Spirituality Matters 2017: November 2nd - November 8th

* * * * *
(November 2, 2017: All Souls)
* * * * *

“The souls of the just are in the hands of God...”

In one of his pamphlets that was later published in a broader collection entitled The Catholic Controversy, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We maintain that we may pray for the faithful departed, and that the prayers and good works of the living greatly relieve them and are profitable to them for this reason: that all those who die in the grace of God – and consequently, in the number of the elect – do not go to Paradise at the very first moment, but many go to Purgatory…from which our prayers and good works can help and serve to deliver them.”

“We agree the blood of Our Redeemer is the true purgatory of souls, for in it are cleansed all the souls of the world. Tribulations also are a purgatory, by which our souls are rendered pure, as gold refined in the furnace. It is well known that Baptism in which our sins are washed away can be called a purgatory, as everything can be that serves to purge away our offenses. But in this context we take Purgatory for a place in which after this life the souls which leave this world before they have been perfectly cleansed from the stains they have contracted. And if one would know why this place is called simply Purgatory more than are the other means of purgation above-named, the answer will be, that it is because in that place nothing takes place but the purgation of the stains which remain at the time of departure out of this world, whereas in Baptism, Penance, tribulations and the rest, not only is the soul purged from its imperfections, but it is further enriched with many graces and perfections. And agreeing as to the blood of Our Lord, we fully acknowledge the virtue thereof, that we protest by all our prayers that the purgation of souls – whether in this world or in the other – is made solely by its application.” (CC, pp. 353-354)

Notwithstanding the effects of our prayers and good works on behalf of our dearly departed, Francis de Sales reminds us that at the end of the day it is the life and death of Jesus Christ that purifies our souls, whether in this life or in the next. To that end, whether it’s the just or the unjust, whether it’s in this world or the next, we are all in the hands of God.

Here’s hoping that we pray for our faithful departed. Here’s hoping that our faithful departed pray for us. As children of God – be it in this world or the next – we are a communion of saints. We are in this together!

* * * * *
(November 3, 2017: Friday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie.”

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say all that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. Therefore, you must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie, whether to excuse yourself or for some other purposes, remembering always that God is the “God of truth”. If you happen to tell a lie inadvertently, correct it immediately by an explanation or by making amends. An honest explanation always has more grace and force to excuse us than a lie does.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Children of God that we are, let us try our level best this day not to lie. Better yet, let us try our level best to talk – and walk in – the truth.

* * * * *
(November 4, 2017: Saturday, Thirtieth Week in ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

Throughout history, great men and women have shared this one character trait – humility. In his commentary on today’s Gospel from Luke, William Barclay offers two methods for growing in this cardinal virtue:

First , keep the big picture in mind. “However much we know, we still know very little when compared with the sum total of knowledge. However much we have achieved, we may still have achieved very little in the end. However important we may believe ourselves to be, when death takes us or when we retire from our responsibilities, life and work will go on just the same.”

(Recall the famous quip once made by Charles de Gaulle: “Cemeteries are filled with people who couldn’t be replaced.”)

Second , compare your efforts with someone who is really on top of their game. “It is when we see or hear the expert that we realize how poor our own performance may be. Many a spectator has decided to sell his golf clubs after a day at golf’s Open Championship. Many a person has chosen never to appear in public again after hearing a master musician perform. Many a preacher has been humbled almost to despair when he has heard a real saint of God speak.”

Barclay concludes:

“If we set our lives beside the life of the Lord of all good life – if we see our unworthiness in comparison with the radiance of his stainless purity – pride will surely die and self-absorption will shrivel up.”

In providing a bumper sticker for the virtue of humility, perhaps St. Francis de Sales says it best: “Be who you are, and be that well.”

No less, but certainly, no more.

* * * * *
(November 5, 2017: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Lay – take – it to heart.”

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his audience to do everything that the scribes and Pharisees say but he also warns them against following their example.

Why this inconsistency? Why this disconnect? Why the incongruity between what they preached and how they acted? Why the bold words, but the few deeds?

Perhaps, as we hear in the book of the prophet Malachi, they failed to “lay it to heart”. It, of course, being God’s law of love - the law that challenges us to give glory to God by promoting justice and peace in our relationships with one another.

Malachi observed: “Have we not all the one Father? Has not the one God created us? Why then do we break faith with each other?” To use the words of St. Francis de Sales, why do we relate to one another with “two hearts”: one that is easy on ourselves and a second heart that is hard on and harsh toward others?

This duality of hearts is the danger when we allow our knowledge of God to reside only in our heads and not in our hearts. To the extent that our faith remains intellectual or theoretical, it cannot address or embrace the hungers, the hopes, the fears or the dreams of others. To the extent that we do not take to heart God’s love for us, our hearts will remain unmoved when confronted by the needs or the plights of others.

Herein lies the heart of Jesus’ criticism of the scribes and Pharisees: “They bind up heavy loads, hard to carry, to lay on others’ shoulders, while they themselves will not lift a finger to budge them.” Having failed to take the Law of Moses – and the Law of Jesus – to heart, they prefer to place heavy burdens on the shoulders – and the hearts – of others.

To keep faith with one another requires that we first allow God’s creative, redeeming and inspiring love to penetrate our own hearts. We must take to heart our own need for ongoing conversion, reconciliation and transformation. We must take to heart the fact that God’s love for us does not end with us. No, God’s love must be shared with others.

“Have we not all the one Father? Has not the one God created us?” Then we must keep the faith with one another. We must promote the health, happiness and holiness of one another. We must pursue peace and justice for one another. We must promise reconciliation and collaboration with one another. In short, our actions must surpass – or, at least, keep pace with – our words.

Put another way, when we take to heart the heart of Jesus there can be no partiality: we either love our neighbor as we love ourselves…or we don’t.

* * * * *
(November 6, 2017: Monday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable…”

At the risk of being politically incorrect, God is not an “Indian giver.” (For the record, “Indian-giver” has nothing to do with the Indians reneging on a promise. It has to do with a government that gave all kinds of things to Native Americans only to rescind them later.) Unlike human institutions, when God gives gifts they are non-refundable. They cannot be returned. They cannot be traded in. They must be used.

In today’s Gospel, we hear that one of the best ways to make use of your God-given gifts is to share them with folks from whom you can expect to receive no return. In other words, what better way to say “thank you” to God than by sharing your gifts with no hope of being repaid?

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

“To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become. It is true that God will repay us not only in the next world but even in this one. Nothing makes us so prosperous in this world as to give alms. Oh, how holy and how rich is the poverty brought on by giving alms!” (IDL, Part Three, Chapter 15, p. 165)

What return can we make to God for all the gifts that God has given us? In the Salesian tradition, we show our gratitude by “paying it forward”, that is, we share what we have – and who we are – with others who have less without making them feel any less.

* * * * *
(November 7, 2017: Tuesday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them.”

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

“When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind. In like manner he commands Christians – the living plants of his Church – to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to one’s position and vocation. Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the laborer, the servant, the prince, the widow, the young girl and the married woman. Not only is this true, but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, the activities and the duties of each particular person.” (IDL, Part One, Chapter 3, p. 143)

All of us are called to be saints. No two of us are called to be saints in exactly the same way. As living plants of the Church, how will each of us in our own way bring forth the fruits of devotion - today?

* * * * *
(November 8, 2017: Wednesday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “renounce” as “to give up, refuse, or resign, usually by formal declaration.”

In real terms, how do we “renounce’ our possessions in our day? Do we stop paying our bills? Do we live under a highway overpass? Do we walk away from all of our fiduciary responsibilities? Do we declare bankruptcy? Do we go on public assistance? And if we should do those things in a way that impacted only us, how advisable would it be to take such courses of actions when others depend upon us for their welfare as well?

Perhaps the first step in becoming a disciple of Jesus is to acknowledge that all of our possessions are ultimately gifts. This truth can help us to “renounce” the temptation to view our possessions as exclusively for our use and enjoyment. All gifts – material or otherwise – are meant to be shared with others.

Second, perhaps we need to renounce the temptation to allow our possessions – however good they may be – to possess us. All gifts – material or otherwise – are not meant to serve us but to serve others.

Finally, the process of “renouncing” our feeling of somehow being entitled to the exclusive use of God’s gifts and/or “renouncing” the temptation of allowing our possessions to possess us doesn’t happen in an instant or in the twinkling of an eye.

For most people that process requires a lifetime.