Spirituality Matters 2018: June 7th - June 13th

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(June 7, 2012: Thursday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The first commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Many men keep the commandments in the way sick men take medicine: more from fear of dying in damnation than for joy of living according to our Savior’s will. Just as some persons dislike taking medicine - no matter how pleasant it may be – simply because it is called medicine, so there are some souls who hold in horror things commanded simply because they are commanded. By contrast, a loving heart loves the commandments. The more difficult they are the sweeter and more agreeable it finds them since this more perfectly pleases the beloved and gives him great honor. It pours forth and sings great hymns of joy when God teaches it to his commandments and justifications. The pilgrim who goes on his way joyously singing adds the labor of singing to that of walking, and yet by this increase of labor he actually lessens his weariness and lightens the hardship of the journey.” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 5, pp. 67-68)

When you boil it all down, Jesus gives us two – just two – commandments to follow: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. At one and the same time these two commandments are not too much to ask even if they ask us to give them our all!

What better way of taking our medicine to good effect – and being medicinal in the lives of others – than by living these commandments joyfully?

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(June 8, 2018: Most Sacred Heart of Jesus)
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“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…”

In a letter (undated) to the Sisters of the Visitation, Jane de Chantal wrote:

“You are, I hope, always striving more earnestly to rid yourself of all that is displeasing to your sovereign spouse and to acquire those virtues which please him. Oh, my dearest sisters, how deeply is this wish engraved in my heart! Show a childlike trust and gentleness toward one another…So courage, dear ones. May all of you together – and each one in particular – work at this and never grow slack. May you all live in harmony with one heart and mind in God…If you imitate Him in all your little trials and make His divine will rule in you, He will fill it with every blessing…I urge you to this once again, for the love of our Savior and by his Precious blood, and with the deep affection of my heart which is all yours in Jesus. (Wright, Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition, p. 95)

God gives us the courage to accept St. Jane’s exhortation and make it our own! God gives us the grace we need to live in harmony with one heart and mind! God gives us the patience to acquire the virtues that please God and serve others!

May God fill us with every blessing - and help us to be a blessing to each other – as He did so clearly through the Sacred Heart of his Son! May Christ indeed dwell in our hearts through faith!

And, in deeds!

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(June 9, 2018: Saturday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life St. Francis de Sales exhorted:

“Be patient not only with regard to the big, chief part of difficulties that may come to you but also as to things and accidents accompanying them. Many people would be ready to accept trials provided they were not inconvenienced by them. ‘I wouldn’t be bothered by poverty,’ one man says, ‘if it didn’t keep me from helping my friends, educating my children and living as respectably as I’d like.’ ‘It wouldn’t bother me,’ another says, ‘if people didn’t think it was my own fault.’ Another would be willing to suffer patently false reports about him provided that no one believed his detractor. Others are willing to endure part of an evil, so they think, but not the whole of it. They say that they don’t complain about being ill but about their lack of money to get cured or because they are so much bother to those around them. Now I say that we must have patience not merely at being ill but at having the illness that God wishes, where he wishes, among the people he wishes and with whatever difficulties he wishes.” (IDL , Part III, Chapter 3, p. 129)

Many people would be ready to accept trials provided they were not inconvenienced by them. This statements sounds like the restaurant owner who says: “Business would be great if it weren’t for the customers,” or the teacher who opines, “My job would be great if it weren’t for the kids.”

In what ways might I be a “sunshine patriot” when it comes to following Jesus? Do I follow him when it’s easy, but head for the hills when it’s tough? Imagine if Jesus only helped people when it was convenient for him! Where would that have left the people of his day?

Where would that leave us in our day?

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(June 10, 2018: Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time))
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“Who told you that you were naked?”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales does not equate happiness with self-centeredness, self-absorption or self-obsession. However, Francis does equate happiness with what he calls self-possession. The Gentleman Saint writes:

“It is man’s great happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls.”

What happiness it is to know and accept yourself for who you are in the sight of God! What delight it is to be comfortable – without being complacent – in your own skin! What joy it is to be essentially at home – to be at peace – with the person that God made you to be! Why, it’s the next best thing to Paradise.

Tragically enough, the ability to be at home with ourselves became the first – and the most fundamental – casualty of The Fall. No sooner had Adam and Eve eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge than their natural state – their nakedness, their transparency – became a reproach. They were embarrassed – they were ashamed – of who they were. Literally, they were no longer comfortable in their own skin. Suddenly sullied by self-alienation and self-loathing, Paradise was lost…and life became a burden.

As we know all-too-well, so much of the misery, sin and sadness that plagues the human family to this very day comes from either (1) the inability to be who we really are, or (2) the fruitless attempt to become someone we’re not.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales exclaimed:

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that he wills all of us to be saved that no one should be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose through Creation God made us ‘in his own image and likeness’, whereas through the Incarnation God has made himself in our image and likeness.”

The redemptive grace of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the happiness that comes from possessing our own souls. The restorative power of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the joy of being essentially at home with who we are in the sight of God. Wounded as we are by sin, our practice of devotion – our quest to possess our own souls – no longer comes effortlessly as it originally did in Paradise. It requires perpetual practice; it demands tremendous patience That said, God not only promises us the joy and peace born of this heavenly self-acceptance; God also shows us how to achieve it on this earth in the person of his Son.

Jesus embodies the power of self-possession. Jesus exhibits the joy of self-acceptance. Jesus exudes the peace of self-direction. Who better than Jesus shows us what it looks like to be comfortable in one’s own skin? Who better than Jesus demonstrates what it looks like to invite - and to empower - others to do the same?

Not unlike what he did with our first parents, The Evil One hits us where it hurts. Sometimes Satan tempts us to believe that we can’t possibly be happy by being who we are. Other times, Satan tempts us to believe that we’d be happier if we were someone else – perhaps anybody else – other than who we are. In very deep, dark places within our minds and hearts, each and every one of us is tempted to ask this question:

Sinner as I am, weak as I am, wounded as I am and imperfect as I am, why should I believe that God wants me to be comfortable – at home - in my own skin?

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(June 11, 2018: Barnabas, Apostle)
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“Blessed are...”

How might we experience a blessing in our lives? How might we be a blessing in the lives of others? Some strategies for achieving both might include

  • not clinging to what we have but share it willingly with others
  • being willing to experience the kind of sorrow that leads to compassionate action
  • being humble and gentle enough to see everything as gift
  • making righteousness and justice a priority in our lives
  • a willingness to be generous, especially by acts of forgiveness and reconciliation
  • having hearts that are guileless, open, honest and frank
  • trying to bring others together rather than drive them apart
  • being able to do what is right in the face of misunderstanding, resistance and even hostility
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“To sum up, most holy dilection is a virtue, a gift, a fruit and a beatitude. As a virtue, it makes us obedient to the exterior inspirations that God give us by his commandments and counsels, in fulfillment of which we practice all the virtues. Hence, love is the virtue of all virtues. As gift, dilection makes us docile and amenable to God’s interior inspirations. These are God’s secret commandments and counsels as it were, and in their fulfillment the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are employed. Hence dilection is the gift of gifts. As a fruit in our practice of the devout life, it gives us great relish and pleasure, which are experienced in the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it is the fruit of fruits. As beatitude, it enables us to accept the fronts, calumny, reviling and insults the world heaps upon us as the greatest favors and a unique honor. It also leads us to forsake, renounce, and reject all other glory except that which comes from the Beloved Crucified.” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 19, pp. 252-253)

In short, how do we become Beatitudes of God? The answer - by our attempts each and every day to be a source of blessing in the lives of others.

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(June 12, 2018: Tuesday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry…”

The story from today’s reading from the Book of Kings illustrates the reward that awaits those who trust in God’s care for them. In a conference (“On Hope”) to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“No one ever trusts in God without reaping the fruits of his confidence. Consider, I beseech you, what Our Lord and Master said to His Apostles in order to establish in them this holy and loving confidence: I sent you forth through the world without scrip, money or any provision, either for your food or for your clothing, and did you want for anything? They answered: Nothing. Go, He then said to them, and take no thought what you shall eat or what you shall drink, or wherewithal you shall be clothed …for on each occasion your heavenly Father will furnish you with all that is necessary for you…Do you think that He who takes care to provide food for the birds of the air and the beats of the filed will ever forget to provide all that is necessary for the one who trusts wholly in His Providence?” (Conference VI, pp. 89-90)

Francis de Sales once counseled: “It is far better for us to want what we have rather than to have what we want.” Do we trust that God will always give us what we need but not necessarily always give us what we’d like to have? If it be God’s will, are we willing to content ourselves with the one thing that will never go empty or run dry?

God’s fidelity to – and love for – us!

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(June 13, 2018: Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church)
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“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets...”

Throughout the Gospels Jesus was repeatedly criticized by the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes for not “doing it by the book”. That is, he was accused of abolishing the Law and the prophets by not living by the letter of the Law. In today’s Gospel Jesus responds to that charge by saying not only does He have no intention of abolishing the Law, but also he plans to go one step further – to fulfill the Law.

And how does Jesus fulfill the Law and the Prophets? He does so by being himself, that is, by performing the works of God in accordance with the will of God, and not by the whims of man – a life described by St. Paul as a life lived in “the Spirit”.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Holy Spirit dwells in us if we are living members of Jesus Christ, who said to his disciples, ‘He who abides in me, and I in him bears much fruit.’ This is because one who abides in him partakes of his divine Spirit, who is the midst of a person’s heart as a living fountain springs up and flashes its waters into everlasting life...Thus, like a little grain of mustard seed, our works are in now ay comparable in greatness to the tree of glory they produce. Still they have the vigor and virtue to produce it because they proceed from the Holy Spirit. By a wondrous infusion of his grace into our hearts he makes our works become his and yet at the same time they remain our own, since we are members of a head of which he is the Spirit…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 7, pp. 211-212)

So, it turns out that the reason that Jesus did not abolish the Law – even the smallest parts of it – is that he embodied the Law, that is, the Law of the Spirit which supersedes (“fulfills”) the letter of the Law. While we, the followers of Jesus, may need to know how to do it “by the book”, the life of Jesus clearly suggests that there is something much more important than the letter of the law and that something is the law of the Spirit, which leads to life.

Today, how can we do our part in fulfilling Jesus’ law of love through our love for one another?