Spirituality Matters 2018: December 27th - January 2nd

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(December 27, 2018: St. John, Apostle and Evangelist)
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“The life was made visible...”

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

“Among the twelve apostles, Christ’s three closest friends were Peter, James the Greater and John. Within this inner circle, John was the Lord’s favorite, the one referred to as ‘the beloved disciple’ in St. John’s Gospel. By tradition, John is also believed to have been the youngest of the apostles, perhaps barely out of his teens when he followed Christ. After Jesus was arrested, John was the only one of the apostles who remained with him. He witnessed Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, followed him as he carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, stood at the foot of the cross with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and helped take Christ’s body off the cross and lay it in the tomb. Before dying, Christ rewarded his most loyal friend by placing Mary in John’s care.”

“Initially John preached in Jerusalem but then moved to Ephesus, the greatest city in the eastern Roman Empire. A tradition that dates to at least the second century says that John took Mary with him. Amid the ruins of Ephesus stands a little stone house believed to have been Mary’s home. St. John died peacefully at age ninety-four, the only one of the apostles who was not martyred. Sparing him a violent death may have been Christ’s last gift to his best friend.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 193)

John knew it. Peter and James knew it. Countless of the people who encountered Jesus during his life on this earth knew it. We, too, can know it.

What a friend we have in Jesus!

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(December 28, 2018: Holy Innocents, Martyrs)
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“A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation…”

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

“Even in the Christmas story, there is a touch of tragedy: the massacre of the infant boys in Bethlehem. St. Matthew’s Gospel records that when the Magi stopped in Jerusalem to ask the whereabouts of the King of the Jews, Herod, the king of Judea, sent them to Bethlehem with instructions to return once they had found the Christ Child so that he, too, could pay homage. Warned by an angel that Herod was up to no good, the Magi returned home via a route that bypassed the city and its conniving king.”

“Once Herod realized the Magi were on to him, he sent troops to Bethlehem with orders to kill every boy aged two and younger. But the same angel warned Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety. By the time Herod’s troops charged into the village, the Holy Family was long gone. No one knows how many babies were massacred that day.” ( This Saint’s for You, pp. 134-135)

It is sometimes said that there is no such thing as a ‘secret’ sin. By its very nature sin is a social animal. Every sin – however public or private – impacts not only the person who commits it but also other people – often times, innocent people – as well. The Holy Innocents suffered because of one man’s sin. These children - collateral damage - died because of Herod’s personal envy, professional greed and narcisitic paranoia. As the poet Prudentius wrote:

All hail, ye infant martyr flowers

Cut off in life’s first dawning hours:

As rosebuds snapped in tempest strife,

When Herod sought your Savior’s life.

Today what about us? Who are the “innocents” in our lives who are impacted by the personal or ‘private’ sins we commit?

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(December 29, 2018: St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr)
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“This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: to walk just as he walked.”

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

“Nothing in Thomas Becket’s early life suggested that he would become a defender of the liberty of the Church, to say nothing of becoming a martyr. He was a shrewd administrator with a special talent for making money. He proved to be the ideal royal servant: whatever King Henry II wanted done, Becket accomplished. When the old archbishop died, Henry took it upon himself to name the new archbishop rather than wait for the pope to do so: thinking he would be the perfect choice, Henry chose Becket. With one of his closest friends as archbishop of Canterbury, Henry believed that he could extend his royal authority over the Church in England.”

“Turned out, Henry was wrong.”

“Once Thomas was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury he became a changed man. He did penance to make up for years of careless living. The man who had once refused to clothe one freezing beggar now gave lavishly to the poor. We don’t know if Henry noticed the change that had come over his friend, but when the king made his first move against the Church it became clear that Becket would not be the puppet archbishop for which Henry had hoped. In their first disagreement, Henry argued that priests who committed crimes were treated too leniently by Church courts and they should submit to the civil courts of England. Becket replied that laymen did not have jurisdiction over clergymen. Stung by Becket’s opposition, Henry brought a host of false charges against his one-time friend. He had Becket indicted for squandering royal funds and even accused the archbishop of treason. Death threats from the king’s men followed, prompting Becket to flee to France for fear of losing his life.”

“For the next six years Henry and Becket jockeyed for position, each trying to win the pope’s support. In the end a truce was worked out, allowing Becket to return home to Canterbury, although the central issue of the Church’s liberty remained unresolved. When Becket subsequently excommunicated bishops who had both supported Henry and also infringed on the prerogatives of the archbishop of Canterbury, Henry threw one of his infamous tantrums, ending by crying aloud, ‘Will no one relieve me of this troublesome priest?’ Four of the king’s knights – bitter enemies of Becket – set out at once for Canterbury where they confronted Becket in his own cathedral. When Becket refused to give in to all of Henry’s demands, the knights hacked the archbishop to death at the foot of the altar.”

“The shock of Becket’s murder reverberated across Europe. Henry submitted to public penance, letting the monks of Canterbury flog him as he knelt before his former-friend’s tomb. St. Thomas Becket quarreled with his king over the liberty of the Church, but throughout the entire ordeal it was the rights of the diocesan clergy that had hung in the balance…and for which Becket gave his life.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 134-135)

How do we know that Thomas Becket was “in union” with Jesus? The archbishop of Canterbury walked “just as He walked.” Just as in the case of Jesus, Thomas stood his ground when threatened by the face of oppression. Just as in the case of Jesus, Thomas ultimately gave his life to protect – and promote – the freedom and liberty of others.

How might God call us to walk in the ways of Thomas Becket – and Jesus – today?

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(December 30, 2018: Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph)
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“God’s chosen ones...”

“Public or hidden, the earthly lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph may sometimes seem far removed from our own today. But if we look at them carefully, we can see how their individual lives offer an invitation to grow in our own humanity and holiness. Unfortunately, the Gospel writers say nothing about the life of Jesus between the time he is discovered teaching in the Temple at age twelve and the beginning of his public ministry around age thirty. This eighteen-year period was undoubtedly crucial in the growing self-awareness and maturation of Jesus. But we can imagine this: Over the years, Mary and Joseph most likely came to understand that their son was destined for a unique vocation. At the same time, Jesus probably spent much time preparing for what he may have thought would be his lifelong occupation: that of a carpenter, or what we might also call a craftsman or construction worker.”

“Those same virtues that Jesus acquired as a real-life carpenter (patience, persistence, hard work, honesty and so on) would serve him well in his later ministry. As Jesus matured, God the Father may have been preparing him for his eventual work, much as God can use our own backgrounds and talents for the good. God, in each of our lives, can prepare us for things we might never have predicted!” (James Martin, SJ in Catholic Update: http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/preview.aspx?id=233 )

In a Conference he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation on “Constancy,” Francis de Sales remarked:

“O man, you who are so much disquieted because all things do not succeed according to your wishes, are you not ashamed to see that what you want was not to be found even in the family of Our Lord? Consider, I pray you, the vicissitudes and changes – the alternations of joy and sorrow – which we can find even there.” (Conference III, p. 37)

There’s no question that the family in which Jesus was raised – and of which he was a member – played a pivotal role in the kind of person he would become. Notwithstanding our romanticized and idyllic images of the Holy Family, they, too, - like our families - had their share of headaches and heartaches. They, too, - like our families - had their share of ups and downs. They, too – like our families - had their feasts and famines.

Family life – no matter how wholesome or holy – is never a trouble-free life. Whether you have more in common with the Holy Family or with the Addams Family, both families share this common value - in thick and in thin, in good times and bad, in plenty or paucity, they stick together and they look out for each other.

Can the same be said of our families - God’s chosen ones - as imperfect as we may be?

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(December 31, 2018: Seventh Day within the Octave of the Nativity)
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“Every lie is alien to the truth…”

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say all that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. Therefore, you must become accustomed to never tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purposes, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth.’ If you happen to tell a lie inadvertently, correct it immediately by an explanation or making amends. An honest explanation always has more grace and force to excuse us that a lie has…Lying, double-dealing and dissimulation are always signs of a weak, mean mind.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Jesus tells us “the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

Do you want to be free? Then don’t merely tell the truth but also be a truthful – and truth-filled – person.

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(January 1, 2019: Mary, Mother of God)
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“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

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

“Honor, venerate and respect with special love the holy and glorious Virgin Mary who, being the Mother of Jesus Christ our Brother, is also in truth our very mother. Let us then have recourse to her, and as her little children cast ourselves into her bosom with perfect confidence, at all times and on all occasions let us invoke her maternal love whilst striving to imitate her virtues…” (Living Jesus, p. 224)

As we begin another New year, let us rededicate our lives to the glorious Virgin Mary. Let us honor, venerate and respect her. Let us turn to her. Let us have confidence in her. Let us invoke her maternal love while striving to imitate her virtues. For her part, may Mary – Mother of Jesus – help us in our efforts every day during this New Year to be worthy brothers and sisters of her Son. And in so doing, may God bless us and keep us. May the Lord let his face shine upon us and be gracious to us. May the Lord look upon us kindly and give us peace!

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(January 2, 2019: Basil the Great, Bishop and Doctor)
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“Remain in him...”

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

“In Basil’s day most monks and nuns were hermits living in isolated corners of the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. Arguing that people are ‘sociable beings, and not isolated or savage,’ he urged the hermits to form communities near towns and cities where ordinary Christians could profit from their prayers and, inspired by their example, deepen their own religious life. The monks and nuns could take in orphans and open schools, recruiting a new generation for the religious life. To this day in the Eastern Church, St. Basil’s guidelines for monks and nuns remain the standard.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 359)

In today’s selection from the First Letter of John the word “remain(s)” is used six times. The author challenges us to remain in Jesus in order that Jesus may remain in us. Among other things, “remain” is defined as “to continue in the same state or condition, to continue to be in the same place, stay or stay behind.” At first glance this definition seems to suggest that remaining in Jesus is somehow static. It’s about staying the same. It’s about treading water. It’s about running in place. The word “remain” feels passive. The problem is that Jesus is anything but passive; Jesus is all about action.

A second glance at the definition of “remain” provides a different take: “to endure or persist.”

To remain in Jesus requires effort. To remain in Jesus requires energy. To remain in Jesus requires endurance. However, as St. Basil the Great would suggest, to “remain in him” isn’t limited to Jesus. As “sociable beings” we need something else in order to remain – that is, “to endure or persist” – with Jesus.

We need to “endure and persist” as Church. We need to “endure and persist” as community. We need to “endure and persist” with one another. After all, we are the Body of Christ.