different, because we will be quite different. It would save a mass of misdirected ingenuity – and not a little heartbreak – if we ceased to speculate on what heaven is like and left such things to the love of God.” (pp. 250-251)

But Barclay’s commentary is not limited only to the message of Jesus. He also draws attention to the method of Jesus, using arguments to which ordinary people could relate. “Jesus used arguments that the people with whom he was speaking could understand. He talked to them in their own language. He met them on their own ground, and that is precisely why the common person heard him gladly.”

Fr. Brisson believed that the first step in any worthwhile endeavor – be it preaching, teaching or evangelizing – is to meet people where they are…just as Jesus did.

Ho might we imitate the message – and method – of Jesus in our own interactions with others just this day?

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(November 26, 2017: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe)
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“As for you, my sheep, says the Lord God, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.”

St. Francis de Sales wrote: “Consider that last sentence passed on to the wicked: ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his companions.’ Weigh well these heavy words. Depart, he says. It is a word of eternal abandonment that God utters to those unhappy souls and by it he banishes them forever from his face. He calls them cursed…Consider the contrary sentence passed on the good. Come, says the Judge. Ah, this is the sweet word of salvation by which God draws us to himself and receives us into the bosom of his goodness…O welcome blessing, which includes all blessings!” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 14)

The parable in today's Gospel is very clear. There will be a final judgment. What is also clear is that both those who did good and those who did not do good failed to recognize how the seeds of this last judgment were planted in their everyday interactions with others. Re-read the text: both groups asked the question, “When did we see you…when did we welcome you…when did we visit you…when did we give you…?” Right up until the last day, both groups failed to grasp the intimate relationship between God’s judgment of us and our relationships to one another. In particular, both groups failed to recognize the connection between the love of God and performing simple, ordinary acts of love for others.

This parable challenges us to recognize that in the eyes of God the final judgment is not a one-time event. In the eyes of the God who judges justly this judgment is an ongoing, daily event. God is extremely interested in judging how we use each moment of our lives, not simply the last one.

But while this parable speaks volumes about God's judgment, it also has a lot to say about our own judgment. In the end the final judgment is heavily impacted by the kind of judgment we use in relating to one another, day in and day out in the most unique, as well as the most ordinary, of life's events, circumstances, responsibilities and demands.

What do our affections, attitudes and actions toward others every day say about the final disposition of our souls? What does the way we live our lives on earth say about our lives in the hereafter?

You be the judge.

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(November 27, 2017: Monday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“She has offered her whole livelihood…”

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

“The esteem in which humility holds all good gifts, namely, faith hope and charity, is the foundation of generosity of spirit. Take notice that the first gifts of which we spoke belong to the exercise of humility and the others to generosity. Humility believes that it can do nothing, considering its poverty and weakness as far as depends on ourselves. On the contrary, generosity makes us say with St. Paul, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.’ Humility makes us distrust ourselves, whereas generosity makes us trust in God. You see, then that humility and generosity are so closely joined and united to one another that they are and never can be separated.” (Conferences, “On Generosity” pp. 75-76)

We see this humility and generosity on display in today’s Gospel. Whereas some wealthy people who contributed to the temple treasury were relying more on themselves for their welfare (they made sure that they had plenty for themselves in reserve) before giving to others. The poor widow – we are told – gave all that she had to the treasury without squirreling something away for herself first, suggesting that she was relying more on God for her welfare. The wealthy contributed with conditions, but the widow contributed without conditions.

Today, whether we have a lot or a little, what steps can we take to store up riches less for ourselves and more for others?

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(November 28, 2017: Tuesday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“When you hear of wars and insurrections do not be terrified…”

In this age of 24-7 news cycles, one could be forgiven for being “terrified: from time to time. After all, we never seem to get a break. Whether around the corner or around the world, we are constantly exposed to a never-ending dose of unsettling news reports - stories of violence, accounts of revenge and descriptions of disasters. One could make the argument that you would have to be crazy to be unconcerned or unaffected by the daily reports of economic, social, political and/or military turmoil!

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

“With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil than can happen to a soul. Just as sedition and internal disorders bring total ruin to a state and leave it helpless to resist a foreign invader, so also if our hearts are inwardly troubled and disturbed they lose both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues they had acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy. He then uses his utmost to fish – as they say – in troubled waters.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, pp. 251-252)

Francis de Sales believed that people should be informed. We should be aware – and where applicable, concerned – about the things that are happening around us. More importantly, however, is the need to know what is happening inside of us. We need to know the state of our minds and hearts. After all, sometimes the effects of the “wars and insurrections” that may surround us are nothing in comparison with the “wars and insurrections” that rage within us!

Trouble is a part of life. Don’t make it worse by allowing it to trouble you on the inside to the point where you can’t manage it on the outside – not only for your own sake but also for the sake of those who depend on you.

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(November 29, 2017: Wednesday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Give glory and eternal praise to him...”

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

“The soul that takes great pleasure in God’s goodness…desires that His name be always more and more blessed, exalted, praised, honored and adored. In this praise due to God the soul begins with its own heart...The soul imitates the great Psalmist who considered the marvels of God’s goodness, and then on the altar of his heart immolated a mystic victim: the utterances of his voice in hymns of psalms of admiration and blessings.” ( Living Jesus, p. 286)

When’s the last time you gave “glory and eternal praise” to God for everything that God does in your life and in the lives of others?

Today, how can you persevere in your efforts to bless, exalt, praise, honor and adore God for his goodness today? Not just in words, but also in deeds!