Spirituality Matters 2019: April 18th - April 24th
“Do you realize what I have done for you?”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:
“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 can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose he made us ‘in his own image and likeness’ by creation, and by the Incarnation he has made himself in our image and likeness, after which he suffered death in order to ransom and save humankind. He did this with so great a love...” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)
While we may not be “ignorant” of what God has done for us (beautifully ritualized in the upper room at the Last Supper and dramatically demonstrated on the hill of Calvary) how much time – on any given day, in any given hour – do we spend reminding ourselves of how “great a love” God has for us?
Even to this very moment!
“He learned obedience from what he suffered…”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Our Savior himself has declared, ‘By our patience you will win your souls.’ It is man’s greatest happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls. We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)
Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered. He learned to listen to the voice of his Father by his practice of endurance, that is, through his willingness to see things through to the end. In so doing, he experienced the happiness and joy that even his suffering and death could not vanquish.
What kind of cross – be it injury, denial or discomfort – might God ask us to carry today? Are we up to the task?
"God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good…”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind. In like manner he commands Christians – the living plants of the Church – to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to one’s position and vocation…” (Part I, Chapter 3, p. 43)
Even before God created things – including us – God intended to underscore his love for the created order by becoming one of us in the person of his Son. Francis de Sales believed that it was the Incarnation that became the motivation for Creation. Thus, Creation made possible the ultimate expression of God’s love for the universe: the Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ. Because of “The Fall” the Incarnation took on an additional purpose: to save us from our sins.
Tonight’s readings from Scripture testify to the fidelity of God’s creative, Incarnational and redeeming love. Throughout all the ups and downs of human history, one constant has remained: God’s love for us. A love to the death…a love all about life.
Today, how can we show our gratitude for so wonderful – and faithful – a love? The answer - by bringing forth the fruits of devotion! In so doing, we continue the creative, Incarnational and redemptive action of the God who loved us before the creation – and redemption – of the world.
“The death and passion of our Lord is the sweetest and the most compelling motive that can animate our hearts in this mortal life…The children of the cross glory in this, their wondrous paradox which many do not understand: out of death, which devours all things, has come the food of our consolation. Out of death, strong above all things, has issued the all-sweet honey of our love.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 12, Chapter 13)
This, indeed, is the central mystery of our faith. Jesus, allowing himself to be consumed with passion and swallowed by death has, in turn, conquered death once and for all with the passion that is the power of eternal life.
Christ’s pathway of passion, death and resurrection was personal; it was unique. It had been fashioned by the Father from all eternity. Jesus was faithful to God’s vision for him. Jesus embraced his vocation as the humble, gentle Messiah. Jesus suffered the pain of death. Jesus experienced the power of rising again.
God has fashioned a personal path for each of us from all eternity. Each of us has a unique role to play in the Father’s never-ending revelation of divine life, love, justice, peace and reconciliation. Still, the way to resurrection is the way of the cross – the way of giving up, of letting go, of surrendering all things, thoughts, attitudes and actions that prevent us from embodying the passion of Christ: the passion for all that is righteous and true.
Francis de Sales offers this image in Book 9 of his Treatise on the Love of God: “God commanded the prophet Isaiah to strip himself completely naked. The prophet did this, and went about and preached in this way for three whole days (or, as some say, for three whole years). Then, when the time set for him by God had passed, he put his clothes back on again. So, too, we must strip ourselves of all affections, little and great, and make a frequent examination of our heart to see if it is truly ready to divest itself of all its garments, as Isaiah did. Then, at the proper time we must take up again the affections suitable to the service of charity, so that we may die naked on the cross with our divine Savior and afterwards rise again with him as new people.”
Be certain of one thing - the daily dying to self that is part of living a passionate life is not about dying, stripping and letting go for its own sake. The goal is that we are may be purified to live more faithfully and effectively lives of divine passion. God does not desire that we die to self out of self-deprecation. God desires that we die to self in order that, ironically, we may become more of the person God calls us to be.
This glory and honor is not just reserved for heaven. To the extent that we die a little each day and experience the fidelity of God’s love in the midst of all adversity, trials, struggles and “letting go” - something of these gifts can be ours even here on earth.
“Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed…”
There is no doubt that there were some folks who - after listening to Peter preach about Jesus the Nazorean on the day of Pentecost - might have asked themselves the question: “What, is he crazy?”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:
“As soon as worldly people see that you wish to follow a devout life they aim a thousand darts of mockery and even detraction at you. The most malicious of them will slander your conversion as hypocrisy, bigotry, and trickery. They will say that the world has turned against you and being rebuffed by it you have turned to God. Your friends will raise a host of objections which they consider very prudent and charitable. They will tell you that you will become depressed, lose your reputation in the world, be unbearable, and grow old before your time, and that your affairs at home will suffer.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 1, p. 235)
When we attempt to proclaim – be it in words or deeds – the power and presence of the Risen Jesus in our lives, we shouldn’t be shocked if some folks think we are crazy. For that matter, there may be some days when we also begin to wonder if we aren’t crazy too! Recall the words of St. Francis de Sales who ends this first chapter from Part IV of his Introduction to the Devout Life with this exhortation:
If people think you’re crazy, then let it be for all the right reasons – most importantly, due to the effects of the love of the Risen Lord in your life!
"Why are you weeping?”
In a letter written to Marie Bourgeois Brulart (of Dijon, wife of Nicolas Brulart who became president of the parliament of Burgundy in 1602), Francis de Sales wrote:
“Mary Magdalene is looking for Our Lord and it is Him she holds; she is asking for Him, and it is Him she asks. She could not see Him as she would have wished to see Him; that is why she is not content to see Him in this form and searches so as to find Him in some other guise. She wanted to see Him in robes of glory and not in the lowly clothes of a gardener; but all the same, in the end she knew it was Jesus when he called her by name.”
“You see, it is Our Lord in His gardener’s clothes that you meet every day in one place and another when quite ordinary occasions come your way. You would like Him to offer you different and more distinguished ones, but the ones that appear the best are not necessarily in fact the best. Do you believe that He is calling you by name? Before you see Him in His glory He wants to plant many flowers in your garden; they may be small and humble, but they are the kind that please Him. That is why He comes to you clothed in this way. May our hearts be for ever united to His and our will to His good pleasure! Be of good cheer and let nothing dismay you.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 136)
Sometimes the reason that we experience sadness and grief in our lives is not because we can’t find the Risen Jesus, but rather, because the Risen Jesus doesn’t always present himself to us in ways that we prefer or expect. As Mary Magdalene herself discovered we can never predict the situations or circumstances in which Jesus will call us by name.
Regardless of how Jesus may appear to us today, will we recognize His voice should he call us – however unexpectedly – by name? In the meantime, “be of good cheer and let nothing dismay you.”
“The disciples recounted how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of bread…”
“Breaking bread” - we see it in the practice of sharing food; we see it in the practice of sharing drink; we see it in the practice of sharing a meal. These events are quite simple, but it is in the context of such a common, ordinary, and everyday human experience that the Risen Christ chooses to reveal himself.
Of course, the experience of “breaking bread” isn’t limited to sharing physical food and drink. It speaks of relationship, intimacy, welcoming another, of being home with another and of sharing who we are with others and allows them to share who they are with us.
In today’s Gospel we need to realize that the two unnamed disciples were communicating with Jesus – were in communion with Him – hours before they actually sat at table with Him. And that “breaking bread” – that communication and communion – brings with it illumination and awareness. As Francis de Sales himself observed, “After the disciples at Emmaus communicated, ‘their eyes were opened.’” (On the Preacher and Preaching, p. 26)
In the space of any given week how many times do we ‘break bread” with others? How often do we stop to think how the Risen Christ may be trying to reveal something of who He is – and who we are – in the context of these common, ordinary and everyday human experiences in extraordinary ways?
How might our eyes need to be opened today by the experience of communication and communion?
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