Spirituality Matters 2017: September 21st - September 27th

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(September 21, 2017: Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist)
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“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received…”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“During the Roman Empire, tax collecting was one of the most lucrative jobs a person could have. With the emperor’s tacit approval, collectors were free to wring all they could from their district’s taxpayers and then keep a portion of the proceeds for themselves. Caesar didn’t mind the profiteering as long as the total assessed tax was delivered to his treasury. But Jewish taxpayers forced to pay the exorbitant sums weren’t quite so forgiving, especially when the tax collector was a fellow Jew, like Matthew. Jewish tax collectors were regarded as loathsome collaborators and extortionists who exploited their own people. It’s little wonder, then, that in the Gospels tax collectors are placed on par with harlots, thieves, and other shameless public sinners.”

“Matthew collected taxes in Capernaum, a town in the northern province of Galilee and the site of a Roman garrison. Christ was a frequent visitor there, performing such miracles as healing the centurion’s servant, curing Peter’s ailing mother-in-law, and raising Jairus’ daughter form the dead. One day, while passing the customs house where Matthew was busy squeezing extra shekels from his neighbors, Christ paused to say, ‘Follow me.’ That was all it took to touch Matthew’s heart. He walked out of the customs house forever, giving up his life as a cheat to become an apostle, the author of a Gospel and eventually a martyr.” (Page 12)

Just when Matthew thought he had it made – just when he thought he was living la vita loca – Christ changed his life by calling him to live in a manner worthy of what God had in mind for him. Matthew – who clearly recognized an opportunity when he saw one – dropped everything he had valued up until that very moment to follow Jesus. And the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s amazing to consider how a handful of words can change the trajectory of one’s life. A few words from Jesus transformed Matthew from being a human being who was all about taking from others into a man who was all about giving to others - even to the point of giving his very life.

Today, how might God’s words invite us to change and to transform our lives?

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(September 22, 2017: Friday, Twenty-fourth Week in ordinary Time)
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“Pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness…”

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

“All that we must try for is to make ourselves good men and women, devout men and women, pious men and women. We must try hard to achieve this end. If it should please God to elevate us to angelical perfections, then we shall be good angels. In the meantime, however, let us try sincerely, humbly and devoutly to acquire those little virtues who conquest our Savior has set forth as the object of all our care and labor. These include patience, meekness, self-discipline, humility, obedience, poverty, chastity, tenderness toward our neighbors, bearing with others’ imperfections, diligence and holy fervor.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 127)

How do we pursue such simple – yet sublime – virtues in our attempts to “Live + Jesus”? By making the best use of them in each and every present moment as good men and good women.

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(September 23, 2017: Saturday, Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“A sower went out to sow…”

How many good beginnings in our lives have been trampled upon and/or consumed by something else? How many of us have hardened our hearts to do good things only to see them perish for lack of care? How many good ideas or intentions have failed to bear fruit because they were chocked off by anxieties and/or other concerns? And still, for all our struggles and setbacks, many of the seeds of God’s goodness in us have taken root and produced a great harvest.

Just for today, let’s hear the parable in a different way. Think of all the big plans you have made for others. Think of all the good intentions that you’ve suggested to others. Think of all expectations that you’ve cradled in your heart for others. In other words, think of all the good seeds that you’ve planted in the lives of other people. It’s very tempting – and even more discouraging – to focus on how many of those seeds never amounted to much – if anything at all. However, from a Salesian perspective, it is far better – and healthier, to boot – to focus on how the seeds that you may have possibly planted in others have taken root, have grown, and even flourished, sometimes beyond even your wildest dreams.

Can you think of any examples of this growth in your own life? Can you think of examples in the lives of others, especially in those people whom you know and love? If not, just this day how might God ask you to sow good seeds in the heart or mind of another person? How might that same God also be asking you to do your part to help make those good seeds grow?

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(September 24, 2017: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call to him while he is near.”

Whether we are conscious of it or not, all of us seek the Lord in our lives. We look for God in our homes, our neighborhoods, schools and offices. We look for God in our successes and setbacks. We look for God in our hopes, our fears and our dreams. We look for God in all that we must accomplish today.

With all that we have on our plate, who has time for all this seeking? Truth is that seeking God is not about doing anything extra, because seeking God is merely opening our minds, hearts, ears, eyes and imaginations to a God who is always with us in the midst of all the things that we have on our plate.

St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“God is in all things and all places. There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly, they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are we find God present. Everyone knows this truth - intellectually - but not everyone is successful in bringing this truth home to themselves.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II, Chapter 2)

Not only is God always where you are "but (he is) also present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit. He enlivens and animates you by his divine presence, for God is there as the heart of your heart and the spirit of your spirit." (Ibid)

So the problem is not that God is not present in our lives; rather, we simply - and tragically - fail to recognize God's presence. Francis wrote:

“Although faith assures us of his presence, yet because we do not see him with our eyes we often forget about God and behave as if God were far distant from us. While we intellectually know that God is present in all things, we fail to reflect upon this truth and act as if we did not know it.” (Ibid)

One of the most powerful and effective means to seek the Lord - to see the Lord who is always present - is prayer. No matter how busy, frustrated, lonely or elated we become or no matter how full our daily plate might be, we can always pray a word, a phrase, a thought or image that reminds us that the God who created us, who redeemed us and who inspires is, indeed, Emmanuel, a name that means God-is-with-us!

Why is this truth so important? When we are aware of the presence of God, we are more likely to treat one another in a loving, peaceful, caring, kind, truthful and gentle manner. By contrast, when we fail to recall the presence of God, we…well…we are more likely to behave in ungodly ways.

Seek...see the Lord who is always present in yourself...in others...in all the activities of each day. Remember to think, feel, dream, work and act accordingly!

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(September 25, 2017: Monday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light…”

Lighting a lamp, only to subsequently hide it? From a Salesian perspective, that certainly sounds a lot like the practice of false humility.

In a Lenten sermon, Francis de Sales made the following observation:

“We must indeed keep ourselves humble because of our imperfections, but this humility must be the foundation of a great generosity, for the one without the other degenerates into imperfection. Humility without generosity is only a deception and a cowardice of the heart that makes us think that we are good for nothing and that others should never think of using us for anything great.”

Imperfect as we are, the light of God’s love implanted in us is not meant to be hidden – it is meant to be shared. So, let your light shine for and with others!


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(September 26, 2017: Tuesday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

In earlier times in human history – before the development and growth of urban centers – communities tended to be small and tight-knit. Everybody knew everybody else, so much so, that when asked to identify members of a particular clan, tribe or family it was easy to pick them out by how they looked, spoke or acted.

We are children of the Father, siblings of Jesus and embodiments of the Holy Spirit.

How easily do others identify us as members of God’s family by how we look, speak and act?

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(September 27, 2017: Vincent de Paul, Priest and Founder)
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“Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic.”

When it comes to making progress along the road of life, Jesus is challenging us to travel lightly. While we should make some long-term plans for our lives and adjust those plans on a daily basis, Jesus urges us to resist the temptation to pack too many things that we figure we might “need” for the journey.

All of us probably have seen people struggling with way-too-much luggage on vacation. In their attempt to prepare for just about every contingency that they might encounter during the course of their journey, they overdue it. What is the result? Ironically enough, all the stuff that they packed to help them prepare for the trip ends up becoming the biggest hindrance on the trip.

In a letter addressed to Jane de Chantal (January 1615), Francis de sales wrote:

“May God be with you on your journey. May God keep you clothed in the garment of his charity. May God nourish your soul with the heavenly bread of his consolation. May God bring you back safe and sound…May God be your God forever.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 226)

Whatever else she may have packed for her journey, Francis de Sales invited her (in the form of a blessing) to focus on the few things that she would truly need for her trip. The list might not sound like much, but upon closer review, it contains Those things that really matter.

Today, what provisions – if anything – will we choose to bring with us on the journey of life?