Spirituality Matters 2017: November 30th - December 6th
(November 30, 2017: Andrew, Apostle)
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“At once they followed him...”
In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell writes:
“Andrew and his brother Peter were sitting in their fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee, repairing their nets, when Christ called to them, saying, ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Although the brothers did leave their boat to follow the Lord, they never stopped catching fish: it was how they supported themselves and their families.”
“Time and time again the Gospels take us back to the Sea of Galilee: on one occasion, Jesus climbed into Peter and Andrew’s boat to preach to a crowd on the shore; on another, while the brothers and some of the other disciples were out fishing, they saw Jesus advancing toward them by walking on the water. After a long night of fishing and catching nothing, Christ urged the brothers to go out to the deepest part of the sea and lower their nets one more time. This time the catch was so great that the fishing nets broke and Peter and Andrew had to signal to their fellow apostles and business partners James and John to come help them haul in the fish. And, when there was nothing for the crowd of five thousand to eat, it was Andrew who brought forward a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish, which Christ multiplied to feed the multitude…with much leftover to boot.”
“Tradition says that St. Andrew carried the Gospel to Greece. At the town of Patras he was arrested and tied to an X-shaped cross. The legend claims that it took him three dies to die, and the entire time he hung on the cross St. Andrew preached to all who passed by.” (p. 179)
Andrew - once a fisherman, always a fisherman. A fisherman doesn’t get to pick the day, time, situations or circumstances in which he fishes. He simply fishes, come what may. A fisherman jumps at the chance to make a catch; he will drop whatever else he might be doing in pursuit of his livelihood. Such an avocation requires tenacity, patience, determination and a willingness to go with the flow. Perhaps that’s Jesus why Jesus called Andrew to become one of his apostles/disciples, because such qualities could come in quite handy when it came to preaching the Good News.
Jesus calls each of us - in our own unique ways - to be fishers of “men.” To what degree does Jesus see in us some of the same qualities that he saw in Andrew?
(December 1, 2017: Friday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Consider the fig tree and all other trees…”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:
“The cross is the root of every grace received by us who are spiritual grafts attached to our Savior’s body. Having been so engrafted if we abide in him, then by means of the life of grace he communicates to us we shall certainly bear the fruit of glory prepared for us. But if we are mere inert sprigs or grafts on that tree - that is, if by resistance we break the progress and effects of His mercy - it will be no wonder if in the end we are wholly cut off and thrown into everlasting fire as useless branches.”
“God undoubtedly prepared paradise only for such as he foresaw would be his. Therefore, let us be his both by faith and by our works, and he will be ours by glory. It is in our power to be his, for although to belong to God is a gift from God, yet it is a gift that God denies to no one. God offers it to all people so as to give it to such as will sincerely consent to receive it. He gives us both his death and his life: his life so that we may be freed from eternal death, his life so that we can enjoy eternal life. Let us live in peace, then, and serve God so as to be his in this mortal life and still more so in life eternal.” (TLG, Part III, Book 5, pp. 178-179)
Francis de Sales insists that our future depends heavily upon our present. At any given moment we can think, feel and act in ways bring us closer to either (1) redemption or (2) damnation. It all comes down to how deeply grafted we are onto the heart – and the cross – of Christ.
(December 2, 2017: Saturday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy and that the day catch you by surprise like a trap...”
The readings selected for these remaining days of the waning liturgical year emphasize the “end times” - the final judgment and the importance of being on the lookout for when that climactic moment will occur.
In a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde, St. Francis de Sales wrote:
“Persevere in this great courage and determination which keeps you lifted high above temporal things, making you pass over them like a happy halcyon bird lifted safely above the waves of the world which flood this age. Keep your eyes steadfastly fixed on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on; and as they pass, they themselves pass us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But meanwhile – in these passing moments – there lies enclosed as in a tiny kernel the seed of all eternity. In our humble little works of devotion there lies hidden the prize of everlasting glory; the little pains we take to serve God lead to the repose of a bliss that can never end.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 236)
Be watchful! Be alert! Be on the lookout! Avoid carousing, drunkenness and anxiety in all their forms. However, don’t limit your vigilance to the last moment of your life; rather, expand your vigilance to include every moment of your life! In so doing, you might not only avoid having your last day catch you like a trap, but rather, you will be able to transform every day into an opportunity to grow in your knowledge and love of God, your neighbor and yourself now – and forever.
(December 3, 2017: First Sunday of Advent)
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“Be watchful! Be alert!”
In a reflection upon the season of Advent, Blessed Louis Brisson, OSFS observed:
“Advent means coming. It is a time set aside to prepare for Christmas. These four weeks of Advent represent the four thousand years which preceded the coming of the Messiah. Throughout these many years the prophets announced the coming of Our Lord.”
“There are two advents of Our Lord. The first is His great advent when he came to this earth to save us. He willed to come to us little, humble and unknown. He was born poor to show us that poverty is no disgrace. He willed to be a working man to teach us to love work as He loved it.”
“The second advent of Our Lord is made in our hearts. Every time that we have a good thought, every time that we take the Good Lord with us, every time that we make an act of fidelity - every time that we tell God that we are all His - an advent takes place. Our Blessed Savior visits our souls.” (Cor ad Cor, p. 13)
As we prepare for Jesus’ first advent, we should do our level best to “be vigilant at all times.” We should be on the lookout for the legions of Jesus’ second advents. On any given day many opportunities come our way to have good thoughts, to harbor good feelings, to develop good attitudes and to do goods things, especially with and toward other people.
When these opportunities come – and with them, Jesus himself – will we be ready to receive them? Will we be ready to make good use of them?
Come – O come – Emmanuel!
(December 4, 2017: Monday, First Week of Advent)
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“I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”
On day two of our Advent journey toward the Solemnity of the Incarnation, listen to the words of Blessed Louis Brisson, OSFS:
“Man sinned as was driven from the earthly paradise. The merciful God promised a Savior, a Redeemer. But God did not tell us what kind of Redeemer he would send to save us. Most of the prophets, in announcing His coming, do not appear to have been concerned with the details. However, in His infinite mercy, God decided that the Redeemer should be none other than the Divine Word itself, His own Eternal Son. He would take our human nature and become one of us in order to make reparation for the offense committed against God, and also to serve as a model for us.” (Cor ad Cor, p. 13)
Clearly, since the fall of Adam and Eve, none of us is worthy to have God enter under our collective roofs. Driven out of Eden, our ancestors no longer felt at home with God. It is, therefore, all the more remarkable that in the fullness of time that God chose to make his home within each and every one of us by taking on our nature in the person of His Son, Jesus. We are no longer strangers or orphans; we have found our new home in Christ.
Following Jesus’ example, how can each of us just this day make more of a home for Jesus within our minds, hearts and lives for others?
(December 5, 2017: Tuesday, First Week of Advent)
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“The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…”
In today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we hear of the seven gifts associated with the presence and action of the Holy Spirit.
In a sermon preached during the last few years of his life to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales offered the following prayer:
“God grant us his gift of fear, that we might serve him as his dutiful children; his gift of piety, that we might give him due reverence as our loving father; his gift of knowledge, that we may recognize the good we ought to do and the evil we should avoid; his gift of fortitude, that we may bravely overcome all the difficulties we shall meet in trying to be good; his gift of counsel, that we might discern and choose the best ways of living a life of devotion; his gift of understanding, that we may divine the beauty and value of faith’s mysteries and the Gospel principles; and finally, his gift of wisdom, that we may appreciate how lovable God is, that we may experience and thrill to the delight of that goodness of his which is more than our limited minds can fathom. O, the happiness that will be ours if we accept these precious gifts!” (Pulpit and Pew, p. 158)
What are the signs associated with our making good use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Isaiah cites several:
- Not judging by appearance or hearsay
- Judging the poor with justice
- Deciding aright for the afflicted
(December 6, 2017: Wednesday, First Week of Advent)
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“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd...”
Today’s Gospel offers us two things for our consideration. One is the virtue of compassion; the other is the anatomy of compassion. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:
“Compassion, sympathy, commiseration or pity is simply an affection that makes us share in the sufferings and sorrows of those we love. It draws the misery of others into our own heart. Hence it is calledmisericordia, that is, misery of heart.” (Living Jesus, p. 38)
The virtue of compassion is clearly displayed in Jesus. When he looks at those he loves – the people who had been with him for three days – “his heart is moved with pity” for they had had nothing to eat for all that time. Jesus experiences “misery of heart” when confronted with the neediness of the crowds.
The anatomy of compassion is also clearly manifested in Jesus. First, Jesus recognizes the needs of those he loves (they were hungry). Second, Jesus’ heart is moved by the needs of those he loves. Third, Jesus acts. Rather than simply stopping at being “moved with pity”, he does whatever it takes to meet the needs of those he loves.
By contrast, the disciples’ compassion appears to come up short. While they, too, recognize the needs of the crowds - and while their hearts similarly are moved by the neediness of the crowds - the disciples seem overwhelmed by the enormity of the needs and appear to be more interested in doing whatever it takes to send the crowds away to fend for themselves.
You have to wonder: for whom was this miracle of compassionate action performed? Was it done for the crowds who had been with Jesus just three days or was it done for the disciples who had been with Jesus long enough to know better than to doubt him?
How well does the anatomy of compassion work in us? How willing are we to recognize the needs of those we love? How willing are we to allow our hearts to be moved by the needs of those we love? How willing are we to try to do something – however extraordinary, however sublime – to meet the needs of those we love?
When it comes to imitating the compassion of Christ, two-out-of-three merely won’t do. We must also do something!!!