Spirituality Matters 2018: August 23rd - August 29th

* * * * *
(August 23, 2018: Thursday, Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Many are invited, but few are chosen...”

We are all familiar with the story of the Annunciation. An angel appears to Mary, announcing that God has chosen her to be the Mother of the Messiah. Notwithstanding a bit of foreboding and a few understandable questions that she posed to the angel, the scene ends with Mary accepting the invitation to play her role in God’s plan of salvation.

Mary’s affirmative response to God’s invitation is in stark contrast to the apathy of many portrayed in today’s Gospel parable. The “king” (obviously, God) repeatedly invites people from hill and dale to accept his invitation to attend his son’s wedding. (By extension, God is asking people to say “yes” to the power, promise and possibilities embodied in his Son, Jesus.) These people simply couldn’t care less, prompting the king to cast his net of hospitality further and further afield.

On any given day God invites each of us to play our unique role in God’s ongoing plan of salvation. Each and every day God invites us to draw nearer to the feast that is his Son, Jesus Christ.

Today, how will we respond to God’s invitation to the feast?

* * * * *
(August 24, 2018: Bartholomew, Apostle)
* * * * *

“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom…”

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

“You can see how God – by progressive stages filled with unutterable sweetness – leads the soul forward and enables it to leave the Egypt of sin. He leads it from love to love, as from dwelling to dwelling, until He has made it enter into the Promised Land. By this I mean that God brings it into most holy charity, which, to state it succinctly, is a form of friendship…Such friendship is true friendship, since it is reciprocal, for God has eternally loved all those who have loved Him, who now love Him or who will love Him in time…He has openly revealed all His secrets to us as to His closest friends…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 22, pp. 160 - 161)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is clear and unambiguous about the quality that makes Bartholomew (a.k.a., Nathaniel) a friend of God: “There is no guile in him.” There is no pretense in Bartholomew – nothing fake, nothing phony. Jesus sees him as a man who is real, authentic and transparent. In other words, Jesus is an open book.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offered some practical advice regarding how to practice the virtue of guilelessness

“Your language should be retrained, frank, sincere, candid unaffected and honest…As the sacred Scripture tells us, The Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul. No artifice is so good and desirable as plain dealing. Worldly prudence and carnal artifice belong to the children of this world, but the children (the friends) of God walk a straight path and their hearts are without guile.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Today, do you want to be a friend of God? Then, Like Bartholomew, strive to be guileless. Simply try to be yourself – nothing more and nothing less.

* * * * *
(August 25, 2018: Saturday, Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you…”

But do not follow their example. Jesus’ criticism, of course, is directed at the scribes and the Pharisees. There is good news and bad news about these religious peers of Jesus. The good news? They excelled at telling other people how to live a virtuous life! The bad news? They failed to practice what they preached.

In other words, they lived life by a double standard. As Francis de sales once described, they had two hearts:

“A mild, gracious and courteous attitude toward themselves and another that was hard, severe and rigorous toward their neighbors. They had two weights: one to weight goods to their own greatest possible advantage and another to weight their neighbors to their greatest disadvantage.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 216)

To make matters even worse, not only did the scribes and Pharisees weigh one weight to their neighbors’ greatest disadvantage, but they also laid heavy burdens on others – hard to carry – without lifting even so much as a finger to help carry them.

Francis de Sales’ condemnation of living life by a double standard is short but not very sweet: “To have two weights – one heavier with which to receive and the other lighter with which to dispense – ‘is an abominable thing to the Lord.’” (Ibid)

Today, do you want to be the greatest among others in the sight of God? Then live not by two standards, but by one - God’s standard. Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, try your level best this day to treat others as you would want them to treat you. Let others see in you someone who not only talks the talk but who walks the walk.

The talk – and walk – of love.

* * * * *
(August 26, 2018: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“Decide today whom you will serve.”

Our worlds change - sometimes constantly. We might tend to think of the “changing world” as something only outside or beyond ourselves. But sometimes the most difficult world to accept with all its changes is the world within each of us, the one with turmoil and vicissitudes that perhaps are known only to ourselves.

Today, we speak of the importance of making good decisions and choices. Everyone wants to be free. Everyone wants autonomy. Well, certainly God wants us to have that freedom as well, as it is the most dramatic and far-reaching gift he has given us. In the first reading today, Joshua addresses this freedom head on: “Decide today whom you will serve”. That’s about as direct and as contemporary a message that we could have. What do you want? Well, decide! There is no room for the wishy-washy in Joshua’s approach. There is also no doubt where he stands: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Paul confronts the same issue in his letter on married life: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This opening statement is critical because without it the later advice to be subservient could appear demeaning or even appalling. The ‘subordination’ to which the Christian is called is always presented within and because of love – Christ’s love. The love of Christ is why we serve others, and put ourselves at least second, if not literally last. Christ loved us first and showed us the way to life. To put others first, especially in a relationship – or in a family – is the only way to have life, and to share life, to the full.

It is also the only way to make love truly life-giving.

This teaching of Christ can be “hard”, and the early followers of Christ found it so, but like Peter in the Gospel, when all is said and done, “to whom shall we go?” Again and again, the losses and trials of life affirm that only He has “the words of eternal life”.

Francis de Sales reminds us that instability in life is inevitable, and it is our failure to recognize the truth that makes us unstable and changeable in our moods. He encourages us to remain firm and steadfast in our resolutions. The challenge of our changing world

“within” is one of constancy. And that constancy is achieved by fidelity to the decisions we make in daily life to love and serve the Lord and one another – the very resolution with which we close every liturgy.

* * * * *
(August 27, 2018: Monica )
* * * * *

“We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith.”

“St. Monica was married by arrangement to a pagan official in North Africa, who was much older than she, and although generous, was also violent tempered. His mother lived with them and was equally difficult, which proved a constant challenge to St. Monica. She had three children; Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. Through her patience and prayers, she was able to convert her husband and his mother to the Christian faith in 370. He died a year later. Perpetua and Navigius entered the religious life. St. Augustine was much more difficult, as she had to pray for him for seventeen years, begging the prayers of priests who - for a while - tried to avoid her because of her persistence at this seemingly hopeless endeavor. One priest did attempt to encourage her by saying, ‘It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.’ This thought, coupled with a vision that she had received, strengthened her in her prayers and hopes for her son. Finally, St. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose in 387. St. Monica died later that same year in the Italian town of Ostia, on the way back to Africa from Rome.” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=1 )

We can all relate to Saint Monica. We all have people in our lives for whom we want the best. We all have people in our lives that we want to be happy. We all have people in our lives about whom we have concerns and heartaches. Of course, as much as we might love someone else, we cannot live their lives for them. Sometimes, the most we can do is to pray for them, encourage them and support them. As for the rest, we need to leave it in the hands of God, trusting that God will bring about the good when the appointed hour has come.

Notwithstanding that she was his mother, Monica knew that her son had to find his own way. Rather than attempt to control her son, she placed all her care and concerns into the hands – and the heart – of a loving God.

With remarkable results.

How might we imitate her example as it relates to our loved ones for whom we want nothing but the very best?

* * * * *
(August 28, 2018: Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.

“This famous son of St. Monica was born in Africa and spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. Though he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been raised a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride closed his mind to divine truth. Through the prayers of his holy mother and the marvelous preaching of St. Ambrose, Augustine gradually became convinced that Christianity was indeed the one true faith. Yet he did not become a Christian even then, because he thought he could never live a pure life.”

“One day, however, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted after reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terribly ashamed of himself. ‘What are we doing?’ he cried to his friend Alipius. ‘Unlearned people are taking heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!’ Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine cried out to God, ‘How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?’ Just then he heard a child singing, ‘Take up and read!’ Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul, and read the first passage upon which his gaze fell. It was just what Augustine needed, for in it, St. Paul said to put away all impurity and to live in imitation of Jesus. That did it! From then on, Augustine began a new life.( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=418 )

In his Letter to the Thessalonians, that same Paul who had such a powerful influence in the life of Augustine challenges us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of God. Desirable as that goal may be, the ability to walk in God’s ways – as we see so clearly in the life of Saint Augustine – doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. For most of us, being strengthened in every good word and deed takes a long time – in fact, it takes a lifetime.

Today, ask yourself – how am I doing?

* * * * *
(August 29, 2018: Passion of John the Baptist)
* * * * *

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

“All the martyrs died for divine love. When we say that many of them died for the faith, we must not imply that it was for a ‘dead faith’ but rather for a living faith, that is, faith animated by charity. Moreover, our confession of faith is not so much an act of the intellect as an act of the will and love of God. For this reason, on the day of the Passion the great St. Peter preserved his faith in his soul – but lost charity – since he refused in words to admit as Master Him whom in his heart he acknowledged to be such. But there are other martyrs who died expressly for charity alone. Such was the Savior’s great Precursor who suffered martyrdom because he gave fraternal correction…” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 10, pp. 40-41)

We see in John the Baptist a person who was faithful to his unique vocation. As the herald of Jesus both before and after the latter’s baptism in the Jordan, John respected, honored and loved the Lord, as well as the things, values and standards of the Lord. His willingness to tend to the affairs entrusted to him by God impelled him to confront Herod on his immoral lifestyle (taking his brother’s wife to be his own) in a very public forum. Obviously, minding his own affairs didn’t happen in a vacuum – it impacted other people as well. In the end, doing his job – being faithful to his appointed tasks – cost John his life.

John didn’t lose his head over some mere intellectual principle: he gave it because of something he believed from – and in – the depth of his heart. How far are we willing to go for the things, the values and the people that we hold deeply in our hearts, presuming, of course, we possess such deep, heartfelt convictions?

Today, on what issues – and for whom – are we willing to stand firm, whatever the cost?