Spirituality Matters 2017: October 5th - October 11th
(October 5, 2017: Thursday, Twenty-six Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”
There are any number of ways of “rejoicing in the Lord”. In the Salesian tradition, one of the more preferable ways to do this is to bloom where you are planted, that is, to now your place in this world and having the courage to take it.
In a letter of spiritual direction addressed to Madame Brulart, Francis de Sales counseled:
“Persevere in overcoming yourself in the little everyday frustrations that bother you; let you best efforts be directed there. God wants nothing else of you at present, so don’t waste time doing anything else. Don’t sow your desires in someone else’s garden – just cultivate your own as best you can. Don’t long to be anyone other than who you are, but thoroughly desire to be who you are. Direct your thoughts to being very good at that and to bearing the crosses – little or great – that you will find there. Believe me, this is the most important – and yet the least understood – point in the spiritual life.” (LSD, p. 112)
Just today, would like to rejoice in the Lord? Then, take delight in simply tending to the garden of your own mind, heart, soul and spirit.
Don’t waste your life trying to be someone you’re not. Be who you are and be that perfectly well.
(October 6, 2017: Friday, Twenty-six Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Justice is with the Lord our God…”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“In general, we prefer the rich to the poor, even though they are neither of better condition nor as virtuous. We even prefer those who are better dressed. We rigorously demand our own rights, but want others to be considerate when insisting on theirs. We maintain our rank with exactness, but we want others to be humble and accommodating when it comes to theirs. We complain quite easily about our neighbors but none of them should ever complain about us. What we do for others always seems very great, while what others do for us seems like nothing at all.”
“In short, we have two hearts. We have a mild, gracious and courteous attitude toward ourselves but another that is hard, severe and rigorous toward our neighbor...To have two weights, one heavier with which to receive and the other with which to dispense ‘is an abominable thing to the Lord.’” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 216)
Justice is with the Lord our God. Our God expects justice to dwell within each of us and among us – and where there are double standards, there is no justice to be found.
So, what does it look like when we are acting in a God-like – that is, a just – manner? Francis wrote:
“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and your neighbor in yours – then, you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell, and you will buy and sell justly…for a person loses nothing by living generously, nobly courteously and with a royal, just and reasonable heart.” (Ibid, p. 217)
Justice is with the Lord our God! May the same be said of us.
(October 7, 2017: Memorial, Our Lady of the Rosary)
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“Fear not, my people!”
On March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his now-famous remark within the context of his first inaugural address as president of the United States of America:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Notwithstanding FDR’s assertion, one could have easily argued that there was indeed more to fear than fear itself. America was in the grip of a catastrophic economic freefall. Unemployment stood at twenty-five percent! Countless numbers of individuals and families lost their life-savings overnight. Struggling farmers had no markets in which to sell their yield. Suicides were common; despondency was rampant; hope seemed vanquished.
And the winds of conflict and conflagration that would eventually fan themselves into the Second World War had yet to come!
On the 6th of August, 1606, Francis de Sales wrote the following words to St. Jane de Chantal:
“Dear St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, was afraid. As soon as he was afraid, he began to sink and to drown, crying out, ‘O Lord, save me.’ Our Lord caught hold of his hand and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Look at this holy apostle; he walks dry foot on the water the waves and winds could not make him sink; but fear of the wind and the waves will make him perish unless his master saves him. Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 125)
During the course of our lives we are sometimes buffeted by winds and waves of all kinds. Some may barely rock the boat; others may threaten our very lives or livelihood! Be it in the face of threats great or small, may God give us the strength to not allow our fear – however appropriate or prudent – to become a greater threat than the threats themselves.
(October 8, 2017: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Dismiss all anxiety from your minds…then will the God of peace be with you.”
The image of a vineyard is employed in the first and third readings from today's lectionary. In both cases, things in the vineyard haven't turned out quite the way that the owner had planned. It seems that the people responsible for caring for the vineyard in the first place didn’t live up to expectations.
Who owns the vineyard? God does, of course. What is the vineyard? It is the world in which we live. It is the world of relationships among us. It is the world – as Francis de Sales says, the universe – within us. Who is responsible for the upkeep of the vineyard? We are…both as individuals and as community.
The truth is that we don't always live up to God's expectations, either. As collaborators with God in God’s ongoing plan of creation, redemption, inspiration and salvation, we don't always harvest the grapes of life in ways that give life - things like respect, honesty, purity, decency or virtue that we should. Sadly, we often use our energies in producing grapes of wrath - things like jealousy, envy, indifference, hatred, violence and injustice.
This journey is our lot in life. We clearly know the kind of vineyard that God wants us to cultivate and grow, but sin, fear and selfishness often prevent us from producing the kinds of fruit that give life.
As tragic as this reality is, however, only one thing can actually make things worse - being anxious about it.
Francis de Sales wrote: “With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul.” Why? “Instead of removing the evil, anxiety increases it and involves the soul in great anguish and distress together with such loss of strength and courage that it imagines the evil to be incurable……all this is extremely dangerous.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11)
We need to be honest. We need to identify those areas of our lives - our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions - in which we experience difficulty in cultivating a harvest of peace, justice, reconciliation and love. But we need to do this harvesting without anxiety because anxiety both weakens our ability to turn away from sin and robs us of the courage we need to do what is right and good.
By all means, acknowledge the reality of sin and the shortcomings in your life, but dedicate more of your energies to living “according to what you have learned and accepted……then, the God of peace will be with you”.
And so, strive each day to produce a harvest of love from the vineyard of life…but avoid anxiety in the process.
(October 9, 2017: John Leonardi, Priest and Founder)
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“What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
Jesus raises a great question in today’s Gospel. And the person to whom he directs it – “a scholar of the law” – would appreciate the power of the question. Any student of the law – and in particular, anyone who practices law – knows that it isn’t enough just to know the letter of the law, but it’s also important to know how to “read” – that is, to interpret – the law so as to know how best to apply it.
Which brings us to the best – albeit, if not the most concise – answer to that question - the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Talk about a study in contrast! Two so-called experts in the letter of the law failed miserably because they did not offer any assistance to the man who fell victim to robbers, whereas the Samaritan – a man who may have known very little, if any, of the law – followed the law of compassion and common sense by tending to the needs of this unfortunate stranger by being a good neighbor.
Of course, the most important law for those who follow Jesus is the Gospel, that is, the Law of Love. It’s important for us to have a working knowledge of that Law; it’s important to know how to “read” or interpret that Law. More important, however, than knowing or interpreting it is to have the willingness to put the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Law of Love – into practice.
Today, in what ways can we be a Good Samaritan?
(October 10, 2017: Tuesday, Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You are anxious and worried about many things…”
In his Introduction to a Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Anxiety is not a simple temptation but a source from which and by which many temptations arise. With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul. Just as sedition and internal disorders bring total ruin on a State and leave it helpless to resist a foreign invader, so also, if our heart is inwardly troubled and disturbed it loses both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues it had acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy. He then uses his utmost efforts to fish, as they say, in troubled waters.” …” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, pp. 251-252)
Martha was obviously overwhelmed by her desire to do right by Jesus when it came to the practice of hospitality. Apparently more obvious to Jesus, however, was the fact that Martha was “anxious and worried about many things”. This issue of wanting help with the serving seems to have been the tip of the iceberg.
We should want to put our best foot forward when entertaining guests. We should want to give worthwhile things our best effort. We should want to do things well. We should want to get them right the first time.
And when we don’t? Deal with it; learn from it and move beyond it without being all worked up and anxious about it. Anxiety not only ruins good things, but anxiety also makes bad things even worse.
(October 11, 2017: John XXIII, Pope)
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“Lord, teach us to pray...”
In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. Of course, a more fundamental question might have been: “Teach us why we should pray.”
In a letter written to a young woman who was – you guessed it – experiencing difficulty when praying, Francis de Sales wrote:
“First, we pray to give God the honor and homage we owe Him. This can be done without His speaking to us or we to Him, for this duty is paid by remembering that He is God and we are His creatures and by remaining prostrate in spirit before him, awaiting His commands.
“Second, we pray in order to speak with God and to hear Him speak to us by inspirations and movements in the interior of our soul. Generally this is done with a very delicious pleasure, because it is a great good for us to speak to so great a Lord. When He answers He spreads abroad a thousand precious balms and unguents which give great sweetness to the soul.”
“So, one of these two goods can never fail you in prayer. If we speak to our Lord, let us speak, let us praise Him, beseech Him and listen to Him. If we cannot use our voice, still let us stay in the room and do reverence to Him. He will see us there. He will accept our patience and will favor our silence. At other times we shall be quite amazed to be taken by the hand and he will converse with us, and will make a hundred turns with us in the walks of His garden of prayer. And if He should never do these things, let us be content with our duty of being in His suite and with the great grace and too great honor He does us in accepting our presence…” (Thy Will be Done, pp. 26-27)
So, why should we pray? Well, either (1) to remind ourselves of who God is in our lives, or (2) to remind ourselves who God wants us to be in relationship with Him and each other. Regardless of how many, how few or if any words we may use in the process of praying, may God give us the grace to (1) do what we pray for and (2) pray what we do.