Spirituality Matters 2018: December 13th - December 19th

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(December 13, 2018: Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr)
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“Fear not, I will help you.”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell writes:

“As is true of many ancient martyrs, few facts are known about Lucy’s life. All that is certain is that her martyrdom occurred during the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Diocletian in Syracuse, the city that has always been the center of devotion to her. By the fifth century an unknown author had recorded a legendary biography of her life. The story says that Lucy came from a Christian family and that by the time she was about twenty years old her father was already dead and her mother was dying from a chronic hemorrhage. In hope of a cure, mother and daughter traveled to Catania to the tomb of St. Agatha. The women spent the night beside the martyr’s tomb, and while they slept, St. Agatha appeared to Lucy in a dream, assuring her that her mother had been healed. In addition, the saint said that Lucy would become famous and revered in her home of Syracuse, just as Agatha had become in Catania. When Lucy’s mother realized she had been cured of her ailment, Lucy took the opportunity to ask her mother to break off her betrothal to a young pagan man and consecrate her virginity to Christ. Her mother agreed and upon returning to Syracuse the two distributed Lucy’s dowry to the poor.”

“Angry at having been jilted, Lucy’s would-be fiancé denounced her as a Christian to the local magistrate. Operating on the principle ‘let the punishment fit the crime,’ he sentenced the virginal Lucy to serve in a brothel. When guards attempted to lead her away, Lucy would not move. No amount of pulling or pushing – not even a team of oxen – could dislodge her. The magistrate then commanded his servants to pile wood around Lucy and burn her where she stood, but the flames billowed away from her. Finally one of the judge’s henchmen plunged a dagger into Lucy’s throat, yet even then she lingered until a priest came to give her viaticum for the last time before she died.” (This Saint’s for You!, pp. 167 – 168 )

God helped this unusual woman in the time of her exceptional decision to give her life for the Lord. Do we believe that this same God will also help us in the midst of the ordinary, everyday decisions to give our lives for the Lord, too?

Fear not - He will!

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(December 14, 2018: Saint John of the Cross
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“Blessed the one who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night...”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell writes:

“John of the Cross had joined the Carmelite order and was ordained a priest just at the time that St. Teresa began her reform of the order’s nuns and friars. Many convents and priories had grown lax. The old austerity had given way to opulent furnishings and expensive food and wine: gossiping with visitors took precedence over prayer. Teresa won the approval of the superiors of Spain’s Carmelites, as well as of King Philip II, to restore the Carmelites’ original principles. But not all the friars wanted to be reformed, and they took out their frustration on Teresa’s chaplain, confessor and protégé, John of the Cross. In 1577 a band of renegade Carmelites kidnapped John and imprisoned him in their priory in Toledo. He spent nearly nine months locked inside a tiny cell with only a three-inch-wide slit for a window. His friar-jailers gave him so little food he almost starved to death. He was refused water for washing and his habit became infested with lice; he was denied candles to dispel the gloom or a fire to warm him in winter. He was brutally flogged, bearing the terrible scars for the rest of his life.”

“Terrified of being locked up forever, John took refuge in meditation, mentally composing some of his finest mystical poems. He also plotted his escape. By mid-August 1578, he managed to dismantle the lock on his cell door and made a rope by tying together strips torn from his blankets. Late one night he crept out of his cell, hurried to the parapet and used his makeshift rope to climb down the priory’s outer wall. Weak and disorientated, John called upon the Blessed Virgin Mary for help. She must have heard his plea because after staggering through the city he found himself at the door of one of Teresa’s convents. Once the nun’s recognized him, they brought him inside their enclosure (something normally forbidden under both Church and civil law). When the friar-jailers and local police arrived looking for John, they searched everywhere except in the enclosure.”

“Once he had regained his health and strength, John wanted to return to his quiet life, but civic and religious leaders prevented this from ever happening. First he served as head of a college; next he was prior of a Carmelite house; and then he was made one of the superiors of the order in Spain. Since he had to be out among people, John took the opportunity to teach others about the joy of meditation. ‘Contemplation,’ he taught, ‘is nothing else but a secret, peaceful and loving infusion of God, which, if admitted, will set the soul on fire with the Spirit of love.’” ( This Saint’s for You!, pp. 268-269)

John of the Cross learned the wisdom of meditating on the Lord’s law day and night the hard way.

Here’s hoping we learn the same lesson with a lot less difficulty!

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(December 15, 2012)
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“You were destined…to turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons.”

Advent is the season during which we are challenged ‘to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. In this season we are challenges to lay down our arms, and to let bygones be bygones.

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

“When your mind is tranquil and without any cause for anger, build up a stock of meekness and mildness. Speak all your words and do all your actions – whether little or great –in the mildest way you can: not merely with strangers but also among your own family and neighbors. As soon as you recognize that you are guilty of a wrathful deed, correct it as soon as possible by an act of meekness toward the person with whom you were angry.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 8, p. 149)

This season of peace – which is unlike any other season – reminds us of relationships in which peace is lacking. We are reminded of fences that need to be mended, hatchets that need to be buried and wounds that need to be healed with fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, neighbors, co-workers and friends.

During this Advent season to whom do our hearts need to turn?

Or return?

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(December 16, 2018: Third Sunday of Advent)
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“Your kindness should be known to all...”

In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul identifies one of the qualities associated with ‘rejoicing in the Lord’ – kindness. And not just any old kindness but a kindness that “should be known by all.”

Today’s Gospel sheds some light on what this kindness - that “should be known by all” – may be. If it has two cloaks, it shares with the person who has no cloak; it does the same with foods and drink. If it collects taxes, it takes only what it is owed. If it wields authority, it should avoid abusing its power. It should be truthful and it should be happy with fair compensation. In sum, Gospel kindness is about being reasonable, being fair; being and just.

Francis de Sales once observed:

“‘Share your bread with the hungry and bring the needy and the homeless into your house’ with a joyful and eager heart. ‘He who performs acts of mercy should do so with cheerfulness.’ The grace of a good deed is doubled when it is done with promptness and speed.” (Living Jesus, pp. 190 – 191)

Do you want to “rejoice in the Lord, always?” Always do your level best to be kind.

And in the process help others to “rejoice in the Lord” as well.

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(December 17, 2018: Monday, Advent Weekday)
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“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…”

“Genealogy (from Greek: γενεά, genea, “generation”; and λόγος, logos , “knowledge”) is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral traditions, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members. The results are often displayed in charts or written as narratives. The pursuit of family history tends to be shaped by several motivations, including the desire to carve out a place for one’s family in the larger historical picture, a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations, and a sense of self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling.” (Wikipedia)

Today’s opening chapter from the Gospel of Matthew is Scripture’s version of Ancestry.com. Bridging the Old and New Testaments, it outlines the “genealogy of Jesus Christ.” As such, it carves out a place for Jesus within the larger picture of salvation history. As such, it strives to preserve names from past generations for future generations. As such, it tries to tell the story of Jesus’ predecessors as accurately as possible. As such, it attempts to provide as much information it can about the kinship and pedigree of those who came before Jesus.

Many of us assume that the “genealogy of Jesus Christ” ends with Jesus Christ. We assume that the story ends with the third set of fourteen generations. Nothing could be further from the truth! The “genealogy of Jesus Christ” isn’t limited to the names of his predecessors; it continues to this very day in the names of his followers; it continues in the present generation – in the lives of people like you and me.

How can we live up to our God-given pedigree today? How can we give convincing witness of our divine kinship today? How can we demonstrate that we are sons and daughters of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ – today?

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(December 18, 2018: Tuesday, Advent Weekday)
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“He shall reign and govern wisely; he shall do what is just and right in the land…the Lord our justice.”

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

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and your neighbor in yours, and then you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell and buy justly…A man loses nothing by living generously, nobly and courteously with a royal, just and reasonable heart. Resolve to examine your heart often to see if it acts toward your neighbor as you would like your neighbor to act toward you were you in your neighbor’s place. This is the touchstone of true reason.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

How can we imitate “the Lord our justice”? Let us start by examining our hearts. How well are we doing “what is just and right in the land”? Are we doing what is right, just and reasonable in our relationships with others?

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(December 19, 2018: Wednesday, Advent Weekday)
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“Consecrated to God from the womb…filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.”

Perhaps it is easy to believe that God loved Samson from the time he first appeared in his mother’s womb. Likewise, it is even easier to believe that God also loved John the Baptizer when he first appeared in his mother’s womb, given the fact that John would announce the coming of the Messiah. After all, Samson – and John – played significant roles in God’s plan of salvation.

God’s love for us from the first moment when we appeared in our mother’s womb – actually, long before each of us appeared anywhere. Ii is not a function of how great or how small our respective roles in God’s plan of salvation may be. Regardless of how famous or anonymous we might be, one thing is certain: each of us is consecrated from our mother’s womb. Each of us is filled with the Holy Spirit from our mother’s womb. God uniquely – and eternally – loves each of us.