Spirituality Matters 2018: April 5th - April 11th

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(April 5, 2018: Thursday, Octave of Easter )
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“He showed them his hands and his feet.”

Following Jesus' crucifixion, the apostles were afraid. Their fear was quite understandable - perhaps even prudent - when you consider the real possibility that they would suffer the same death as Jesus, if they were identified as his followers.

Jesus breaks into their lives in the midst of their fears. He attempts to calm their fears. He challenges them to be at peace by showing them his hands and his feet. Given the horrible wounds visible in both places, one might say that this is quite a strange way to dispel others’ anxiety and grief!

Despite the power and glory of the resurrection, Jesus still bore the legacy of pain, disappointment, rejection, humiliation, suffering and death on his body. Herein lay the promise and the hope that Jesus offered: pain, suffering and loss - despite the scars that they leave - need not be the last word for those who believe in the love of God.

St. Francis de Sales wrote: “We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible forbearance the injuries, denial and discomforts we meet.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Pt III, Chap 3)

All of us have experienced pain and suffering. All of us bear the wounds of failure, betrayal, deception, disappointment and loss. Our hearts, our minds, our memories - our souls - have the scars to prove it. Out of fear of being hurt further, like the apostles, we sometimes lock ourselves away in some small emotional or spiritual corner of the world, living in fear of what other pain or disappointments may come our way. We withdraw from life. In effect, we die with no hope of resurrection.

Jesus shows us that while we, too, have been wounded by life, the scars of pain, rejection, misunderstanding and mishap do not need to have the last word. We may, indeed, be permanently affected by things both unfortunate and unfair, but these need not rob us of the power and promise of recovery, of renewal - of resurrection - unless we allow ourselves to be defeated by the nails of negativity, by the lance of loss.

The scars of our humanity are a part of our past and a part of our present. They need not, however, determine the course of our future. Let's keep things in perspective. St. Francis de Sales remind us: "Look often on Christ, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, and overwhelmed by every kind of weariness, sorrow and labor."

Jesus not only survived but he also thrived! His faith, his passion, his resilience and his love, indeed, had the last word in his life.

Today, won't you let his words have the same effect in your life?

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(April 6, 2018: Friday, Octave of Easter )
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“Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples...”

Familiar with the term “one-hit wonder”?

“A one-hit wonder is a person or act known mainly for only a single success. The term is most often used to describe music performers with only one hit single. Because one-hit wonders are often popular for only a brief time, their hits often have nostalgic value and are featured on era-centric compilations and soundtracks to period films. One-hit wonders are normal in any era of pop music, but are most common during reigns of entire genres that do not last for more than a few years.” (Wikipedia)

When it comes to post-Resurrection appearances, Jesus was no one-hit wonder. Between the time of his Resurrection and his Ascension, Scripture records at least ten distinct appearances. Jesus spoke, ate and drank (even cooked) with and embraced a wide swathe of people during these appearances – some small and intimate, others large and profoundly public.

Today’s Gospel account from John recounts a small, more intimate appearance that Jesus makes to seven people. We are told that this was the “third time” Jesus was revealed to his disciples. Peter and the others go fishing but their efforts leave them empty-handed. Suddenly Jesus (initially unrecognized) appears and calls to them from the shore, directing them to cast their nets in a different place. Overwhelmed with the number of fish that they subsequently catch, Peter apparently is struck by the sense of déjà vue – he becomes eerily conscious of the almost-identical circumstances associated with his very first encounter with Jesus three years before. From that moment on, there is no question in his mind that “it is the Lord”.

Our Catholic-Christian tradition contains countless accounts of how the Risen Jesus continues to reveal himself unexpectedly in the lives of ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. Put another way, when it comes to post-Resurrection appearances, the hits keep coming.

Today, how might the Risen Jesus reveal himself to you? Will you recognize Him?

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(April 7, 2018: Saturday, Octave of Easter )
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“Observing the boldness of Peter and John…ordinary men.”

Many of us have been brought up to believe that boldness is something that we should eschew. This fact may be especially true for those who have been addressed at some point in their lives as a “bold, brazen article”! Such a description is certainly not an accolade that folks would normally seek!

Peter and John were bold: so bold as to identify themselves as the “companions of Jesus”, so bold as to proclaiming in Jesus “the resurrection of the dead”, and so bold as to heal a crippled man in the name of Jesus. Even after being detained, interrogated and ordered by the Sanhedrin to stop speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus – or else – Peter and John told them flat out that they would continue to speak about what they “had seen and heard” with vim and vigor, apparently without much – if any – care or concern about their own health, wealth or welfare.

There can be no doubt that the Pharisees, Scribes and Elders might have considered Peter and John to be – in their own way – bold, brazen articles! No surprise here, if you consider that these same Pharisees, Scribes and Elders had formed the same opinion of Jesus.

It’s probably safe to say that on most days we preach and practice the Gospel in measured, discrete and considerate ways. We’re not trying to make waves and we’re not trying to draw crowds. In fact, we might actually be trying our level best to “stay under the radar”. But there are times in our lives when it is both fitting – and perhaps, even imperative – that we proclaim and preach the Gospel in ways that other people might consider bold, perhaps even brazen!

In those moments, do we – ordinary men and women that we are – have the courage to identify ourselves as the “companions of Jesus”?

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(April 8, 2018: Second Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday)
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“He showed them his hands and his side.”

In the wake of Jesus' crucifixion and death, the apostles were locked away together in fear. They were afraid that they might suffer the same fate as their teacher. Despite their anxious seclusion, Jesus breaks into their lives. Not only does he break into the physical space in which they were taking refuge, but Jesus also breaks into the core of their minds and hearts. Jesus attempts to calm their fears. He challenges them to be at peace. He does these things in a rather confrontational and mysterious manner: by showing them the wounds in his hands and side.

Perhaps not so mysterious, however, if we understand them in the context of words spoken by the character of Dr. Hannibal Lector in the closing scene of the film Red Dragon: “Our scars have the power to remind us that the past was real”.

It is remarkable that the experience of resurrection did not remove the scars of Jesus' woundedness - the lasting marks of pain, disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection, betrayal, humiliation, abandonment, suffering and death. These wounds notwithstanding, Christ's resurrection powerfully demonstrated that pain, sadness, suffering and injustice - as real as they were - did not, ultimately, wield the last word. While suffering was clearly a part of Jesus’ life, there was so much more to his life than just suffering.

St. Francis de Sales wrote:

"We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance, and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible forbearance the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet." (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 3)

All of us bear the wounds of failure, deception, betrayal, disappointment and loss. Our hearts, our minds, our memories - our souls - bear the scars to prove it. Like the apostles, we, too, are tempted to withdraw from others, to lock ourselves away in some secluded emotional or spiritual corner, living in fear of what other pain or disappointments may come our way. Of course, in withdrawing from life, we figuratively - in some cases, even literally - die.

Jesus clearly demonstrates in his own life that our wounds do not necessarily need to overwhelm or disable us. While these wounds may be permanent, they need not rob us of the power and promise of recovery, of renewal - of resurrection - unless we despair and allow ourselves to be defeated by the nails of negativity.

The wounds of our past certainly leave their mark in our present. They don't necessarily determine the course of our future.

Today, turn to the love of Jesus who knows what it means to be wounded and who shows us how to move through and beyond our wounds…and the scars they leave.

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(April 9, 2018: Annunciation of the Lord )
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“Do not be afraid, Mary…”

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

“We do not always have to feel strong and courageous; it is enough to hope that we will have strength and courage when and where we need them…So now, since you belong entirely to God, why be afraid of your weakness – on which, in any case, you shouldn’t be relying? You do hope in God, don’t you? And will anyone who hopes in Him ever be put to shame? No, never. I beg you, calm all the objections that might be taking shape in your mind and to which you need give no other answer than that you want to be faithful at all times and that you hope God will see to it that you are, without trying to figure out if He will or not.” (LSD, p. 181-182)

Mary was troubled by the angel’s message. Her mind was awash with questions about what this greeting meant for her. There’s no doubt that she was startled; perhaps, initially even afraid. But she worked through her fear; she did not allow herself to be overwhelmed by any objections that might have been forming in her mind. Putting her hope, faith and trust in God, Mary was able to simply say “yes” to God’s invitation to her to become the mother of the Messiah. For His part, God gave Mary the ability to be faithful at all times.

Today, like Mary, do you hope in God?

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(April 10, 2018: Tuesday, Second Week of Easter)
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"The community of believers was of one heart and mind...”

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

“‘By the Word,’ St. John said, that is, by that eternal Word who is the Son of God, ‘all things were made.’ Therefore, since this Word is most simple and most single, it produces all the variety among things. Since it is unchanging, it produces all changes that are good. Finally, since it abides eternally, it gives to all things their succession, changes, order rank and season.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 2, p. 106)

Saint Francis de Sales reminds us of one very important aspect of any community and/or family - diversity! While the early Christian “community of believers” may have been of one heart and mind, it’s difficult to imagine that this state could be achieved without its share of challenges, conflicts and controversy. The fact that community always has its share of diversity begs the question: “What distinguishes a community that is “of one heart and mind” from one that is not? Perhaps it’s the ability – and the willingness – to agree on the things or values in life that really matter in order to build consensus around the issues that are really worth honoring as non-negotiables.

Today, how might God call you to be “of one heart and mind” with others?

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(April 11, 2018: Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr)
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“Whoever lives the truth comes to the light so that his works may be clearly seen…”

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

“When our mind is raised above the natural light of reason and begins to see the sacred truth of faith, O God, what joy ensues! As yet we do not see his face in the clear day of glory, but as it were in the first dawn of the day. If divine truths are so sweet when proposed in the obscure light of faith, O God, what shall those truths be like when we contemplate them in the noonday light of glory! We will see God manifest with incomprehensible clarity the wonders and eternal secrets of his supreme truth and with such light that our intellect will see in its very presence what it had believed here below!” (TLG, Book III, Chapter 29, pp. 189-190)

Living in the light of God’s truth enables us to see clearly God’s works in our lives. May our attempts at living in the light of God’s truth also enable other people to see clearly our works in their lives! After all, while we do walk by faith, we also walk by sight!

Today, what will people see in me that gives witness to the truth of what God sees in all of us?