Spirituality Matters 2018: August 16th - August 22nd

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(August 16, 2018: Thursday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You live in the midst of a rebellious house...”

Maximilian Kolbe once wrote:

"No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hetacombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?" ( http://catholicfire.blogspot.com/2006/08/favorite-quotes-from-st-maximilian.html )

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

“Love of God and self-love are in our heart like Jacob and Esau in Rebecca’s womb: they have great antipathy and opposition to one another and continually struggle within our hearts…We must have courage, hoping in the words of our Lord, who promises even as he gives commands, and commands even as he promises victory for his love. He seems to say to the soul what he caused to be said to Rebecca: ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be divided out of your body, and one people shall overcome the other.’” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 20, pp. 254-255)

We know about this struggle ourselves. Why do we do the evil that we shouldn’t? Why do we fail to do the good that we should? What will come of this struggle between good and evil in us? Recall the words of the Cherokee legend:

An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil -- he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego. The other is good---he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too." They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?" The old Cherokee simply replied: "The one you feed".

Today, which wolf in your house will you feed?

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(August 17, 2018: Friday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I will re-establish my covenant with you…”

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

“In his infinite mercy God would never be unbending toward the work of his hands. He saw that we were clothed ‘in flesh, a wind’ which is dissipated as it goes, ‘and does not return.’ Therefore, according to the bowels of his mercy he did not will to cast us into total ruin, nor to take from us the sign of his lost grace. This was in order that as we saw him and felt within us this covenant and this inclination to love him, we should strive to do so, and that no one could justly ask, ‘Who will show us good things?’ By this natural inclination alone we cannot attain the joy of loving God as he should be loved. Still, if we would only use it faithfully, the sweetness of God’s divine mercy would grant us some help and by it we might go forward. If we cooperate with this first assistance God’s fatherly goodness would afford us another still greater help. He would most gently lead us from good to better, until he had brought us to the supreme love toward which our own inclination naturally urges us. It is certain that to him he who ‘is faithful over a few things’ and has done what is in his power, a benevolent God never denies his help to advance him more and more.” (TLG, Book I, Chapter 18, p. 98)

This faithfulness is the nature of God’s covenant with us. Notwithstanding our infidelity, God is forever faithful to us. No matter what we do or don’t do, God “never denies his help” to us in our attempts – however imperfect - to be the people that God calls us to be.

Today, what return can we make for such mercy and generosity on God’s part? The answer - by doing our level best to never deny our help to others in need.

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(August 18, 2018: Saturday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“If a man is virtuous, he shall surely live…”

Practicing virtue – that is, developing the habit of doing what is good – is the ultimate expression of any authentic spirituality. In the Salesian tradition, it isn’t enough to do what is good, but one also has to do what is good in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which one finds oneself.

In her book Earth Crammed with Heaven, Elizabeth Dreyer wrote:

“Francis de Sales stands out as one who was firmly convinced that people in every walk of life are called to holiness. His life’s effort, truly innovative in his day, was to help people find God in their particular life calling. The nearness of God was not the exclusive domain of any one group in the church. ‘True devotion,’ he said, ‘adorns and beautifies any vocation or employment.’ He constantly opposed the tendency, frequently found among those who want to live a spiritual; life, to seek the virtues of another state in life while neglecting those proper to one’s vocation. The home is not a convent and the virtues of the monastic life are not lived in the same way in family life…” (p. 46)

We will truly live to the extent that we practice virtue. We will truly live life to the full to the extent that we practice the virtues proper to the events, circumstances and relationships that we experience day in and day out.

Today, what virtues might God be calling you to practice?

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(August 19, 2018: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him (her).”

What a wonderful gift the Eucharist is! Jesus gives us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. And he commands us to eat and drink of his flesh and his blood in order that we might have life - eternal life.

In today’s first reading, taken from the Book of Wisdom, Jesus invites us to the meal he has prepared for us, a meal that enables us to unite ourselves to his saving death and resurrection. On the Cross Jesus’ flesh was pierced and his blood shed for others, including for you and me. As we eat and drink, we are called to forsake foolishness that we might live and advance in the way of understanding. (Proverbs)

The words of Wisdom remind us that this meal is a sacred, covenantal meal. In Jesus, God’s great love and mercy become visible, tangible. When we eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood, we are expressing our willingness to be one with Jesus in his saving mission to the world. We announce his good news to today’s world. In this meal, we become one with Jesus and one with the community, one in the Body of Christ. As we leave this sacred meal, we are challenged to live this daily reality of our oneness.

St. Francis de Sales offers us some practical advice on how to make this manner of living happen more effectively. After Communion, he says: consider Jesus seated in your heart and bring before him each of your faculties and senses in order to hear his commands and promise him fidelity. This exercise can become our thanksgiving and our commitment to living out what we have celebrated and received. Jesus will offer us a way of using our intellect, our will, our memory, our hearing, our touching and our speaking today in a way that gives witness to God’s loving presence in the world.

St. Paul today encourages us: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise persons. Our eating and drinking at the table of the Lord makes all of us one. May the wise ways in which we attempt to walk today make visible the oneness we experience in Eucharist. Remember: you are what you eat…you are what you drink.

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(August 20, 2018: Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church )
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“If you wish to be perfect, sell what you have and give to the poor…”

And the man went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Listen carefully to Jesus’ words. He doesn’t say, “Give it all to the poor.” He does say, “Give to the poor.” These words presume that what – or how much – is given to the poor is left to the individual to decide. In the case of the unnamed young man in today’s Gospel, perhaps his sadness was caused by the fact that he didn’t want to give anything away – not one bit – to the poor. If, in fact, he had many possessions. He is reluctant to share even the smallest amount of his good fortune with those less fortunate than he is, making it even more saddening.

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

“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches that God has given us. Frequently give up some of your property by giving it with a generous heart to the poor. To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become. It is true that God will repay us not only in the next world but even in this world…Oh, how holy and how rich is the poverty brought on by giving alms!” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 15. p. 165)

Listen carefully to Francis’ words: “Frequently give up some of your property…”

Count your blessings. Name your possessions. Be they material, like money, or non-material, like influence, time or talent. What transforms our riches into wealth is our willingness to share them with the poor, with the impoverished, with the less-fortunate and with those who have fallen on hard times.

Do you want to gain eternal life? Today then, how many – or much – of your possessions are you willing to share with anyone poor or needy?

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(August 21, 2018: Pius X, Pope)
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“It will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Riches themselves are not the greatest obstacle to our entering into the Kingdom of God. From a Salesian perspective, it is our desire for riches that poses the problem - the grandeur with which we protect them and the passion with which we pursue them.

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

“Your heart must be open to heaven alone and impervious to riches and all other transitory things. Whatever part of them you may possess, you must keep your heart free from too strong an affection for them. Always keep your heart above riches: even when your heart is surrounded by riches, see to it that your heart remains distinct from them and master over them. Do not allow your heavenly spirit to become captive to earthly things. Let your heart remain always superior to riches and over them – not in them… I willingly grant that you may take care to increase your wealth and resources, provided this is done not only justly but also properly and charitably.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 163)

How can we determine if our possessions might be holding us back from the Kingdom of Heaven? Francis wrote:

“If you find your heart very desolated and devastated at the loss of anything you possess then believe me when I tell you that you love it too much. The strongest proof of how deeply we are attached to possessions is the degree of suffering we experience when we lose it.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 164)

Are we experiencing any difficulties as we strive to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven during our journeys here on earth? Perhaps, it is because our possessions have somehow managed to possess us!

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(August 22, 2018: Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“Are you envious because I am generous?”

The parable in today’s Gospel certainly suggests that those who labored the longest surely were envious! They felt cheated, because as we are told, they “grumbled” –when they realized that the landowner had paid them the same amount as those who had barely worked a few hours!

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

“We must be most careful not to spend much time wondering why God bestows a grace upon one person rather than another, or why God makes his favors abound on behalf of one rather than another. No, never give in to such musings. Since each of us has a sufficient – rather, an abundant measure of all things required or salvation – who in all the world can rightly complain if it pleases God to bestow his graces more largely on some than on others?” (Living Jesus, 0618, p. 246)

Of course, given how generous God is to us we would never be envious or complain about somebody else having more than we do - or would we?