Spirituality Matters 2018: August 2nd - August 8th

* * * * *
(August 2, 2018: Peter Julian Eymard, Priest, 2018)
* * * * *

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.”

What should I hold onto in life? What should I let go of in life? What’s good for me? What’s not good for me? These kinds of questions are the stuff of discernment. John Crossin, OSFS offers for our consideration three aspects of any discernment process, that is, any attempt to determine God’s will.

Mind you, discernment is not an exact science. While we can come to know God’s Will in broad strokes – and sometimes even in the particular – we can’t presume to know it all. And sometimes, we may even get it wrong.

Still, some of the things that can help us to know what to keep and what to give away in life include:

  • God’s Signified Will – It is the information we already have at our disposal from the Scriptures, Commandments, Counsels etc. This infomation clearly communicates what God considers to be good, virtuous and life-giving values, attitudes and actions.

  • Feedback from Others – We should make good use of the wise counsel of friends, clergy, mentors, counselors and other people whom we trust. True friends will know when to tell us what we want to hear, and when to tell us what we need to hear.

  • Flexibility – Francis de Sales observed that while all the saints are recognized for their conformity to God’s will, no two saints followed God’s Will in exactly the same way. We need to remind ourselves that discernment is about what God wants us - not others - to do in any particular situation. Sometimes, this may require us to “think outside of the box” - we need to be open to change.
Today, life being what it is, we may catch all kinds of things in the nets of our lives. Some things are always good for us; other things are always bad for us. However, there may be some things we catch that used to be good but no longer are. On the other hand, there may be other things once considered bad that may now actually be very good.

Decisions, decisions! What do I keep? Well, I keep the things that promote the Kingdom of heaven! What do I throw away? I throw away the things that don’t!

* * * * *
(August 3, 2018: Friday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time )
* * * * *

“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place, in his own house...”

It isn’t an accident that prophetic people are often most unappreciated by those closest to them. It isn’t by chance that prophetic voices encounter the most resistance from members of their own family, relatives or friends. It isn’t a surprise that prophetic movements are often far easier to export abroad than to practice at home. Recall the saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt”.

Strangers don’t see our foibles. Strangers don’t see our weaknesses. Strangers don’t experience our dark side. But as we know all-too-well, those who know us well do see those things…and much, much more.

We are all disciples of Jesus. We are all commissioned by virtue of our Baptism to preach the Word. So, what are we to do? Preach freely to strangers but remain silent when in the presence of those with whom we labor, live and love? No, that won’t do. When it comes to following Jesus, we know that there’s extra pressure when we are among our own. We realize that there is extra scrutiny in our own glass house. We accept that there is greater expectation (and perhaps more skepticism) in our native place. So, how should we as would-be prophets deal with this reality?

The answer - make sure that you’re already making your best efforts to put into practice what you are pondering to preach.

Beginning today!

* * * * *
(August 4, 2018: John Vianney, Priest)
* * * * *

“The priests and the prophets said to the princes and to all the people, ‘This man deserves death…’”

Speaking of prophets being without honor in their native place, consider today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. In a classic case of no good deed going unpunished, Jeremiah stirs up a hornet’s nest by being faithful to God’s will for him, which was to prophesy against his own house and his own city. While protesting his innocence, Jeremiah spends what may be his last breaths trying to convince the people to accept God’s word on its own merits rather than to bargain for his life. Having spoken his peace, Jeremiah decides to let the chips fall where they may.

Fortunately for him, the chips fell both God’s way and Jeremiah’s way!

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “We must not be too ardent, precise and demanding in regard to preserving our good name. Men who are overly tender and sensitive on this point are like people who take medicine for slight indispositions. Although they think they are preserving their health, they actually destroy it. In like manner those who try too carefully to maintain their reputation lose it entirely. Generally speaking, to ignore or despise an injury or calumny is a far more effective remedy than resentment, fighting and revenge. Crocodiles harm only those who are afraid of them and detraction hurts only those who are vexed by it. Excessive fear of losing our good name reveals great distrust in its foundation, which is living a good life. Towns that have wooden bridges over great rivers are afraid that they will be swept away by every little rise of water, but those with stone bridges fear only extraordinary floods. In like manner those with souls solidly grounded on virtue usually despise the floods let loose by harmful tongues…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 27, pp. 195-196)

Jeremiah faced not only the prospect of losing his reputation or credibility for speaking God’s word, but he also faced the possibility of losing his life for speaking God’s word. His response showed remarkable strength of character and purpose - a character that obviously convinced enough people to not only protect his life but also to preserve his reputation. His courage persuaded the people to accept his message as well.

Have you ever faced “push-back” from others for saying or doing the right thing? While your life may not have been at risk, how might your reputation among others suffered as a result of your decision to stand up for what it right? How did you deal – or are your dealing - with that experience?

* * * * *
(August 5, 2018: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron...”

Sometimes the only thing worse than the bad things that happen to us is to invest tons of energy and effort into complaining about them.

Think about it. Who of us ever really improves our situation or lot in life by complaining about it? Still, we do…and to our own detriment.

Was it tough for the Israelites in the desert? You bet! As bad as things were in Egypt, did they have “three hots and a cot”? Yes! By contrast, did they enjoy any suchcomforts in the wilderness? Apparently, aside from their freedom, not much!

Still, God had redeemed them from slavery after all. God had given them leaders, whose charge it was to lead the Israelites to a promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. However, one might wonder where the Israelites got the idea that somehow this trek or quest should be nothing but smooth sailing. Nonetheless, they complained…which even now seems somehow petty or small-minded.

Let’s bring this situation closer to home. Who among us in our own day is not tempted to complain when things don’t go our way, when our jobs, our marriages or our relationships turned out to be more difficult or challenging than we had expected or hoped? And, to be brutally honest, who of us can claim that grumbling or complaining about the hand we’ve been dealt makes playing that hand any easier? In fact, doesn’t it only makes it more – and painfully – difficult?

Francis de Sales is pretty clear when it comes to grumbling or complaining: “Complain as little as possible about the wrongs you suffer. Undoubtedly a person who complains commits a sin by doing so, since self-love always feels that injuries are worse than they really are.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 3)

Does this mean that we should never raise an issue, a concern or a gripe? No, but we need to be very judicious about those people with whom we raise them. Francis observed: “Do not complain to irascible or fault-finding persons. If there is some just occasion for complaining to someone either to correct an offense or restore your peace of mind, do so to those who are even-tempered and really love God. Otherwise, instead of calming your mind the others will stir up worse difficulties and instead of pulling out the thorn that is hurting you they will drive it deeper into your foot.” (Ibid)

To be sure, God hears the cries of those who complain. But, truth be told, aren’t there better ways to use our words…and spend our lives?

* * * * *
(August 6, 2018: Transfiguration of the Lord )
* * * * *

“He was transfigured before them…”

Something remarkable happened on that mountain. Consider the possibility that it was not Jesus who changed, but rather, it was Peter, James and John who were transformed.

Imagine that this account from Mark’s Gospel documents the experience of Peter, James and John as if their eyes were opened and their vision widened, enabling them to see without impediment the virtually blinding light of Jesus’ love that flowed from every fiber of his being.

Indeed, every day of Jesus’ life something of that remarkable brilliance, that remarkable passion and that remarkable glory was revealed to people of all ages, stages and states of life. The shepherds and magi saw it; the elders in the temple saw it; the guests at a wedding saw it; a woman caught in adultery saw it; a boy possessed by demons saw it; a man born blind saw it and a good thief saw it.

If so many others could recognize that virtually blinding love of Jesus in a word, a glance or a touch, why might Peter, James and John have required such extra effort in helping them to see Jesus’ glory? Perhaps it was because they were so close to Jesus; perhaps it was because they were with him every day; perhaps it was because, on some level, they had somehow taken his glory for granted.

Now, what about us? Do we recognize that same divine glory present in us, present in others, present in creation and present in even the simplest and most ordinary, everyday experiences of justice, truth, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion?

Or do we take it for granted?

St. Francis de Sales saw the Transfiguration as a “glimpse of heaven.” How might our eyes, our minds and our hearts need to be transfigured and transformed in ways that enable us to catch this “glimpse of heaven” within us and around us? How might we need to see more clearly the glory of a God who always loves, redeems, heals, forgives, challenges, pursues., strengthens and inspires us?

Today, may we grow in our ability - through the quality of our lives - to make that “glimpse of heaven” more clearly visible and available to the eyes – and in the lives – of others.

* * * * *
(August 7, 2018: Cajetan, Priest)
* * * * *

“Take courage, do not be afraid…”

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Scriptures tell us that St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, grew afraid; and as soon as he was afraid he began to sink and drown, so he cried out: ‘O Lord, save me!’ And our Lord caught hold of his hand and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Look at this holy apostle; he walks dry foot on the water, the waves and the winds could not make him sink, but fear of the wind and the waves will make him perish unless his master saves him. Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 125, p. 198)

His advice to Saint Jane de Chantal is also great advice for us. He recommended:

“Do not be afraid. You are walking on the sea, surrounded by wind and water, but you are with Jesus: so what is there to fear? If terror seizes you, cry out loudly: O Lord, save me. He will stretch forth his hand towards you; clasp it tight and go joyfully on your way. In short, don’t philosophize about your trouble; don’t argue with it, just go straight on, quite simply. If the whole world is topsy-turvy – if all around is darkness and smoke and din – God is still with us.” (Ibid)

In there anything in particular that is weighing heavily on your mind or heart? Are there any issues or concerns that are attempting to paralyze you? Is there anything about which you find yourself afraid?

Remember: God is with you! Take his hand, clasp it tightly and go joyfully on your way.

As bravely as you can.

* * * * *
(August 8, 2018: Dominic, Founder and Priest )
* * * * *

“O woman, how great is your faith!”

Today’s Scripture readings offer us a study in contrast. In the Book of Numbers we see how the faith of the Israelites was shaken when they learned that the land of “milk and honey” promised by the Lord was already occupied by other people, and not just any other people – they were strong, fierce giants living in well-fortified towns. It would seem that the Israelites simply expected to inherit the Promised Land unopposed without any effort or resistance.

Contrast this situation with the faith demonstrated by the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel. Three times Jesus rebuffed her request to drive a demon out of her daughter. Undaunted, the woman continued to press Jesus to the point where he was not only impressed by her faith but also granted her request.

The Israelites teach us that having a strong faith in God’s Providence doesn’t mean that God’s promises always come easily. Many good things in life require hard, difficult work. For her part the Canaanite woman demonstrates that strong faith in God does not require passivity, but in fact, it often requires persistence and tenacity.

Today, consider this question: how strong is your faith?