Spirituality Matters 2018: November 15th - November 21st

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(November 15, 2018: Albert the Great, Bishop and Doctor of the Church )
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“I urge you out of love...so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.”

As the saying goes, there are two ways to get something accomplished - the easy way or the hard way.

In his instructions of preaching, Blessed Louis Brisson observed:

“There are two methods of reaching our neighbors and obtaining their obedience. The first method is the method of authority. ‘I am the master. I have the authority. I command. Obey!’ This is the most common method, but it is not our method. Why? Because it isn’t Our Lord’s method. We don’t see Our Lord speaking or acting like this in the Gospels. He never played the master.”

“There is a second method, the method of persuasion. We don’t wait for souls to come; we go out to meet them. We take a good look at them and we study them up close. We try to discover the point through which we can reach them; we take hold and lift them up by the ‘handle’ which they offer us.” (The Oblate Preacher, James Finnegan, OSFS, trans., p. 61)

You get more cooperation from people by attempting to win them over rather than by running them over. You get more done by being more persuasive than punitive. You get people on your side by urging out of love. Jesus knew it, St. Paul knew it; St. Francis de Sales knew it and Blessed Louis Brisson knew it.

How about you? What method do you use when dealing with other - especially problematic - people?

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(November 16, 2018: Margaret of Scotland)
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“Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather...”

We’ve probably all had this experience while travelling by car in the open country - seeing birds circling somewhere in the sky up ahead. As we drew closer to where they were circling, we realized that these were not just any bird but birds of prey. And, at that point, we anticipated what we were going to see within the next minute or two - road kill.

Hence, we associate the gathering – or circling – of vultures with death.

By contrast, what would we expect to see gathering or circling around life? St. Francis de Sales mentions a few of the things for which we should look:

“Patience; meekness; self-discipline; humility; obedience; poverty; chastity; tenderness toward our neighbors; bearing with our neighbors’ imperfections; holy fervor.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 2, p. 127)

Which begs the question: what do other people see gathering – or circling – around us?

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(November 17, 2018: Elizabeth of Hungary, Religious)
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“Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says…”

And what did the unjust judge say? Essentially, he said this: “I will do justice to this woman just to get her off my back.”

Have you ever done something good simply to get someone else to stop bugging you? Have you ever done the right thing just to get someone else to go away? Have you ever done the just thing in order to get someone else to shut up?

Let’s face it. Isn’t it true that sometimes we do the right thing for a less-than-right reason?

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

“Let us purify all our intentions as best we can. Since we can diffuse throughout all various acts to sacred motive of divine love, why should we not do so? On all occasions we will reject every kind of vicious motive, such as vainglory and self-interest, and consider all the good motives we can have for undertaking the act before us so as to choose the motive of holy love - which is the most excellent of all – and to flood it over all other motives, steeping them in the greatest motive of all....” (TLG , Book XI, Book 14, p. 237)

One might ask, “So, am I supposed to wait until my motives are totally pure before I attempt to do something right?” Lord knows that if that were the case, then the world would really be out of luck! In a perfect world we would always do what is good, righteous and just for only good, righteous and just reasons. But insofar as this is an imperfect world, we should not cease our attempts to do what is good for goodness sake; rather, we should acknowledge the need to purify our intentions even as we struggle to live our lives with other people in a reasonable, just and equitable manner.

May God give us the courage we need just this day to not only do the right thing but also to do the right thing for the right reason!

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(November 18, 2018: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“But of that day or hour, no one knows it…except the Father.”

Scripture is very clear: the world as we know it will pass away. Scripture also makes it very clear that we cannot hope to know “the exact day or hour” that moment will come.

Still, it is only natural that we sometimes become anxious when we imagine that the world as we know it will cease to be. It is even more understandable that we should become anxious when we consider the inevitability of our own personal death. Here, too, however, we do not know “the exact day or hour.”

Francis de Sales himself reminds us: “We, in this life, are walking, as it were, on ice.”

How should we deal with the reality that one day our earthly lives will end?

We deal with an uncertain future by living well each and every present moment. The present moment is the only time we have at our disposal. The present moment is the only time we have to make choices that either help – or hinder – our efforts at preparing for eternity.

St. Francis de Sales advises us:

“Keep your eyes fixed on that blissful day of eternity toward which the course of years bears on us; and these as they pass, they themselves pass by us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But meanwhile, in these passing moments there lies enclosed, as in a tiny kernel, the seed of all eternity; and in our humble little works of devotion there lies hidden the prize of everlasting glory, and in the little pains we take to serve God there lies the traces of bliss that can never end.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 236)

To the extent that we live each present moment we can experience the gift of peace. St. Francis de Sales observed:

“We must in all things and everywhere live peacefully. If trouble, exterior or interior, comes upon us, we must receive it peacefully. If joy comes, we must receive it peacefully, without throbbing of heart. If we must avoid evil, we must do so peacefully, without disquieting ourselves. If there is some good to be done, we must do this peacefully, too.”

And so then, place yourself in the hands and heart of Jesus who, St. Francis reminds us, is “the Prince of peace: where you make him your absolute master, all is peace." Place yourself in the hands and heart of Jesus who is the master of each present moment. For when you live each present moment there, you are best prepared for your last moment.

When we are at peace, when we live intentionally, we can handle everything that life has in store for us - everything, including death itself…a death that leads to eternal life.

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(November 19, 2018: Monday, Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Lord, please let me see…”

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

“God is in all things and places. There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Everyone knows this truth in theory, but not everyone puts this knowledge to good effect. Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore do not show him the respect they do after being informed of his presence. However, because they do not actually see the prince they easily forget he is there, and once they forget this fact, they still more easily lose the respect and reverence owed to him. Unfortunately, we frequently lose sight of the God who is with us. Although faith assures us of his presence, we forget about him and behave as if God were a long way off because we do not see him with our eyes. While we may tell ourselves and others that God is present in all things, we often act as if this were not true because we fail to remind ourselves of God’s presence.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p.84)

Despite the fact that the blind man in today’s Gospel could not actually see Jesus, it is crystal clear that he showed Jesus respect and reverence. What is the moral of the story? Even when we lose sight of how Jesus acts in our lives and in the eyes of other people day in and day out, it is always within our power to show him the respect and reverence by acting as Jesus did in showing respect and reverence for others.

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(November 20, 2018: Tuesday, Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“And he came down quickly and received him with joy…”

The story of Jesus and Zacchaeus highlights an aspect of the Salesian notion of devotion - enthusiasm. Jesus only has to tell Zacchaeus once to “come down quickly.” For his part, Zacchaeus came down as quickly as he could!

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

“When charity reaches a degree on perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also to do this carefully, frequently and promptly. It is called devotion. Ostriches never fly; hens fly in a clumsy fashion, near the ground and only on occasion; but eagles, doves and swallows fly aloft, swiftly and frequently. Good people who have not as yet attained this devotion by toward God by their good works but do so infrequently, slowly and awkwardly. Devout souls fly to him more frequently, promptly and with lofty flights.” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 4, p. 64)

This description certainly describes Zacchaeus to a tee. Here is a man with a great sense of urgency. He literally flew down to Jesus at the invitation to spend time with him. Once he arrived at his home with Jesus, Zacchaeus was just as quick to declare his intention to share his good fortune with those less fortunate than him as well as to make things right with anyone who might have a grievance against him.

How quick will we be this day to respond to Jesus’ invitation to spend time with him? How quick will we be to share our good fortune with others? How quick will we be to make things right with anyone who might have a grievance against us?

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(November 21, 2018: Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“To everyone who has, more will be given.”

Everyone who has…what? Perhaps it’s the courage to say ‘yes.’ Perhaps it’s the courage to take the risks that come with that “yes”.

In today’s Gospel two of the three servants took a risk when they invested that which their master had entrusted to them. As a result, they were able to make a return on their master’s investment with salutatory results. By contrast, the third servant – afraid that he might lose what his master had entrusted to him – played it safe by simply sitting on what he had received - with dire results.

Yesterday, in the selection from the Book of Revelation, we heard of God’s distaste for indifference. Today, we hear of God’s impatience regarding inaction brought about by fear - fear of failure and perhaps sometimes even fear of success. Better to be hot or cold than indifferent; better to have risked everything and lost than to have never risked whatever it is you received.

Today, consider what God has entrusted to you. Consider what God has invested in you. How can you make a return to God for his generosity to you?