Spirituality Matters 2018: September 20th - September 26th

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(September 20, 2018: Andrew Kim Yae-gon, Paul Chong and Companions - Martyrs)
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“She has shown great love...”

Throughout the history of great ideas, great inventions or great movements, often times what makes an idea, invention or movement great is the fact that nobody else had ever thought of doing it.

Such is the example in today’s Gospel selection from Luke. On the face of it, wiping and anointing the feet of an important guest – an expression of great respect and reverence – was something that in Jesus’ day one might simply have been taken for granted. As it turns out, someone did indeed take it for granted.

Someone described as “a sinful woman”.

She made her way into this august gathering with no invitation (no small achievement in itself) and proceeded to do what nobody else thought to do: through ritual action, she expressed her respect and reverence for Jesus by washing and anointing his feet. She might have been a great sinner in the minds of other people, but in the mind of God her sinfulness was only superseded by her great love.

Today, sinners though we are, how might we show great love?

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(September 21, 2018: Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist)
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“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received…”

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

“During the Roman Empire, tax collecting was one of the most lucrative jobs a person could have. With the emperor’s tacit approval, collectors were free to wring all they could from their district’s taxpayers and then keep a portion of the proceeds for themselves. Caesar didn’t mind the profiteering as long as the total assessed tax was delivered to his treasury. But Jewish taxpayers forced to pay the exorbitant sums weren’t quite so forgiving, especially when the tax collector was a fellow Jew, like Matthew. Jewish tax collectors were regarded as loathsome collaborators and extortionists who exploited their own people. It’s little wonder, then, that in the Gospels tax collectors are placed on par with harlots, thieves, and other shameless public sinners.”

“Matthew collected taxes in Capernaum, a town in the northern province of Galilee and the site of a Roman garrison. Christ was a frequent visitor there, performing such miracles as healing the centurion’s servant, curing Peter’s ailing mother-in-law, and raising Jairus’ daughter form the dead. One day, while passing the customs house where Matthew was busy squeezing extra shekels from his neighbors, Christ paused to say, ‘Follow me.’ That was all it took to touch Matthew’s heart. He walked out of the customs house forever, giving up his life as a cheat to become an apostle, the author of a Gospel and eventually a martyr.” (Page 12)

Just when Matthew thought he had it made – just when he thought he was living la vita loca – Christ changed his life by calling him to live in a manner worthy of what God had in mind for him. Matthew – who clearly recognized an opportunity when he saw one – dropped everything he had valued up until that very moment to follow Jesus. And the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s amazing to consider how a handful of words can change the trajectory of one’s life. A few words from Jesus transformed Matthew from being a human being who was all about taking from others into a man who was all about giving to others - even to the point of giving his very life.

Today, how might God’s words invite us to change and to transform our lives?

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(September 22, 2018: Saturday, Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“A sower went out to sow…”

How many good beginnings in our lives have been trampled upon and/or consumed by something else? How many of us have hardened our hearts to do good things only to see them perish for lack of care? How many good ideas or intentions have failed to bear fruit because they were chocked off by anxieties and/or other concerns? And still, for all our struggles and setbacks, many of the seeds of God’s goodness in us have taken root and produced a great harvest.

Just for today, let’s hear the parable in a different way. Think of all the big plans you have made for others. Think of all the good intentions that you’ve suggested to others. Think of all expectations that you’ve cradled in your heart for others. In other words, think of all the good seeds that you’ve planted in the lives of other people. It’s very tempting – and even more discouraging – to focus on how many of those seeds have never amounted to much – if anything at all. However, from a Salesian perspective, it is far better – and healthier, to boot – to focus on how the seeds that you may have possibly planted in others have taken root, have grown, and even flourished, sometimes beyond even your wildest dreams.

Right now, can you think of any examples of this growth in your own life? Can you think of examples in the lives of others, especially in those people whom you know and love? If not, just this day how might God be asking you to sow good seeds in the heart or mind of another person? How might that same God also be asking you to do your part to help make those good seeds grow?

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(September 23, 2018: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

The first disciples certainly did ascribe to the fact that Jesus was very probably the Messiah for whom they yearned, and yet he was a Messiah with a mission far from the reality that they expected.

Today's Gospel gives a vivid picture of this dilemma in their failure to appreciate the fact that Jesus speaks about his upcoming death and resurrection and the suffering involved in that particular path. The clear unfolding of that prediction met with confusion and fear on the part of his disciples, because they found themselves unable to grasp this reality in light of their own expectations, hopes and dreams.

Their perception of their role in the reality of this kingdom led them to argue among themselves. Their expectations naturally convinced them of the importance of their own role in the fulfillment of Jewish hopes for their future and embroiled them in hostility, envy and enmity among themselves. Jesus again clearly demonstrated the importance of their role and how their role would be played out - in ways far different from their own perceptions. The little child in their midst presents clearly the ideal to which his disciples are called.

Saint Francis de Sales speaks of the natural difficulty often involved in our acquiescence to the will of God. Often we find ourselves in the position of the apostles in the Gospel account today, where following the will of God does not conform to our own expectations or desires. In the Treatise on the Love of God (Book 9, Chapter 2), Francis tells us:

“A truly living heart loves God's good pleasures not only in consolations but also in afflictions, but it loves it most of all in the cross, in pain, and labor, because love's principal power is to enable the lover to suffer for the beloved object.”

Today, we need to ask ourselves today how our own expectations, hopes or dreams prevent us from truly acquiescing to the Will of God. Do the difficult times we encounter stifle us in our attempts to follow God's will? Have we been able to abandon our attempts to have God's will conform to our own desires and wills? Do we really appreciate the gift that Jesus is to us?

A prayerful reflection upon these questions will lead to the opportunity which is needed for us to acquiesce to the Will of God. What a necessary part of our journey of faith this process really is! In the Introduction to the Devout Life (Book 2, Chapter 1), St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Prayer places our intelligence in the divine love. It is the best way to purge our intelligence of its ignorance and our will of its bad affections...I suggest, above all, mental prayer of the mind and heart, especially that which is made on the Life and Passion of Our Lord. In contemplating Him you will be filled with Him; you will learn to act like Him and to conform your actions to His.”

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(September 24, 2018: Monday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time )
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“Refuse no one the good on which he has a claim…”

Today’s selection from the Book of Proverbs offers us (as it usually does) some sound, practical advice. Simply put, if there is some good that you can do for another person – provided, of course, that it is within your power or purview to do so – you should do it! (Recall Nike’s tag line: “ Just do it!”.)

But the Book of Proverbs also adds this caveat: do not postpone until tomorrow the opportunities you have to do something good today. One of the greatest obstacles we face in our attempts to do good things is the temptation to put them off - to wait for the right moment, for the perfect time or for the ideal circumstances. How many things have never gotten done simply because somebody said, “I’ll get around to it later” or “There’s always tomorrow”.

It should be painfully obvious to each one of us that there will come a time in our lives when we will no longer have the opportunity to “get around to it”. There will, indeed, come a day for which there will be no tomorrow. So, why wait until later to do something good for somebody else when you have the opportunity to do it today – now – at this moment?

Perhaps Rudyard Kipling’s (1865-1936) admonition can encourage us to not only do good things but also to do them in the here and now. He once wrote: “Live each day as though it were your last; one day, you’re sure to be right.”

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(September 25, 2018: Tuesday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

In earlier times in human history – before the development and growth of urban centers – communities tended to be small and tight-knit. Everybody knew everybody else, so much so, that when asked to identify members of a particular clan, tribe or family it was easy to pick them out by how they looked, spoke or acted.

We are children of the Father, siblings of Jesus and embodiments of the Holy Spirit. How easily do others identify us as members of God’s family by how we look, speak and act?

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(September 26, 2018: Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs)
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“Every word of God is tested ...”

Beginning teachers are often reminded that their students will test them. Their students will pay a lot less attention to what is said to them and a great deal more attention to what is done to them. This reaction is the essence of what is meant in the words from today’s selection from the Book of Proverbs: we test and/or judge God’s words - we evaluate God’s veracity - by what God does. What God says to us pales in comparison to what – in our experience – God does for us.

Consider the example of Jesus in today’s Gospel. He didn’t give the Twelve the power merely to speak or to preach, but he also gave them the power to expel demons, to cure diseases and to heal the sick. In other words, “proclaiming the Good News” is about saying the right thing as well as doing the right thing.

How about us? How might our words be tested today? How will other people ask us to back up what we say to them with what we are willing to do for them?