Spirituality Matters 2018: January 11th - January 17th

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(January 11, 2018: Thursday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The leprosy left him immediately...”

Time and time again throughout the four Gospels, we witness how Jesus cured people on the spot. Their infirmity was healed, removed or eradicated immediately. In the case of today’s Gospel selection from Mark, Jesus immediately healed a person afflicted with leprosy.

But not all miracles happen in an instant. Some require several steps. Others require more time.

In Chapter 9 of the Gospel of John, Jesus cures a man born blind by first mixing spittle and mud before applying the mixture to the man’s eyes. In Chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel, the healing of another blind man requires two stages. In Chapter 2 of John’s Gospel Jesus turns water into wine seemingly as a last resort. And in the Gospels of Mark (7:25-30) and Matthew (15:21-28), Jesus agreed to heal the possessed daughter of the Syrophoenician woman only after what sometimes appears to have been a protracted negotiation. For that matter, in the Old Testament (2 Kings 5) Naaman the Syrian was cured of his leprosy only after bathing seven times in the River Jordan.

Whether in an instant, over several stages or during the course of a lifetime, all miracles share one thing in common – they begin by asking God for help.

Today, even only as a first step, from what might we need to be healed, freed or liberated by God?

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(January 12, 2018: Friday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord…”

Romanian-born Jewish-American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once remarked: “When a person doesn't have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity.”

Today’s Gospel offers us a powerful illustration of how the absence of gratitude can diminish one’s humanity.

When Jesus heals a paralytic in two phases (first, by forgiving the man’s sins and second by curing the man’s infirmity), there isn’t an ounce of gratitude to be found anywhere among the scribes, because the only thing they seem capable of mustering is resentment. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the scribes seem to be lacking more than just a little in their humanity - they come off in this story as being sorry excuses for human beings. Absorbed by their own sense of smug self-importance, the scribes appear to have lost their capacity for gratitude. These men of God no longer displayed any need for God.

Do you feel as if something is missing from your humanity? Are you experiencing any resentment in your life? Perhaps there is no better remedy or corrective than to discover ways to “sing the goodness of the Lord.”

Today, be grateful. Your humanity depends on it!

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(January 13, 2018: Hilary, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners…”

As word of Jesus’ reputation for helping those in need spread through the region, we are told in today’s Gospel that lots of folks (including Levi, a customs official) from lots of places travelled lots of distances to see him, to behold his face, to hear his voice, to experience his healing power and to know his love.

In one of his Conferences to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales remarked:

“It is very good for us to know and feel our misery and imperfection, but we must not allow that to discourage us; rather, our awareness of our miseries should make us raise our hearts to God by a holy confidence, the foundation of which ought to be in Him…The throne of God’s mercy is our misery; therefore, the greater our misery the greater should be our confidence in God.” (Living Jesus, page 45)

Today’s Gospel challenges sinners of all shapes and sizes not to avoid God but to pursue God. An awareness of our sinfulness or our neediness should not drive us away from God but should draw us closer to God. Have confidence that God will help you. Have confidence that God will heal you. Have confidence that God will empower you.

Why? Because God does love us! How? In the person of his Son, Jesus.

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(January 14, 2018: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“What are you looking for?”

Are you looking for the best in life?
Are you looking for the worst in life?
Are you looking for meaning and purpose in life?
Are you looking to just get by in life?
Are you looking for a God who is always present to you?
Are you looking for a God found only in special places or once-in-a lifetime events?
Are you looking for peace?
Are you looking for division?
Are you looking for reconciliation?
Are you looking for alienation?
Are you looking for hope?
Are you looking for despair?
Are you looking for light?
Are you looking for darkness?
Are you looking for revenge?
Are you looking for redemption?

Why are these questions – and so many others like them – so important? Why? Because we tend to more easily or quickly see those things for which we are looking. We frequently fail to see or recognize those things for which we are not looking.

The Salesian tradition challenges us to look for our common dignity and destiny as sons and daughters of God.

  • The Salesian tradition challenges us to look for our unique roles in God’s plan of salvation.

  • The Salesian tradition challenges us to look for God in every event, circumstance and relationship of everyday life.

  • The Salesian tradition challenges us to look for daily opportunities to serve one another in simple, practical and ordinary ways.

  • The Salesian tradition challenges us to look for ways to make real here on earth something of the justice, truth, reconciliation, freedom and peace that are promised to us forever in heaven.

  • The Salesian tradition challenges us to look for a God who calls us by name, who loves us, who cherishes us, who pursues us, who forgives us, who strengthens us…and who calls us to do the same for one another.
And so, at this point in your life, ask yourself - what are you, in fact, looking for?

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(January 15, 2018: Monday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, and your disciples do not fast?”

What distinguishes your run-of-the-mill comedian from a truly great comedian? Well, aside from having good material, the almost-universal answer is: “Timing”. Successful comedians are gifted with – or learned to develop – an incredible sense of timing.

The point that Jesus is trying to make in today’s Gospel is no laughing matter. In many cases, timing is everything. Fasting and feasting (among other things) are both good things. The challenge is to develop the sense to know the proper time to do one or the other. Recall the words found in the Book of Ecclesiastes 3, verse 1: “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…”

In the Salesian tradition, developing this sense of timing goes hand-in-hand with the practice of virtue. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “A great fault in many who undertake the exercise of some particular virtue is thinking they must practice it in every situation. Like certain great philosophers, they wish either always to weep or always to laugh. Still worse, they condemn and censure others who do not practice the same virtues they do. The apostle (St. Paul) says, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep,’ and ‘charity is patient, is kind,’ generous, prudent, discreet and considerate.”

Jesus’ sense of timing - his knack for reading a situation, for recognizing his surroundings and for knowing what was called for with a particular person – enabled him to do the right thing at the right time in the right way. Unlike the one-size-fits-all” approach of the disciples of John and the Pharisees, Jesus shows us that the authentic practice of virtue must be “tailor-made”.

Indeed, “there is a time for every purpose under heaven”. What time is it now? Today, that are the things that God is calling us to do?

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(January 16, 2018: Tuesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You are my father, my God, the Rock, my savior…”

In an undated letter addressed to “A Gentleman” who apparently had been struggling with a debilitating illness that had seriously challenged his confidence and faith in pretty much everything, Francis de Sales wrote:

“It is of great concern to me that everyone says that in addition to your physical illness, you are suffering from deep depression…Please tell me sir, what reason have you for remaining in this dark mood which is so harmful to you? I am afraid that your mind is still troubled by some fear of sudden death and the judgment of God. That is, alas, a unique kind of anguish! My own soul – which once endured it for six weeks – is in apposition to feel compassion for those who experience it."

“So, sir, I must have a little heart to heart chat with you and tell you that anyone who has a true desire to serve our Lord and flee from sin should not torment himself with the thoughts of death or divine judgment: for while both the one and the other are to be feared, nevertheless, the fear must not be the terrible kind of natural fear which weakness and dampens the ardor and determination of the spirit, but rather a fear that is so full of confidence in the goodness of God that in the end grows calm…This is not the time to start questioning whether or not we are strong enough to entrust ourselves to God.”

“So, now, since you want to belong entirely to God, why be afraid of your weakness – upon which, in any case, you shouldn’t be relying in the first place? You do hope in God, don’t you? And will anyone who hopes in God ever be put to shame? No, sir, never!” (LSD, page 180)

In good times, in bad times and in all the times in between, God is our rock, our savior. At those times when – for whatever reason – we become more aware than usual of our weakness, we should remind ourselves of an even greater truth.

God’s strength.

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(January 17, 2018: Wednesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Grieved at their hardness of heart…”

Recall last week’s account of Jesus and the paralyzed man? Jesus healed a paralytic in two phases (first, by forgiving the man’s sins and second, by curing the man’s infirmity). As astonishing as that two-fold miracle may have been to those who witnessed it, perhaps the only thing even more astonishing was the intractability of the scribes who questioned Jesus’ authority for doing so. Those men of God appeared to have lost any sense of their need for God.

We see the same dynamic played out in today’s Gospel. Jesus is painfully aware that the Pharisees are looking for any excuse to discredit him, even if it requires demonizing an objectively good and righteous act! In another case of putting the cart before the horse, the Pharisees – this time through their cold, calculating silence – are placing the primacy of the Sabbath far ahead of the opportunity to restore someone’s health, in effect, to bring them back to life.

We are told at the end of the day that the Pharisees were undaunted in their pursuit of pettiness and parochialism, hardening their hearts to God’s providence at every opportunity. Fortunately for us, Jesus was even more undaunted in his pursuit of righteousness. Grieved as he might have been, Jesus never allowed others’ hardness of heart to harden his heart.

Today, as followers of Jesus, can the same be said of us?