Spirituality Matters 2018: December 20th - December 26th
(December 20, 2015: Thursday, Advent Weekday)
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“May it be done to me according to your word...”
These words spoken by Mary in today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke gets to the heart of the virtue of obedience. In his Conference “On Obedience,” Francis de Sales remarked:
“There are three sorts of pious obedience. The first is that to which is common to all Christians – the obedience due to God in the observance of the commandments. The second is righteous obedience, which is of a far higher value that the first because it concerns itself not only with the commandments of God but also with the observance of His counsels. There is a third kind of obedience of which I wish to speak as being the most perfect: this is called a loving obedience. It follows that those who practice loving obedience love the command given, and so as soon as they are aware of it – whether it be to their taste or not – they embrace it, caress it and cherish it tenderly. It is of this obedience that Our Lord gave us as an example throughout the entire course of His life on earth.” ( Living Jesus, p. 257)
Have you ever considered how Jesus – in the fullness of his humanity – may have acquired something of this loving obedience from Mary, his mother? Have you ever considered how Mary – in the fullness of her humanity – may have modeled something of this loving obedience for her son?
Today how can we imitate this same loving obedience to God in our relationships with one another?
(December 21, 2018: Friday, Advent Weekday)
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“Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one and come!”
Today’s selection from the Song of Songs – and the entire Song of Songs, for that matter, had a profound influence on St. Francis de Sales. In an article entitledThe Interpretation of the Song of Songs in St. Francis de Sales - How a Saint Learned the Lessons of Love, Anthony J. Ceresko, OSFS wrote:
“St. Francis de Sales represents one of the more notable examples of those who discovered in the Song’s language and imagery the appropriate medium for reflecting on the experience of love. Reading his Treatise on the Love of God, for instance, we appreciate how well he learned “lessons of love” from the Sage of the Song. We marvel at how his gentle guidance led others to drink deeply of that love as well. Francis' introduction to the Song, indeed his introduction to theology, came in 1584, when he was barely seventeen years old. His father had sent him to Paris to complete his university studies in preparation for taking a doctorate in civil and canon law at Padua, in Italy. Although his father foresaw a career in politics and public service for him, Francis harbored in his heart the desire to serve the Church as a priest. He had persuaded his father to allow him to receive tonsure when he was twelve. And in Paris, in addition to his classes in the humanities, he also attended lectures in theology.”
“The first such course he followed was the series of lectures on the Song of Songs given in 1584 by the celebrated Benedictine, Gilbert Genebrard, professor of Hebrew at the Royal College. Both the lectures and Genebrard himself made a profound impression on the youthful student. Lajeunie notes, ‘Francis found both in the sacred text and in the commentary, inspiration for his whole life, the theme for his masterpiece [the Treatise on the Love of God], and the first and best source of his optimism.’ For Genebrard, the Canticle is ‘a dramatic love story composed in bucolic style.’ The effect of Genebrard's interpretation of the Song on Francis was immediate: ‘The history of the world and its salvation was therefore a love story. And the young student was carried away by the idea.’”
“Francis gives a clue to his life-long love affair with the Song in the more than seven hundred citations of the Song listed in the ‘Index’ to the twenty-seven volumes of his collected works. Further, the three verses of the Bible that Francis most often quotes also come from the Song: 1:3 (‘Draw me and I will run in the odor of your ointments’), 8:6 (‘Love is strong as death, jealousy as firm as hell’), and 1:1 (‘Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth, for better than wine are your breasts’). John K. Ryan, the author of a popular translation of the Treatise, comments: ‘All but a few books of both the Old and New Testament are quoted by him, and in most instances, not once but many times.... But the books he uses most are the Psalms and the Canticle of Canticles. Out of the 106 verses that make up the Canticle, 63 are quoted and some of them so often as to make a total of 179 references.” ( http://web1.desales.edu/assets/salesian/PDF/Ceresko-Song.pdf )
Just a handful of days remain before we celebrate the Solemnity of Christmas - one of the greatest moments in the greatest love story of all - God’s love for us.
How can we prepare to receive the God who loves us so much?
(December 22, 2018: Saturday, Advent Weekday)
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“He has looked upon his lowly servant…and has done great things for me: holy is his name.”
Mary’s great hymn – the Magnificat – is a testimony to her profound sense of humility. But her humility – her sense of being a “lowly servant” – should not be confused with self-deprecation. In truth, Mary’s humility has a lot less to do with her nothingness and a lot more to do with God’s ‘everything-ness!’ Mary’s humility – her being overwhelmed by the generosity of God – empowers her to generously say “yes” to God’s invitation to her to become the Mother of the Messiah.
In his Conference “On Generosity,” St. Francis de Sales wrote:
“Humility which does not produce generosity is undoubtedly false, for after it has said, ‘I can do nothing, I am only absolute nothingness,’ it almost immediately 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.’ Buoyed up by this confidence, it courageously undertakes to do all that is commanded.” ( Living Jesus, pp. 152-153)
This humility – and its corresponding spirit of generosity – describes Mary to a tee.
Can the same be said of us?
(December 23, 2018: Fourth Sunday of Advent)
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“Mary set out and traveled in haste.”
The angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary contained 2 discrete, yet related, messages: (1) Mary would be the mother of the long-expected Messiah, & (2) her cousin Elizabeth had conceived a child. No sooner has Mary said ‘yes’ to the invitation to be the mother of the Messiah than she is off "in haste" to visit her cousin.
In a very real sense, long before she actually delivered the child, who would redeem the world from the hopelessness and despair of sin, Mary was already giving birth to the Messiah through her own willingness and eagerness to serve the needs of another. In this case, a relative who, because of her age, might have been considered a woman with a "high risk" pregnancy.
On the face of it, there is nothing noteworthy about Mary's action. After all, wouldn't any decent human being do the same for a relative in need? What makes Mary's service remarkable is the urgency with which she did it. She truly is a model of virtue, one who clearly demonstrates in her own life that the best way of saying "thank you" for God's goodness to her is to be a source of that goodness to others.
St. Francis de Sales observed: “Mary does not consider that she is wasting time when she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. No, it is an act of loving courtesy.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 159) In her ‘haste’ to serve Elizabeth, Mary shows us the path of true devotion. Francis de Sales continues: “God rewards us according to the dignity of the office we exercise. I do not say that we may not aspire to the outstanding virtues, but I do say that we must train ourselves in the little virtues first without which the great ones are often false and deceptive.”
Advent reminds us that the great hope for which we all long is built upon the foundation of little, simple, ordinary things: kindness, graciousness, welcome, patience, honesty, hospitality and compassion. Mary shows us that even the most singular demonstrations of God's love for us, first and foremost, challenge us to recognize the opportunities already present in our ordinary lives to devote our energies in promoting the welfare of one another.
Like Mary, may we come to see that our willingness to do little things for one another with great love and enthusiasm - to display “loving courtesy” - is the first step in our ultimate vocation: to give birth to the Great Promise of God's love for all people - Jesus Christ.
(December 24, 2018: Monday, Advent Weekday, Mass in the Morning)
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“He promised of old that he would save us from our enemies…”
Advent is a season of promise: a promise that God will “save us from our enemies.” These words beg the question: who are our enemies? How about:
- Unresolved angers
- Unadjusted attitudes
- Unbridled anxieties
- Unaddressed actions
- Unfulfilled dreams
(December 24, 2018: Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord)
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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, this chapter of Matthew 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?
~ OR ~
(December 24, 2018: Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord)
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“Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…”
In a Christmas sermon, Francis de Sales remarked:
“What else have we to say except that the mystery of Our Lord’s Nativity is also the mystery of the Visitation. Just as the most holy Virgin was to visit her cousin Elizabeth, we, too, must go very often to visit the Divine Babe lying in the manger. There we shall learn from the sovereign Pastor of shepherds to direct, to govern and to put our flocks in order in such a way that they will be pleasing to His goodness. But as the shepherds doubtless did not go to Him without bringing Him some little lambs, we must not go there empty-handed, either. We must bring Him something. What can we bring to this Divine Shepherd more pleasing than the little lamb which is our love and which is the principal part of our spiritual flock? For love is the first. This special gift is the grace which helps us to attain what would otherwise be impossible for us: the joy and happiness of glory. Thus, in the darkness of the night Our Lord was born and appeared to us as an infant lying in a manger…” (Sermons for Advent and Christmas, p. 53)
What better gift to bring to the manger than to place our love at the service of God and one another? Oh, come, let us adore…..and experience a foretaste of the joy and happiness of glory!
(December 25, 2018: Nativity of the Lord)
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With regard to the great Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Blessed Louis Brisson wrote:
“We honor the three births of Our Lord. In the case of the first we recall the eternal birth of the Son of God in th3 bosom of His Father; in the second, we recall His temporal birth in the stable of Bethlehem; and in the thirds, we recall His mystical both in our hearts by means of Holy Communion and His grace. The consideration of the first birth should lead us to adore the Son of God on the throne of His glory, in the endless reaches of eternity, where equal to His Father He receives the adoration of the angels and seraphim. By contrast, in Bethlehem we adore him on the throne of poverty, which is a throne of love. He hides his grandeur because he wants us to draw near him without fear.”
“Having adored Him in Heaven – having adored Him in the crib – adore Him present within you. I ask you, cross your arms across your chest where the Savior dwells after Holy Communion and say to Him, ‘I adore You in my heart. I adore You within me. You are as truly in me as You are in Heaven; You are as truly in me as You are truly in the crib where You received the adoration of the poor shepherds. You are truly within me.’” (Cor ad Cor, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)
We recognize Jesus at the right hand of the father. We recognize Jesus lying in a manger. Do we recognize that same Jesus within ourselves? Do we recognize that same Jesus in others?
(December 26, 2018: Saint Stephen, First Martyr)
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“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:
“One of the Church’s first seven deacons, Stephen was chosen and ordained by the apostles themselves to serve needy Christians and teach the faith. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that he was striking in appearance, with ‘the face of an angel…full of grace and fortitude.’ He came from a family of Jewish Greeks, and after his ordination he debated members of four of Jerusalem’s Greek synagogues. When they could not out-argue or silence this zealous young deacon, the Greek Jews hauled Stephen before the Sanhedrin (the Jews’ supreme tribunal), accusing him of blasphemy for ridiculing the Temple and the Law of Moses.”
“Asked to defend himself, Stephen launched into a long speech. He highlighted moments in Jewish history when the people of Israel had turned away from God, implying that – by not recognizing Jesus as the Messiah – they had been stubborn, proud and faithless once again. Then he exclaimed, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ It proved to be the last straw. With a roar of indignation the men in the court rushed at Stephen, dragged him outside the city walls and stoned him to death.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 131)
Stephen had the “grace and fortitude” he needed to commend his spirit to God in a single, once-in-a-lifetime act of courage by giving his life. How can we make good use of the same “grace and fortitude” we need to commend our spirits to God in a series of ordinary, everyday acts of courage?
With one another!
“You will be hated because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved…”
The day after we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the day after we celebrate the gift of the Incarnation, the day after we celebrate the coming of Emmanuel, God-who-is-with-us, the day after we ponder the miracle of the Word-made-Flesh, we remember the ultimate sacrifice of the first martyr, Stephen. A stark contrast, indeed, to the idyllic images of a newborn babe, of a manger, of barn animals, of shepherds and of choirs of angels.
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “Look at the example given by the saints in every walk of life. There is nothing that they have not done in order to love God and be God’s devoted followers. See the martyrs, unconquerable in determination. What torments they suffered to keep their resolutions…” (IDL, V, Chapter 12, p. 284)
The deacon Stephen was “working great wonders and signs among the people”. He was simply being faithful to God’s will for him. He wasn’t looking for a fight. But when others decided to bring the fight to Stephen, he didn’t duck it. No, he stood his ground in giving witness to the power and promise of the Lord, Jesus Christ. He endured to the end, an end that came almost immediately.
We share two things with Stephen: (1) we are called to give witness to the power and promise of the Lord Jesus in our own lives, and (2) we are challenged to endure to the end. As Francis de Sales tells us in so many places throughout his writings, ‘martyrdom’ will not come for most of us in the form of “enduring to the end” of an unexpectedly-shortened life; rather, we are called to bear witness by “enduring to the end” a long, perhaps unexpectedly-exhausting life.
Either way, may God give us the strength to hold our ground in bearing witness to God whenever, wherever and however God may choose!