Spirituality Matters 2018: August 9th - August 15th

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(August 9, 2018: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, - a.k.a. Edith Stein – Religious and Martyr)
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“The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

“St. Teresa converted from Judaism to Catholicism in the course of her work as a philosopher, and later entered the Carmelite Order. She died in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in August, 1942.”

“Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891 – a date that coincided with her family's celebration of Yom Kippur, the Jewish “day of atonement.” Edith's father died when she was just two years old, and she gave up the practice of her Jewish faith as an adolescent.”

“As a young woman with profound intellectual gifts, Edith gravitated toward the study of philosophy and became a pupil of the renowned professor Edmund Husserl in 1913. Through her studies, the non-religious Edith met several Christians whose intellectual and spiritual lives she admired.”

“After earning her degree with the highest honors from Gottingen University in 1915, she served as a nurse in an Austrian field hospital during World War I. She returned to academic work in 1916, earning her doctorate after writing a highly-regarded thesis on the phenomenon of empathy. She remained interested in the idea of religious commitment, but had not yet made such a commitment herself.”

“In 1921, while visiting friends, Edith spent an entire night reading the autobiography of the 16th century Carmelite nun St. Teresa of Avila. ‘When I had finished the book’ she later recalled, ‘I said to myself: This is the truth.’ She was baptized into the Catholic Church on the first day of January, 1922.”

“Edith intended to join the Carmelites immediately after her conversion, but would ultimately have to wait another 11 years before taking this step. Instead, she taught at a Dominican school, and gave numerous public lectures on women's issues. She spent 1931 writing a study of St. Thomas Aquinas, and took a university teaching position in 1932.”

“In 1933, with the National Socialists coming to power in Germany - combined with Edith's Jewish ethnicity – her teaching career came to an end. After a painful parting with her mother, who did not understand her Christian conversion, she entered a Carmelite convent in 1934, taking the name “Teresa Benedicta of the Cross” as a symbol of her acceptance of suffering.”

“’I felt,’ she wrote, ‘that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take upon themselves on everybody's behalf.’ She saw it as her vocation “to intercede with God for everyone,’ but she prayed especially for the Jews of Germany whose tragic fate was becoming clear. ‘I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death,’ she wrote in 1939, ‘so that the Lord will be accepted by his people and that his kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world.’”

“After completing her final work, a study of St. John of the Cross entitled ‘The Science of the Cross,’ Teresa Benedicta was arrested along with her sister Rosa (who had also become a Catholic), and the members of her religious community, on August 7, 1942. The arrests came in retaliation against a protest letter by the Dutch Bishops, decrying the Nazi treatment of Jews. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. Blessed John Paul II canonized her in 1998, and proclaimed her a co-patroness of Europe the next year.” ( https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint/st-teresa-benedicta-of-the-cross-edith-stein-557 )

A year before her death, Maximilian Kolbe (who likewise perished in Auschwitz), wrote the following:

"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 )

The Nazis may have taken her life, but they failed to annihilate her legacy – the Truth, in fact, had already set her free.

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(August 10, 2018: Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr )
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“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

“A well-known legend has persisted from earliest times. As deacon in Rome, Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the church and the distribution of alms to the poor. When Lawrence knew he would be arrested like the pope, he sought out the poor, widows and orphans of Rome and gave them all the money he had on hand, selling even the sacred vessels to increase the sum. When the prefect of Rome heard of this, he imagined that the Christians must have considerable treasure. He sent for Lawrence and said, “You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind. I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services. Now, your doctrine says you must render to Caesar what is his. Bring these treasures—the emperor needs them to maintain his forces. God does not cause money to be counted: He brought none of it into the world with him—only words. Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.’”

“Lawrence replied that the church was indeed rich. ‘I will show you a valuable part. But give me time to set everything in order and make an inventory.’ After three days he gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows. When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, ‘These are the treasure of the church’.”

“The prefect was so angry he told Lawrence that he would indeed have his wish to die—but it would be by inches. He had a great gridiron prepared, with coals beneath it, and had Lawrence’s body placed on it. After the martyr had suffered the pain for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, ‘It is well done. Turn me over!’.” ( http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1103 )

When it comes to sowing bountifully, it doesn’t get much greater than martyrdom. And while most of us may never be called upon to make this ultimate expression of generosity, we can nevertheless sow bountifully each and every day by doing good things in simple, small and ordinary ways…for and with one another.

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(August 11, 2018: Clare, Founder and Religious)
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“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Salesian spirituality holds the practice of generosity in high esteem. So much so that Francis de Sales gave an entire conference to the Sisters of the Visitation on the subject in which he described an intimate relationship of two virtues: humility and generosity. He observed:

“Humility believes that it can do nothing, considering its poverty and weakness when it comes to depending upon ourselves; by contrast, generosity makes us say with St. Paul, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.’ Humility makes us mistrust ourselves; generosity makes us trust in God. You see, then, that these two virtues of humility and generosity are so closely joined and united to one another that they never are and never can be separated...The humility which does not produce generosity is undoubtedly false, for after it has said, ‘I can do nothing; I am absolute nothingness,’ it suddenly gives way to generosity of spirit, which says, ‘There is nothing – and there can be nothing – that I am unable to do, so long as I put all my confidence in God, who can do all things.’” (Conferences, pp. 75 - 77)

Humility calls us to stand in awe of how good, caring, patient, solicitous and generous God is on our behalf. This virtue, in turn, should produce in us a similar spirit of generosity, a spirit through which we imitate God’s generosity by sharing our good fortune and blessings with others, despite our real limitations, weaknesses and liabilities.

“Faith the size of a mustard seed…” It would seem that even the greatest of things – things like kingdom of God itself – starts with even the smallest of steps, provided that we have the faith and confidence in God to see our efforts through, regardless of how small or great the results!

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(August 12, 2018: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Get rid of all bitterness, anger, harsh words, slander and malice of every kind. In place of these be kind, compassionate and mutually forgiving.”

“In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. The Word was God. Through the Word God made all things; not one thing in creation was made without the Word.”

Just as the Word who is Jesus Christ is the source of all power, so too, our words are powerful. At their best, our words feed, heal and create. At their worst, our words choke, injure and destroy. St. Paul certainly knew this truth. St. Francis de Sales also knew this truth.

And we know this, too.

St. Francis de Sales observed that negative speech breeds “disdain for one’s neighbor, pride, self-satisfaction and a hundred other very pernicious effects, among them the greatest pest of conversation, slander”. He continued: “Slander is a kind of murder…whoever removed slander from the world would remove a great part of its sins and injustice as well”.

Using words that are “kind, compassionate and mutually forgiving” isn’t just a matter of being nice. No, it’s a matter of justice. It is about giving people their due; it’s about giving people respect and it’s about recognizing people’s God-given dignity. Ultimately, it’s about using the power of our God-given ability that is embodied in language in ways that build up – not tear down – the people of God.

Salesian spirituality is known for its practicality. What could be more practical than using words that help to build up, encourage and support one another? What is more readily available for us to give one another than the words we speak? Even when we need to challenge or correct others, we should still speak in such a way that ultimately promotes healing. Our tongues, says St. Francis “ought to be like a scalpel in the hand of a surgeon who is cutting between nerves and tendons.” St. Jane de Chantal observes: “When you need to correct someone, make it in private and with kindness.”

In the beginning was the Word. May our words continue the story of God’s creative, redemptive and life-giving love. May God’s Word be for all of us the last word. May God’s Word – the Word that gives life – be all the words that we ever need.

Beginning today!

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(August 13, 2018: Monday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Heaven and earth are filled with your glory…”

However conscious of those words that we may or may not be, when we hear these words, “Heaven and earth are filled with your glory,” we might say to ourselves, “But, of course!” when it applies to heaven. But by contrast, when it applies to earth, many of us might simply whisper to ourselves, “If you say so”.

Whether we recognize it or not, God’s glory is not only found in heaven, but also - to those who have eyes of faith - God’s glory abounds on earth.

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

“For all the moving and high-flying ideas connected with the spiritual life, there is something down-to-earth and practical about it. God often meets us in a kind gesture in hard times, in a child’s joy, a word of wisdom from a Catherine of Siena or a Julian of Norwich, in a peaceful death – these are the simple but profound moments that reveal the truth and authenticity of one’s life with God. It is here – on this earth – that things come together as we experience the total fabric of our lives and discover that it is indeed “of a piece.”(p. 32)

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

“When the entire universe was made, God’s meditation was changed, as it were, into contemplation. God looked at all the goodness in his works with one single glance and saw, as Moses says, ‘all the things he had made, and they were very good.’ The different parts, when considered separately by way of meditation were good, but when looked upon with a single glance - all of them being taken together by means of contemplation - they were found to be very good.” (TLG, Book VI, Chapter 5, p. 282)

Whether in heaven or on earth, God’s glory – as with all beauty – is in the eye of the beholder. It’s already here, but perhaps, hidden in plain sight.

Can you see it?

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(August 14, 2018: Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr)
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“Son of man, go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.”

Today we remember the ultimate witness to the love of God made by the Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, Maximilian Kolbe.

“During the Second World War, he provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów. On 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On 28 May, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670. At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander to select ten men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men cried out, ‘My wife, my children,’ Kolbe volunteered to take his place.”

“In the starvation cell, he celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners. He led the other condemned men in song and prayer. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards administered to Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_Kolbe )

“Whoever can accept this ought to accept it”, Jesus says in today’s Gospel regarding the bond of marriage. In the case of Maximilian Kolbe, these same words – as it turned out – can also apply to the witness of martyrdom.

What ways of loving one another may God ask us to accept - just this day?

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(August 15, 2018: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“Blessed are you among women ...”

Our Salesian reflection for this Feast Day – the Assumption – comes entirely from Francis de Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God, Book 7, Chapter 14.

“I do not deny that the soul of the most Blessed Virgin had two portions, and therefore two appetites, one according to the spirit and superior reason, and the other according to sense and inferior reason, with the result that she could experience the struggle and contradiction of one appetite against the other. This burden was felt even by her Son. I say that in this heavenly Mother all affections were so well arranged and ordered that love of God held empire and dominion most peaceably without being troubled by diversity of wills and appetites or by contradiction of senses. Neither repugnance of natural appetite nor sensual movements ever went as far as sin, not even as far as venial sin. On the contrary, all was used holily and faithfully in the service of the holy love for the exercise of the other virtues which, for the most part, cannot be practiced except amid difficulty, opposition and contradiction…”

“As everyone knows, the magnet naturally draws iron towards itself by some power both secret and very wonderful. However, there are five things that hinder this operation: (1) if there is too great a distance between magnet and iron; (2) if there is a diamond placed between the two; (3) if the iron is greased; (4) if the iron is rubbed with onion; (5) if the iron is too heavy.”

“Our heart is made for God, and God constantly entices it and never ceases to cast before it the allurements of divine love. Yet five things impede the operation of this holy attraction: (1) sin, which removes us from God; (2) affection for riches; (3) sensual pleasures; (4) pride and vanity; (5) self-love, together with the multitude of disordered passions it brings forth, which are like a heavy load wearing it down.”

“None of these hindrances had a place in the heart of the glorious Virgin. She was: (1) forever preserved from all sin; (2) forever most poor in spirit; (3) forever most pure; (4) forever most humble; (5) forever the peaceful mistress of all her passions and completely exempt from the rebellion that self-love wages against love of God. For this reason, just as the iron, if free from all obstacles and even from its own weight, would be powerfully yet gently drawn with steady attraction by the magnet – although in such wise that the attraction would always be more active and stronger according as they came closer together and their motion approached its end – so, too, the most Blessed Mother, since there is nothing in her to impede the operation of her Son’s divine love, was united with him in an incomparable union by gentle ecstasies without trouble or travail.”

“They were ecstasies in which the sensible part did not cease to perform its actions but without in any way disturbing the spiritual union, just as, in turn, perfect application of the spirit did not cause any great distraction to the senses. Hence, the Virgin’s death was the most gentle that can be imagined, for her Son sweetly drew her after the odor of his perfumes and she most lovingly flowed out after their sacred sweetness even to the bosom of her Son’s goodness. Although this holy soul had supreme love for her own most holy, most pure, and most lovable body, yet she forsook it without any pain or resistance…At the foot of the cross love had given to this divine spouse the supreme sorrows of death. Truly, then, it was reasonable that in the end death would give her the supreme delights of love.”