Spirituality Matters 2018: July 12th - July 18th

* * * * *
(July 12, 2018: Thursday, Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time )
* * * * *

“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

What could be more humbling than to consider all the good that God has, is and will do done for us? Well, perhaps even more humbling is the realization that God’s goodness, mercy and generosity come without cost or condition. Insofar as we are created from nothing, we have done nothing to deserve God’s overwhelming blessings, gifts and love. They are unconditionally free gifts!

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation on the virtue of generosity, Francis de Sales remarked:

“We must indeed keep ourselves humble because of our imperfections, but this humility must be the foundation of a great generosity. Humility without generosity is only a deception and a cowardice of the heart that makes us think that we are good for nothing and that others should never think of using us in anything great. On the other hand, generosity without humility is only presumption. We may indeed say, ‘It is true I have no virtue, still less the necessary gifts to be used in such and such an endeavor,’ but after that humble acknowledgement we must put our full confidence in God as to believe that He will not fail to give His gifts to us when it is necessary to have them, and when He wants us to make use of us, provided only that we forget ourselves in praising faithfully His Divine majesty and helping our neighbor to do the same so as to increase His glory as much as lies in our power.” (Living Jesus, p. 152)

On one level it is true to say that we are “nothing”, creatures that we are. But because of the God who has created us, each and every one of us is – in God’s eyes – marvelous to behold. What a humbling, empowering gift!

What better way to say “thank you” for such gift than to freely and generously share who we are and what we have with one another?


* * * * *
(July 13, 2018: Henry, Emperor )
* * * * *

“Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say…”

In a letter to Jane de Chantal in 1606, Francis de Sales wrote:

“I cannot think of anything else to say to you about your apprehension of your particular troubles, nor of the fear of being unable to bear it. Did I not tell you the first time I spoke to you about your soul that you pay too much attention to what afflicts or frightens you? You must do so only in great moderation! People frequently reflect too much about their troubles and this entangles thoughts and fears and desires to the point that the soul is constricted and cannot be itself. Don’t be afraid of what God has in store for you – love God very much for He wants to do you a great deal of good. Carry on quite simply in the shelter of your resolutions and reject anticipations of your troubles as simply a cruel temptation…Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself, but if terror should seize you cry out loudly to God. He will stretch forth his hand towards you – grab it tightly and go joyfully on your way.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 124 -125)

Francis de Sales recommends that we begin every new day with what he calls a “preparation of the day”. Consider all the things you may need to accomplish today. Think about the people and situations that you may encounter today. When you finished, does anything, place or person you may face today make you worry, anxious or fearful?

Then, take hold of God’s hand, and do your best to go joyfully through your day!

* * * * *
(July 14, 2018: Kateri Tekakwitha )
* * * * *

“Do not be afraid…”

In the same letter that we considered yesterday, Francis de Sales wrote to Jane de Chantal concerning the issues of worry, anxiety and fear. We read:

“Don’t philosophize about your trouble – don’t argue with it. Quite simply, continue to walk straight on. God would not allow you to be lost while you live according to your resolutions so as not to lose him. If the whole world turns topsy-turvy, if all around is darkness and smoke and din, yet God is still with us. So, if we know that God lives in the darkness and on Mount Sinai which is full of smoke and surrounded with the roar of thunder and lightning, shall not all be well with us as long as we remain close to him? So, live wholly in God, and do not fear. Jesus in his goodness is all ours; let us be all his. Let us cling to him with courage!” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 124 -125)

This exhortation is very challenging! After all, who can say that they have never been afraid, worried or anxious? Doesn’t even the Book of Proverbs (9:10) claim that “fear (of the Lord) is the beginning of wisdom?” Some things should scare us!

Let’s look at it this way. While we may have our share of fears in life, it is critical that we try our level best to avoid becoming people who are fearful and remain people who are joyful!

* * * * *
(July 15, 2018: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

“In Him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things, according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory we who first hoped in Christ.”

St. Francis de Sales once traveled to Bellevaux with a young priest where he relived his first days as a missionary in the Chablais. The residents were very timid and wary. The two could not get any lodging, no wine and no seats on which to sit. The two had to eat poor bread for which they paid enormously - a little cheese, a little water, having no table other than the ground - no tablecloth other than their own cloaks.

Francis said: “Here is the real apostolic life, the life where one can imitate in some fashion the poverty of Jesus Christ and his Apostles. I am accustomed to this because for two or three years I experienced the same cruelty from the residents in various villages.”

Even with these setbacks or because of them, Francis loved the people whose pastor he was. He gave everyone a fraternal welcome and led them in apostolic generosity, which he himself practiced. He put into practice: “It is better to be humble with the poor than to share booty with the proud”. (Proverbs. 16: 19) He knew the apostolic spirit: “He is close to the broken-hearted; he soothes the dejected spirit”. (Proverbs 33:19)

Francis listened to God's voice and added his own to the Lord's. His keen intellect and educational background prepared him for how to argue, yet he was able to turn aside hatred. Francis had a great desire to debate the Protestant ministers, but few took up the challenge. A few in his audience secretly took notes from his sermons, copied them, and passed them around Geneva. At first there was little response, but with the passage of time came a great many conversions to the faith.

One can do a great deal in his or her own style of preaching, teaching and working. It is a great gift to allow the Lord's Spirit to work in us and others, and not to be discouraged by hardships, disappointments, and our own way of wanting to get things done. Many great people, who have gone before us, have shown us the way.

Francis de Sales showed the power of the virtue of hope. A hope which eventually produced great fruit, due to the insight, vigor and determination of a saint who was unwilling to allow frustration and pain from preventing him from preaching the word of the Lord.

May we be emboldened, enlightened and – when necessary – encouraged by his example.

* * * * *
(July 16, 2018: Our Lady of Mount Carmel )
* * * * *

“Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink
because he is a disciple - Amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

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

“Little daily acts of charity, a headache, toothache or cold, the ill humor of a husband or wife, this contempt or that scorn, the loss of a pair of gloves, a ring or a handkerchief, the little inconveniences incurred by going to bed early and getting up early to pray or attend Mass, the little feelings of self-consciousness that comes with performing good deeds in public – in short, all such little things as these when accepted and embraced with love are highly pleasing to God’s mercy. For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful people a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves constantly each day it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches only if you use them well…Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, whereas little ones are frequent.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 214 - 215)

Jesus - as it were - throws cold water on the notion that serving God is limited to doing great things for others. As Francis de Sales clearly understood, the point that Jesus makes is that serving God, more often than not, is displayed in our willingness to do little things for one another with great love.

Francis de Sales tells us that we can store up vast spiritual riches by enriching the lives of others in simple, ordinary ways.

Today, how might we store up such riches?

* * * * *
(July 17, 2018: Tuesday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

“For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom,
it would have remained until this day.”

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

“Put your hand to strong things, by training yourself in prayer and meditation, receiving the Sacraments, bringing souls to love God, infusing good inspirations into their hearts and in fine, by performing big, important works according to your vocation. But never forget to practice those little, humble virtues that grow at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of your family with all the tasks that go with such things and with all the useful diligence that will not allow you to be idle.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 35, pp. 214 - 215)

The selection from today’s Gospel suggests why Jesus emphasized the importance of doing little things for other people as illustrated also in yesterday’s Gospel selection. Jesus had firsthand experience of how some of his contemporaries were left cold and unconvinced by even some of the greatest deeds that he performed. Put another way, Jesus discovered that even the greatest of deeds are powerless in the presence of hardened hearts. Mind you, the selective stubbornness of some folks did not deter Jesus from doing great things, but Jesus doubtless enjoyed great success in his ministry by performing little deeds as well - visiting people in their homes, walking and talking with people and just simply being with other people.

In our own lives there may be times when our love for God and others may require us to perform “important works” associated with the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Chances are, however, that the challenge to do big things won’t present itself frequently. However, never forget that time-honored saying to which most – if not all – of us can relate.

Little things mean a lot.

* * * * *
(July 18, 2018: Camillus de Lellis, Founder and Priest )
* * * * *

“Judgment will be with justice, and the upright of heart shall follow it...” (Responsorial Psalm)

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines judgment as “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing an idea that is believed to be true or valid without positive knowledge.” Synonyms include: belief, conclusion, conviction, determination, diagnosis, eye, mind, notion, opinion, resolution, sentiment, verdict and view.

OK. Then, it should be obvious that a world without judgment (and things akin to it) would be a pretty chaotic place. We need to be able to make determinations, draw conclusions, form opinions and develop views in order to make our way through life. The challenge (presented to us in today’s Responsorial Psalm) is to render judgments that are just and to avoid the temptation to make judgments that are rash.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “How offensive to God are rash judgments! The judgments of the children of men are rash because they are not the judges of one another, and when they pass judgment on others they usurp the office of our Lord. Such judgments are rash because the principal malice of sin depends on the intention and counsel of the heart. They are rash because every man has enough on which he ought to judge himself without taking it upon himself to judge his neighbors…fear, ambition and similar mental weaknesses often contribute to the birth of suspicion and rash judgment.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 28, p. 196-197)

What is the cure for rash, unjust judgments? “Drink as deeply as you can of the sacred wine of charity. It will set you free from the perverse moods that cause us to make such tortured judgments, for whoever wants to be cured must apply remedies not to one’s eyes or intellect but to one’s affections. If your reflections are kind, your judgments will be kind; if your affections are charitable, your judgments will be the same.” (Ibid, pp. 198-199)

What is Francis de Sales’ advice for those dedicated to judging justly? “Those who look carefully into their consciences are not very likely to pass rash judgments. Just as bees in misty or cloudy weather stay in their lives to prepare honey, so also the thoughts of good men do not go out in search of things concealed among the cloudy actions of their neighbors. It is the part of an unprofitable soul to amuse itself with examining the lives of other people.” Duly note, however, an important caveat that Francis wrote: “I except those who are placed in charge of others, whether within a family or in the state. For them a great part of their duties consists in inspecting and watching over the conduct of others. In such cases as these, let those responsible for others discharge their duty and make judgments with love.” (Ibid, pp. 200-201)

If/when you need to make judgments, avoid the temptation to do so rashly. If/when you need to make judgments, do so justly.

That is, with love!