Spirituality Matters 2018: April 12th - April 18th

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(April 12, 2018: Thursday, Second Week of Easter )
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“The one who is of earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things…

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 everything 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 purpose, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth’…Although we may sometime discreetly and prudently hide and disguise the truth by an equivocal statement, this must never be done except when the matter is important and God’s glory and service clearly require it. In any other such case such tricks are dangerous. As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or slippery soul. No artifice is as good and desirable as plain dealing. Worldly prudence and earthly artifice belong to the children of this world, but the children of God walk a straight path and their heart is without guile. Lying, double-dealing and dissimilation are always signs of a weak, mean mind.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

How can I tell if I am a person “who is of earth” or “who is of heaven”? In the opinion of Francis de Sales, look no further than the kind of words that come out of your mouth.

Of what kind of things – and values – will you speak today?

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(April 13, 2018: Friday, Second Week of Easter )
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“What good are these for so many?”

Overwhelmed by the size and scope of the needs of the throng gathered before them, we can understand the skepticism of Philip and the other disciples regarding Jesus announced desire to feed the “large crowd”. You can hear it in their voices. Does Jesus really know what he’s up against? Does Jesus really grasp the situation? Is Jesus – perhaps – out of touch with the enormity of the challenge – and potential disaster – lying before him? Was it possible that Jesus had been out in the sun too long?

In light of this dynamic consider this question: was the miracle that Jesus subsequently – and convincingly – performed solely for the benefit of the “five thousand”? In addition to meeting the physical hunger of “the large crowd”, perhaps Jesus performed this miracle for the benefit of “the twelve”. The lesson? When faced with the needs of others, do not discount what you bring to the table, regardless of how small or insignificant it may appear. As overwhelming as the hungers of other people may be, we’ll never know how much – or how little – we can do for them unless we first try.

What good am I for so many? Remember to let Jesus weigh in on that question.

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(April 14, 2018: Saturday, Second Week of Easter )
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“Do not be afraid...”

“Terrible thing, to live in fear. Brooks Hatlen knew it. Knew it all too well. All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won't have to be afraid all the time…” (Morgan Freeman as Ellis Boyd Redding in The Shawshank Redemption.)

It isn’t all-together clear why the disciples were afraid in today’s selection from John’s Gospel. Was it the darkness? Was it the strong wind? Was it the appearance of Jesus? Regardless of the answer, they were fearful, but before their fear could get the upper hand, they suddenly discovered that they were also safe.

In a letter he wrote to an unnamed gentleman, Francis de Sales made the following observation:

“Mistrust of our strength is not a lack of resolve, but a true recognition of our weakness. It is better to distrust our capacity to resist temptation than to be sure that we are strong enough to do so, so long as we don’t count on from our own strength we don count on from the grace of God. This is how it happens that many persons who very confidently promised to do marvels for God failed when under fire, whereas many who greatly mistrusted their own strength and were afraid they would fail accomplished wonders when the time came, because the great awareness of their own weakness forced them to seek God’s help to watch, pray and be humble, so as not to fall into temptation…God, who does nothing in vain, does not give us either strength or courage when we don’t need them, but only when we do. He never fails us. Consequently, we must always hope that He will help us if we entreat Him to do so…Many are afraid before the skirmish, but the actual danger fills them with courage. We must not be afraid of fear. So much for that!” (LSD, p. 181)

What is there to fear? Great question! Perhaps, that question is the first step to avoid living in fear - to name what it is that you are tempted to fear. Perhaps, the second step to avoid living in fear is to believe that God will give you the strength or courage you need to deal with your fears when you need it.

And not when you don’t!

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(April 15, 2018: Third Sunday of Easter)
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"Peace be with you."

In 1954, the great French painter, Henri Matisse, died at the age of eighty-six. In the last years of his life, arthritis crippled and deformed his hands, making it painful for him to hold a paintbrush. Yet he continued to paint, placing a cloth between his fingers to keep the brush from slipping. One day someone asked him:

  • Why did he submit his body to so much suffering?
  • Why did he continue to paint in the face of such great physical pain?
Matisse's response went something like this: the pain eventually passes, while the beauty remains.

Why tell that story on the third Sunday of Easter? If we look at the Gospel passage from Luke, Jesus encounters his disciples for the first time and says, “Peace be with you”. This particular passage from Luke follows the experience of two disciples on the way to Emmaus. As in the case of Jesus’ first disciples, we, too, can find ourselves still wondering about (perhaps even disbelieving on occasion) in the presence of God in our messy and sometimes even joyless lives.

Some of us gather Sunday after Sunday in church. We wonder if all the claims of faith and stories of Jesus are true. How can Jesus give peace to our lives when we feel that our lives are anything but peaceful? How do we experience peace even as we are full of worries about the house, the car, the kids, the job, and the demands and deadlines of our state and stage of life?

When do we possibly find or make the time to be at peace? How can Jesus possibly provide this kind of peace for which each of us – and all of us - long so deeply?

Remember the story of Henri Matisse? In a similar way, many of the worries, pains and frustrations that we experience will also fade away. At some point in the process many of the worries, pains and frustrations that we experience can be used to shape us into something useful and beautiful for God and for one another. And the beauty of what we become in the process will ultimately prevail long after the world, as we know it, has passed away.

Saint Francis de Sales reminds us:

“Do not worry about the tensions and struggles in your life, because the same loving Father who takes care of you today, will take care of you tomorrow; either He will shield you from suffering or He will give us the unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.”

In the midst of life’s difficulties may Christ’s peace be with us - a peace that helps us to embrace all of life’s challenges but likewise enables us to see and reflect – life’s greater beauty!

Today and every day!

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(April 16, 2018: Monday, Third Week of Ester )
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“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord...”

In today’s Gospel the question is asked of Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God”? The answer is found in the antiphon from today’s Responsorial Psalm: “Follow the law of the Lord”.

What does it look like when we follow the law of the Lord? In the mind of St. Francis de Sales, the answer is: “Living a life of devotion”.

“Devotion is simply that spiritual agility and vivacity by which charity works in us or by the aid of which we work quickly and lovingly. Just as the function of charity is to enable us to observe all of God’s commandments (the law of the Lord) in general and without exception, so it is the part of devotion to enable us to observe them more quickly and diligently.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

Devotion enables us to follow the law of the Lord. Devotion enables us “to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired”. (Ibid) Such devotion enables us not only to experience the blessings of life for ourselves, but also to be a blessing in the lives of others.

Today, how might we follow the law of the Lord?

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(April 17, 2018: Tuesday, Third Week of Easter)
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“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?”

Jesus was constantly bombarded with requests for signs. People were constantly looking for reasons to put their faith in Jesus, but they wanted him to perform wonders and miracles in order to be convinced. In his life, Jesus gave people more than enough signs to believe in him. Unfortunately, those signs fell on the deaf ears, blind eyes and hard hearts of people who were basically saying to Jesus: “Sure, but what have you done for me lately”?

Aren’t we sometimes guilty of asking God for a favor, a sign or a wonder in order that we might really, really believe in him? Notwithstanding God’s proven track record of mercy and generosity in our regard, aren’t we sometimes guilty of saying to God, in effect: “Sure, but what have you done for me lately”?

What remedy can we apply to this temptation of constantly asking God for signs in order that we might believe in him? How about asking the question, “What signs can we do in order that others may see and believe in him”? In other words, how can we live our lives in ways that help others to believe in God? Rather than asking for signs, we should be asking to be signs in other people’s lives!

What have we done for God – or others – lately?

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(April 18, 2018: Wednesday, Third Week of Easter)
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“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger or thirst…”

In a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde (dated August 24, 1613), Francis de Sales wrote:

“As your heart continues receiving its Savior more often (in Communion) it would also continue being more perfectly converted to him. During the twenty-five years that I have been serving souls, experience has given me an insight into the all-powerful virtue of the Divine Sacrament for confirming hearts in the way of goodness, preserving them from evil, consoling them, and in a word, making them god-like in this world, provided that they are moved by a right faith, by purity and devotion.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, Chapter 29, pp. 215)

Jesus is the bread of life. Whoever comes to him – whoever receives him – will never hunger. Whoever believes in him – whoever receives him – will never thirst: with, perhaps, one exception - the hunger and thirst to follow Jesus’ example in doing what is good!