Spirituality Matters 2019: January 17th - January 23rd

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(January 17, 2019: Saint Anthony, Abbot)
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“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

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

“Anthony was the son of a wealthy Egyptian family. When his parents died, he inherited a fortune, which he gave away to the poor and then moved to the desert west of Alexandria to live as a hermit. St. Athanasius – Anthony’s contemporary and the author of his biography – says that the devil tried to break Anthony’s resolve by tempting him with the pleasures of indolence, fine food and wine and beautiful women. Through intense prayer, Anthony resisted all these temptations, at which point the devil attacked him, beating him into unconsciousness.”

“On rare occasions Anthony returned to civilization - once to encourage martyrs during a period of anti-Christian persecution, and on another occasion to publicly refute the heresy of Arius. In the last decades of his life, Anthony accepted disciples and organized them into a religious community over which he eventually presided as abbot. He remained with his monks until the day he died at the age of 105.” ( This Saint’s for You, p. 325)

Be it in the business of society or the solitude of the desert, St. Anthony appears to have developed a knack for discerning which voices he might have been hearing at any given moment in time. He eschewed the suggestions of the devil and he embraced the promptings of God.

On any given day there are lots of voices vying for our attention. Some of these voices may be temptations coming from the evil one; other voices may be inspirations coming from the Holy One. How can we imitate Anthony’s example? If today you should hear the devilish voice, by all means cover your ears! By contrast, if today you should hear the Divine voice, harden not your heart.

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(January 18, 2019: Friday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not forget the works 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. 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 suffering more from something missing in their humanity. They come off in this story as being sorry excuses for human beings.

Maybe the reason that the scribes failed to recognize a singular work of the Lord in the present (at the hands of Jesus) was due to the fact that they had managed to forget the collective works of the Lord in the past. 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 like something is missing from your humanity? Are you experiencing any resentment? Then “do not forget the works of the Lord.” For that matter, do not forget the works of all the people in your life who have helped to make you who you are today.

And especially don’t forget to be grateful. Your humanity depends on it!

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(January 19, 2019: Saturday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The word of God is living and effective...”

In today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark we see these words from the Letter to the Hebrews in action in the person of Jesus. Jesus’ words are not mere words, but they words mean something. Jesus’ words are commands, invitations, assurances, challenges, promises, and occasionally, even rebukes. Jesus’ words – all of Jesus’ words – are powerful. They make things happen. They change peoples’ lives for the better

Jesus says to Levi, “Follow me.” Levi follows. In another instance Jesus says, “Stand up.” The person stands up. In another instance Jesus says, “Go. Your faith has healed you.” And the person goes. In yet another instance, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” And they are forgiven.

And what about us? Are our words just words or do they mean something? Do our words accomplish things? Do our words makes things happen?

And if so, do they change other peoples’ lives for the better?

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(January 20, 2019: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet…”

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

“Among the crowds in certain senate chambers and parliaments we see ushers crying, ‘Quiet, there!’ thus making more noise than those they wish to silence.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 8, p. 148)

Being a son or daughter of God empowers us (as St. Paul reminds us) with a variety of “spiritual gifts.” Among these is the gift of “prophecy,” the charism – and the courage – to speak the truth when it needs to be spoken. Of course, as St. Francis de Sales suggests, you don’t have to scream and shout in order to be heard.

The story of the wedding feast at Cana in today’s selection from the Gospel of John is a great illustration of this point. When Mary informs her son that the caterers have run out of wine, Jesus initially resists her suggestion that he needed to do something about it. Mary chose not to remain silent; rather she spoke up. However, her way of speaking up, saying to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you” – five simple words – demonstrates that speaking less may actually result in saying more when it comes to practicing prophecy, that is, when saying what needs to be said…and done.

How about us? Today when we exercise the gift of prophecy – when we speak the truth, let alone do what is true – do we say what needs to be said, or do we say nothing while continuing to speak?

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(January 21, 2019: Agnes, Virgin and Martyr)
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Notwithstanding the increasingly common trend of removing all things religious from the public forum, did you know that St. Agnes is still on the books as the patron saint of the Girl Scouts? In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“St. Agnes was chosen because not only was she martyred when she was barely in her teens, but she also possessed many of the qualities the Girl Scouts attempt to cultivate in themselves: courage, honesty, respect for self and for others, and service to God and neighbor.”

“Agnes came from a Christian family in Rome. She was about thirteen years old when she was arrested and hauled before a magistrate for the crime of being a Christian. He threatened to burn her alive, but Agnes would not deny her faith. Next, he tried to force her to join the virgins who served the goddess Vesta, but Agnes refused to perform any function in a pagan temple. Finally, the magistrate ordered the early adolescent to be exposed in a brothel and then beheaded. Despite the fact that Agnes was but one of tens of thousands of Christians martyred during the emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the Church, devotion to her sprang up and spread almost instantly after her death. In imagery and art, Agnes is frequently portrayed with a lamb, a symbol of her innocence and purity as well as a take-off on her name: in Latin, the word for “lamb” is agnus.” ( This Saint’s for You, p. 192)

Perhaps Agnes should also be portrayed with a lion in addition to a lamb. After all, not only was she innocent and pure but also courageous and tenacious…to the death.

Today how might we imitate her example on both scores?

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(January 22, 2019: Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children)
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In his popularization of Bishop Camus’s accounts of the life and legacy of St. Francis de Sales (in The Spirit of Love) CF. Kelley wrote:

“St. Francis de Sales would often say to me (Camus) how much better it would be to accommodate ourselves to others rather than to want to bend everyone to our own ways and opinions. The human mind is like pulp, which takes readily any color with which it is mixed. The great thing is to take care that it not be like the chameleon, which, one after the other takes every color except white.” (Select Salesian Subjects, p. 122, 0523)

St. Francis de Sales’ preferred approach for evangelizing was to meet people where they lived. As his Catholic Controversies clearly demonstrate, however, the “Gentleman Saint” had no hesitation in pointing out instances in which he believed that where people ‘were’ was objectively wrong. While seeking to accommodate others’ ways and opinions as a strategy for winning them over, attempts at persuasion can never be made at the expense of one’s own principles or core beliefs.

The debate regarding Roe v. Wade and its impact in the United States shows no signs of waning. Discussions about how best to legally protect unborn children appear to produce little or no consensus. Arguments for and against ‘legislating morality’ seem to have no end. In the meantime, there is nothing to be lost – and perhaps much to be gained – by continuing to pray that “liberty and justice for all” will, in fact, be just that: for all, including unborn children.

Today may God help us to put that prayer into action with as much purpose – and persuasion – as we can.

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(January 23, 2019: Vincent – Deacon, Martyr)
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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 (or perhaps dropping the cart on the horse altogether!) 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.