Spirituality Matters 2018: August 30th - September 5th

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(August 30, 2018: Thursday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You are not lacking in any spiritual gift...”

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

“Consider the nature that God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world; it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty…For this purpose God has given you intellect to know him, memory to be mindful of him, will to love him, imagination to picture to yourself his benefits, eyes to see his wonderful works, tongue to praise him, and so on with other faculties..’” (IDL, Part I, Chapters 9 and 10, pp. 53; 55)

In the mind of Saint Francis de Sales at least, we are not lacking in any spiritual gift. We have everything we need to be the kind of people that God calls us, wants us and longs for us to be.

Are you experiencing any difficulties in your attempts to live a life of devotion? Are you having problems pursuing a life of holiness? Maybe it’s because you are failing to make use of the gifts that God has provided for your growth. Worse yet, perhaps you haven’t yet discovered all the gifts that God has entrusted to you for your growth.

What are you waiting for?

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(August 31, 2018: Friday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

In the book Saints are not Sad (1949,) we read

“Holiness, in Francis de Sales’ conception of it, should be an all-around quality without abruptness or eccentricity. It should not involve the suppression in us of anything that is not in itself bad, for the likeness to God which is its essence must be incomplete in the proportion that it does not extend to the whole of us. So we must be truthful to ourselves and about ourselves, and we shall lose as much by not seeing the good that really is in us as by fancying that we see good that is not there at all. It is as right and due that we should thank God for the virtue that His grace has established in us as that we should ask His forgiveness for our sinfulness that hinders His grace.” (Select Salesian Subjects, # 0377, p. 85)

God calls us to holiness. God calls us to walk in his ways. Imperfect as we are, we can make great progress in this quest by accepting the grace of God, by putting God’s grace to work in action and by relying on the love, support and encouragement of others. This call to holiness also challenges us to be truthful with ourselves and about ourselves - to recognize what is good in us, as well as anything in us needing to be purified. While we will always be imperfect – while we will always be reminded of our weakness – we don’t need to be perfect to strive for perfection.

Today, how can the “foolishness of God” help us to become sources of God’s strength today?

Today, how can God help us to transform our weakness into greatness in the service of others today?

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(September 1, 2018: Saturday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“After a long time, the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them…”

In today’s Gospel Jesus issues what law enforcement professionals refer to as a “BOLO”: Be on the L ookout! Stay awake! Watch out, for you know “neither the day nor the hour” when the master will return and settle up with his servants.

For reasons that are obvious, the early Christians – and we later Christians – almost always (and perhaps, even exclusively) associate this “BOLO” with a warning to be on the lookout for the end of the world, be it globally (everybody’s) or individually (our own). In the Salesian tradition, this “BOLO” is not limited to the “end of days” - it’s great advice for every day, especially when it comes to being on the lookout for opportunities to make good use of the talents, skills, gifts and abilities with which God has gifted us! Francis de Sales preached:

“There is no need to worry overmuch when or where we shall die; in what town or in what country we shall die; whether alone or with others we shall die. What doe sit matter? Leave it to God, for He will never fail us whether in life or in death…All we have to do is to leave ourselves to God’s providence, asking nothing and refusing nothing: that is the essence of human perfection. Don’t ask God for death; don’t refuse death when God sends it. Happy those who practice this indifference, who prepare for a happy death – whenever God should decree it – by living a good life! This is what all the saints have done. Some of them set aside a certain time each year to think about death. Some of them did it once a month, others once a week, or even every day, at a fixed time. By frequently remembering the inevitability of death, they tried to ensure a successful journey from this world to the next.” (Pulpit and Pew, pp. 290-291)

Put your God-given talents to work. Do your level best each and every day to make a good return on the investment that God has made in you. To the extent that you are faithful to this effort, the day when the master returns to settle up with you will not be filled with dread – but with rejoicing!

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(September 2, 2018: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.”

Traditions are powerful things. Whether they deal with the making of Grandmother's special casserole for our Thanksgiving meal, with the relative who hosts for Christmas and Easter, with those we accompany on family vacation, with rituals around the death of a loved one, or with something so simple as who sits where around the dinner table. Traditions are part and parcel of all of our lives. When they are positive ones, traditions can give us a sense of identity, stability and value when our lives are filled with change.

But traditions can be negative too; especially when they become detached from the values they were meant to support and protect. Jesus knew that fact all too well as today's gospel account suggests. He challenged the Pharisees in their use of the laws regarding ritual purity. Jesus saw them using the traditions to judge others unfairly as being “in” or “out” of the circle of God's mercy and love, as if they - and not God - were the determiners of righteousness and religious worthiness!

God's Word this Sunday certainly challenges us to look at the power of tradition(s) in our lives. If they are positive, then we should continue to make them part of our lives. But if they are negative behaviors or even attitudes - old grudges we just can't forget, old hurts we just can't forgive, old patterns of destructive choosing or thinking that we just can't seem to escape - then, with the grace of God already “planted within us,” we need to do something different to change them.

St. Francis de Sales suggests, when these old negative “traditions” make us less than the child of God we are redeemed to be, that we concentrate on the “present moment.” We are not defined by our past nor can we do anything about it except forgive it. The future is yet to be. But what we do have is the here and now - the present moment - and the grace of God in that moment.

It is only in the present moment that we can replace old negative behaviors and attitudes with new, life affirming ones. When we concentrate on accessing the power of God planted within us to make new choices “present moment” to “present moment,” we are well on our way to starting new, positive “traditions” which will sustain us now and mold us for the future, as people who “do justice and live in the presence of the Lord.”

Today, with God's grace, let us start a new tradition of living in the “present moment.” That's a tradition worth keeping over time…even for a lifetime!

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(September 3, 2018: Labor Day )
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In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes the nature and focus of his labor in the words from the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Labor Day offers us a great opportunity to reflect upon the great work to which each of us is called – to continue the creating, healing and inspiring action of Jesus Christ in the lives of others in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Eucharistic Prayer IV in the former Sacramentary (supplanted by the Roman Missal) put it this way:

“Father, we acknowledge your greatness: all your actions show your wisdom and love. You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you, his creator, and to rule over all creatures…To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to those in sorrow, joy…And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth…”

On this Labor Day, how might we continue Christ’s work in our little corner of the world?

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(September 4, 2018: Tuesday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“We have the mind of Christ…”

What does it mean to “have the mind of Christ”? What does the “mind of Christ” look like?

Today’s Gospel certainly provides a practical answer, powerfully portrayed!

Look how Jesus used his God-given power - the power of both word and action. He didn’t use it for his own self-aggrandizement. On the contrary, Jesus used it for the benefit of others. If his audience was “astonished at his teaching,” one can only imagine how astonished they must have been when Jesus expelled an unclean demon from a man in the synagogue! Jesus’ “one-two punch” approach to preaching – employing both word and action – stood in stark contrast to the preaching of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes which Jesus himself criticized as being too long on words and too short on action.

What does it look like when “we have the mind of Christ”? The answer - when we both speak like Christ and act like Christ, that is, when we not only wish people well – in words – but also we do what we can – in actions – to make our wish for others’ welfare a reality.

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(September 5, 2018: Wednesday, Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“We are God’s co-workers…”

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

“God acts in our works, and we co-operate in God’s action. God leaves for our part all the merit and profit of our services and good works; we leave God all the honor and praise thereof, acknowledging that the growth, the progress, and the end of all the good we do depends on God’s mercy, finishing what God had begun. O God, how merciful is God’s goodness to us in thus distributing his bounty!” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, p. 212)

It would be enough if God simply made us the recipients of his mercy and generosity, but in his wisdom, God has also made us the agents or instruments of his mercy and generosity. Our common vocation is not simply limited to enjoying the gift of creation, but rather we are called to nurture it, care for it, shepherd it and develop it! God works in and through us; we work in and through God’s action. To us come all of the benefits, but to God goes all of the glory.

Who could ask for a better arrangement than that?

We are – in word and in deed – God’s co-workers. We celebrate both God’s generosity to us and share that generosity with others.

Today, how might God employ our cooperation in both receiving – and sharing – his bounty?