Spirituality Matters 2017: October 19th - October 25th

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(October 19, 2015: John de Brebeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, Companions and Martyrs)
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“I will send to them prophets and Apostles; some of them they will kill and persecute…”

Today the Church reflects upon the ultimate sacrifice made by the Jesuit Martyrs of North America. Warning: this account if not for the faint of heart. ( http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1173 )

“Isaac Jogues (1607-1646) and his companions were the first martyrs of the North American continent officially recognized by the Church. As a young Jesuit, Isaac Jogues, a man of learning and culture, taught literature in France. He gave up that career to work among the Huron Indians in the New World, and in 1636 he and his companions - under the leadership of John de Brébeuf - arrived in Quebec. The Hurons were constantly warring with the Iroquois, and in a few years Father Jogues was captured by the Iroquois and imprisoned for thirteen months. An unexpected chance for escape came to Isaac Jogues through the Dutch, and he returned to France, bearing the marks of his sufferings. Several fingers had been cut, chewed or burnt off. Pope Urban VIII gave him permission to offer Mass with his mutilated hands: ‘It would be shameful that a martyr of Christ be not allowed to drink the Blood of Christ.’ Welcomed home as a hero, Father Jogues might have sat back, thanked God for his safe return and died peacefully in his homeland. But his zeal led him back once more to the fulfillment of his dreams. In a few months he sailed for his missions among the Hurons. In 1646 he and Jean de Lalande, who had offered his services to the missioners, set out for Iroquois country in the belief that a recently signed peace treaty would be observed. They were captured by a Mohawk war party, and on October 18 Father Jogues was tomahawked and beheaded. Jean de Lalande was killed the next day at Ossernenon, a village near Albany, New York.”

“The first of the Jesuit missionaries to be martyred was René Goupil who, with Lalande, had offered his services as an oblate. He was tortured along with Isaac Jogues in 1642, and was tomahawked for having made the Sign of the Cross on the brow of some children.”

“Jean de Brébeuf (1593-1649): Jean de Brébeuf was a French Jesuit who came to Canada at the age of 32 and labored there for 24 years. He went back to France when the English captured Quebec (1629) and expelled the Jesuits, but returned to his missions four years later. Although medicine men blamed the Jesuits for a smallpox epidemic among the Hurons, Jean remained with them. He composed catechisms and a dictionary in Huron, and saw seven thousand converted before his death. He was captured by the Iroquois and died after four hours of extreme torture at Sainte Marie, near Georgian Bay, Canada.”

“Father Anthony Daniel, working among Hurons who were gradually becoming Christian, was killed by Iroquois on July 4, 1648. His body was thrown into his chapel, which was set on fire. Gabriel Lalemant had taken a fourth vow—to sacrifice his life to the Indians. He was horribly tortured to death along with Father Brébeuf. Father Charles Garnier was shot to death as he baptized children and catechumens during an Iroquois attack. Father Noel Chabanel was killed before he could answer his recall to France. He had found it exceedingly hard to adapt to mission life. He could not learn the language, the food and life of the Indians revolted him, plus he suffered spiritual dryness during his whole stay in Canada. Yet he made a vow to remain until death in his mission.”

“These eight Jesuit martyrs of North America were canonized in 1930.”

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The sacrifice of these Jesuit martyrs gives radical witness to the lengths to which people of faith might go in being faithful to the power and the promise of the Good News of Jesus Christ. In their case - unto death.

Today, how far are we willing to go to remain faithful to the power and promise of the Good News of Jesus Christ?

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(October 20, 2017: St. Paul of the Cross, Founder)
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“A worker’s wage is credited not as a gift, but as something due.”

In the book Cor ad Cor, Fr. Brisson observed:

We reprint the Gospel by means of work. We must reprint the Gospel and reprint it page by page without omitting anything.”

“Now Our Lord came upon earth and passed thirty years in manual labor. His labor was not intellectual labor, even though He was the Light which enlivens every person coming into this world. The Jews asked, ‘How does He know these things, since He has not studied, since He does not know science or literature, since He is a working man?’ It is precisely because He was a working man—because He worked with his hands—that He knew the language of divine science, that is, the language of union with God. He began by doing manual labor.”

“Without doubt, not all of us can work with our hands, but all of our lives involve some amount of manual labor each and every day. There is a library to keep in order, a helping hand to be given, a little tidying up or arranging to be done, a challenging student with whom to practice patience. You are in charge of a class—this frequently requires much material care.”

“We are called to realize this intimate union with God in ourselves and in all those confided to our care. You see, my friends, to what we are obliged—to reestablish here below the earthly paradise. This is certainly no small task! Where shall we begin this great undertaking? With ourselves, of course.”

Just today, how might we reprint the Gospel in our relationships with one another?

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October 21, 2017: Saturday, Twenty-eight Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He believed, hoping against hope.”

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

“Since the assurance God gives us that paradise is ours infinitely strengthens our desire to win it, it weakens and annihilates the trouble and disquiet that this desire might bring us. By the sacred promises, God’s goodness has made our hearts become – and remain – completely calm. This calm is the root of that most holy virtue which we call hope.”

Inseparable from hope is yet another virtue greatly admired by “The Gentleman Saint” – aspiration. In the same chapter in which the quote above was taken, Francis describes both how hope and aspiration are distinct as well as how the two intimately work together.

“Between hoping and aspiring, the sole difference is this: we hope for such things that we expect to gain by the aid of another, whereas we aspire for such things that we expect to gain by our own resources and by ourselves…Aspiration is the offspring of hope, just as our cooperation is the offspring of grace. Just as people who would hope without aspiring would be rejected as cowardly and irresponsible, so, too, those who would aspire without hope would be considered rash, insolent and presumptuous. When hope is accompanied by aspiration – when we aspire with hope and hope with aspiration – hope is changed into courageous determination, while aspiration is changed into hope into humble striving.” (TLG, BK II, Chapter 16, pp. 144 – 145)

In the Salesian tradition, hope is not helplessness. Hope certainly is not the same as mere wishful thinking. Rather, hope gives us the strength to remain calm and collected even as we do our part to obtain our greatest good – life on high with Jesus Christ. In the meantime, in the day-to-day ebb and flow of life, hopeful aspiration and aspiring hope help us in our daily efforts to know when we must rely on the grace of God as well as to know when we must rely on the grace of our own hard work.

These two virtues are – in fact – two sides of an invaluable spiritual coin.

Today, how much must I rely upon God to become the best version of myself? Today, how much must I reply upon myself to become the best version of myself?

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(October 22, 2017: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s; render to God what is God’s.”

Living a God-centered life is not a simple, cut-and-dry proposition. While we are indeed created to live forever with God in heaven, we must also, on any given day, tend to any number of duties and responsibilities here on earth.

We must give both heaven and earth their respective dues.

How does this work? How do we achieve this balance in our own lives?

To use the phrase: are we supposed to rob from Peter to pay Paul? No, we don’t need to deprive one so as to pay tribute to another! Are we supposed to give to God from one hand and give to the world from the other? No, we are challenged to use both our hands in such a way that gives justice to both the things of earth as well as the things of heaven.

While not overstating the obvious lesson in today’s Gospel, service to heaven and service to earth are, in fact, two sides of the same coin! We are ultimately faithful to both “Caesar” and to “God” by treating our brothers and sisters with justice…by giving them their due.

Francis de Sales wrote:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor's place and your neighbor in yours, and then you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell and buy justly…you lose nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously and with a royal, just and reasonable heart. Resolve to examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor, as you would want your neighbor to be toward you if you were in your neighbor's place. This is the touchstone of true reason.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 36)

Giving others their due is not only about being faithful to the debt of love we owe to one another, but it can also have very practical ramifications. Francis de Sales penned these words in 1604: "I see that you have a debt…repay this as soon as you possibly can, and be as careful as you can never to withhold from others anything that belongs to them.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 69)

Whether the obligations are great or small, we must strive always to give what is due to our brothers and sisters. We must strive to treat one another reasonably, fairly, humbly, honestly and justly. In so doing we render to “Caesar” what is “Caesar’s” and we also render to God what is God's.

In the Salesian tradition, we never really have to choose between tending to the things of heaven or the things of earth. By meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters, we tend to both the things of earth and to the things of heaven at the same time, in the process “proving our faith, laboring in love, and showing constancy in our hope in Jesus Christ”.

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(October 23, 2017: John of Capistrano, Priest, Religious and Reformer)
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“Take care to guard against all greed…”

Greed is defined as “an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.”

What’s important to note is that greed is not equated with merely possessing material wealth, but that greed is also about having an “excessive” or inordinate desire to possess material wealth. Greed isn’t about the amount of the wealth; it’s about the size – and intensity – of the desire for wealth.

Francis de Sales certainly understood this distinction. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:

“I willingly grant that you may take care to increase your wealth and resources, provided this is done not only justly but properly and charitably. However, if you are strongly attached to the goods you possess, too solicitous about them, set your heart on them, always have them in your thoughts and fear losing them with a strong, anxious fear, then, believe me, you are suffering from a kind of fever. If you find your heart very desolated and afflicted at the loss of property, believe me, you love it too much…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 163)

The Gospel parable is a classic example of what Francis de Sales described. The rich man isn’t condemned because he is rich; the rich man is condemned because he does not even consider sharing his good fortune – his rich harvest – with others.

However, note the distinction that Jesus makes, however. “Guard against all greed”. Greed isn’t limited to material possessions. Many of the things to which we cling – many of the things about which we have inordinate desires to keep for ourselves - aren’t material at all: our time, our opinions, our plans, our preferences, our comforts, our routines, our ways of seeing things and our ways of doing things are just a sampling of the many things to which we cling excessively.

Today, what kinds of greed – in any form, in all forms - might we be careful to avoid?

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(October 24, 2017: Anthony Mary Claret, Bishop)
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“Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more…”

It has been said that the only irrefutable dogma of the Catholic Church is the teaching on Original Sin. One only needs to read the daily newspaper to recognize countless and unrelenting proofs of the existence of Original Sin in particular and overall sin in general. It is all the more humbling when we recognize proofs of the existence of that same sinfulness in our own lives: our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions. We don’t need to take the reality of sin on faith - we see and experience it every day!

And yet, as many proofs as there are for the reality of sin, Francis de Sales suggests that there are even more proofs of God’s mercy! In his Treatise on the Love of God, Frances de Sales wrote:

“God’s providence has left in us great marks of his severity, even amid the very grace of his mercy. Examples include the fact that we must die, that there is disease, that we must toil and the fact that we rebel against what we know is good. God’s favor floats over all this and finds joy in turning all our miseries to the greater profit of those who love him. From toil God makes patience spring forth, from death comes contempt for passing riches and from our interior struggles emerge a thousand victories. Just as the rainbow touches the thorn aspalathus and makes it smell sweeter than the lily, so our Savior’s redemption touches our miseries and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. The angels, says our Savior, have ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance. So, too, the state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence.”

“Truly, by the watering of our Savior’s blood – made with the hyssop of the cross – we have been restored to a white incomparably better than that possessed by the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we come out of the stream of salvation more pure and clean than if we had never had leprosy. This is to the end that God’s majesty, as he had ordained for us as well, should not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good, in order that his mercy – like a sacred oil – should keep itself ‘above judgment’ and ‘his mercies be above all his works.’” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 6, pp. 115 – 166)

There’s no doubt about it - sin is real. However, let there be even less doubt that God’s mercy, generosity and love are far more real – and powerful – than sin.

Today, with God’s help – and with the support of others - how might we overcome evil with good?

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(October 25, 2017: Wednesday, Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come…”

We all know the expression - “Hindsight is 20-20.” As we know from our own experience, often times it is much easier to recognize the truth about something hours, days, weeks and perhaps even years after the fact. While hindsight is better than having no sight at all, there are certain limitations associated with recognizing how God has been active in one’s life only after further reflection.

This pattern gets played out time and time again in numerous accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. People didn’t seem to recognize that the Son of Man was standing right in front of them. Put another way, insofar as they were not prepared to recognize who Jesus was before he appeared, they failed to recognize him when he actually arrived!

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. Living in every present moment challenges us to anticipate the variety of ways in which God may visit, speak to or inspire us just this day and to recognize God’s divine activity and presence as it actually occurs in each and every present moment - and not merely after the fact.

In the movie Field of Dreams, Doctor “Moonlight” Graham (played by actor Burt Lancaster) says to Ray Kinsella, “You know, we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening. Back then I thought, 'Well, there'll be other days.' I didn't realize that that was the only day.”

May God give us the awareness that we need to be prepared for the most significant moments - and each and every moment - in our lives, each and every day. But then, when you consider that we have only a limited number of moments allotted to us on this earth, shouldn’t every moment be a significant moment?