Spirituality Matters 2019: April 25th - May 1st
“He showed them his hands and his feet.”
Following Jesus' crucifixion, the apostles were afraid. Their fear was quite understandable - perhaps even prudent - when you consider the real possibility that they would suffer the same death as Jesus if they were identified as his followers.
Jesus breaks into their lives in the midst of their fears. He attempts to calm their fears. He challenges them to be at peace by showing them his hands and his feet. Given the horrible wounds visible in both places, one might say that this is quite a strange way to dispel anxiety and grief.
Despite the power and glory of the resurrection, Jesus still bore the legacy of pain, disappointment, rejection, humiliation, suffering and death on his body. Herein lay the promise and the hope that Jesus offered: pain, suffering and loss - notwithstanding the scars that they leave - need not be the last word for those who believe in the love of God.
St. Francis de Sales wrote: “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 forbearance the injuries, denial and discomforts we meet.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Pt III, Chap 3)
All of us have experienced pain and suffering. All of us bear the wounds of failure, betrayal, deception, disappointment, and loss. Our hearts, our minds, our memories - our souls - have the scars to prove it. Out of fear of being hurt further, like the apostles, we sometimes lock ourselves away in some small emotional or spiritual corner of the world, living in fear of what other pain or disappointments may come our way. We withdraw from life. In effect, we die with no hope of resurrection.
Jesus shows us that while we, too, have been wounded by life, the scars of pain, rejection, misunderstanding and mishap do not need to have the last word. We may, indeed, be permanently affected by things both unfortunate and unfair, but these need not rob us of the power and promise of recovery, of renewal - of resurrection - unless we allow ourselves to be defeated by the nails of negativity, by the lance of loss.
The scars of our humanity are a part of our past and a part of our present. They need not, however, determine the course of our future. Let's keep things in perspective. St. Francis de Sales remind us: "Look often on Christ, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, and overwhelmed by every kind of weariness, sorrow and labor."
Jesus not only survived but he also thrived! His faith, his passion, his resilience and his love, indeed, had the last word in his life.
Today won't you let his words have the same effect in your life?
“Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples...”
Familiar with the term “one-hit wonder?”
“A one-hit wonder is a person or act known mainly for only a single success. The term is most often used to describe music performers with only one hit single. Because one-hit wonders are often popular for only a brief time, their hits often have nostalgic value and are featured on era-centric compilations and soundtracks to period films. One-hit wonders are normal in any era of pop music, but are most common during reigns of entire genres that do not last for more than a few years.” (Wikipedia)
When it comes to post-Resurrection appearances, Jesus was no one-hit wonder. Between the time of his Resurrection and his Ascension, Scripture records at least ten distinct appearances at different places, in different times and to different people. Jesus spoke to, ate and drank (even cooked) with and embraced a wide swathe of people during these appearances – some small and intimate, others large and public.
Today’s Gospel account from John recounts a small, more intimate appearance that Jesus makes to seven people. We are told that this was the “third time” Jesus was revealed to his disciples. Peter and the others go fishing but their efforts leave them empty-handed. Suddenly Jesus (initially unrecognized) appears and calls to them from the shore, directing them to cast their nets in a different place. Overwhelmed with the number of fish that they subsequently catch, Peter apparently is struck by the sense of déjà vue – he becomes eerily conscious of the almost-identical circumstances associated with his very first encounter with Jesus three years before. From that moment on, there is no question in his mind that “it is the Lord.”
Our Catholic-Christian tradition contains countless accounts of how the Risen Jesus continues to reveal himself unexpectedly in the lives of ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. Put another way, when it comes to post-Resurrection appearances, the hits keep coming.
How might the Risen Jesus reveal himself to you today?
“Observing the boldness of Peter and John…ordinary men.”
Many of us have been brought up to believe that boldness is something that we should eschew. This may be especially true for those who have ever been addressed at some point in their lives as a “bold, brazen article!” Such a description is certainly not an accolade that folks would normally seek!
Peter and John were bold: so bold as to identify themselves as the “companions of Jesus,” so bold as to proclaiming in Jesus “the resurrection of the dead,” and so bold as to heal a crippled man in the name of Jesus. Even after being detained, interrogated and ordered by the Sanhedrin to stop speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus – or else – Peter and John told them flat out that they would continue to speak about what they “had seen and heard” with vim and vigor, apparently without much – if any – care or concern about their own health, wealth or welfare. There can be no doubt that the Pharisees, Scribes and Elders might have considered Peter and John to be – in their own way – “bold, brazen articles!” No surprise here, if you consider that these same Pharisees, Scribes and Elders had formed the same opinion of Jesus.
It’s probably safe to say that on most days we preach and practice the Gospel in measured, discrete and considerate ways. We’re not trying to make waves; we’re not trying to draw crowds; in fact, we might actually be trying to ‘stay below the radar.’ But there are times in our lives when it is both fitting – and perhaps even imperative – that we proclaim and preach the Gospel in ways that other people might consider bold, perhaps even brazen!
In those moments, do we – ordinary men and women that we are – have the courage to identify ourselves as the “companions of Jesus?”
“Doubting Thomas” is an image—a moniker—that remains part of our language nearly two thousand years after the (in) famous post-Resurrection interaction between St. Thomas the Apostle and the risen Jesus.
We know by now that St. Francis de Sales drew upon many sources in order to proclaim the redeeming and transforming nature of God’s love. No surprise, then, that the “Gentleman Saint” gleans some valuable insights and lessons from the life—and the most well-known moment in the life—of this Apostle.
In a sermon preached at the Visitation community in Lyons a week before his own death, St. Francis de Sales began: “Historians of our day, when they discuss famous people, have a habit of hiding the truth and drawing a veil over evil, making these authors far from trustworthy. By contrast, the Holy Spirit speaks the truth without fear or favor. It is the normal practice of Holy Scripture to reveal frankly the sins of many very holy people. When the Spirit wishes to point to the forgiveness of Mary Magdalene, or to the tears of St. Peter, or to the conversion of St. Paul, for example, it recalls their faults before recognizing their repentance. It is the same with St. Matthew and others, especially St. Thomas.”
Not to be too hard on “Doubting Thomas,” Francis de Sales quickly reminds us that the “gravity of his fault only throws into even greater relief the infinite mercy of God compared to the unworthiness of sinners. Gods reigns in our wretchedness, so Scripture tells us.”
Doubtless we can all relate!
So, what are the lessons that Francis de Sales gleaned from the story of St. Thomas? “His first mistake was his failure to be present with the others. It is important to notice that no person achieves perfection in one leap, but bit by bit; similarly, no one falls from grace in a moment, but by little faults is led to greater. It is not for us to make light of being absent from the community at prayer or other exercises; if St. Thomas had been with the other apostles, he would have been a saint and a believer eight days sooner. Don’t think that a few days more or less make little difference: moments are precious, and we should hoard them.”
What was Thomas’ second mistake? “His refusal to believe when his companions told him: We have seen the Lord. He should have pressed the other apostles about the Savior’s appearance, and rejoiced with them at their good fortune. The pity is that he did just the opposite, and even went so far as to refuse to admit that he was in the wrong anywhere. All of us share this fault: if we make a mistake, we are unwilling to admit it. The one who makes excuses is his or her own accuser…”
What was his third mistake? Thomas “became stubborn and made wild, obstinate statements...St. Thomas was simply carried away by his passions: such behaviors, theologians tell us, can lead to mortal sin.”
And yet, for all that, God was not finished with Thomas. Because of God’s boundless mercy, this doubting apostle got a second bite at the apple. Jesus appeared to Thomas, and “he placed his fingers into the sacred wounds of his Savior.” And this one who had so strenuously doubted became a great herald of the Risen Christ...and was martyred for his faith.
Unlike Thomas, we need to take even more on faith. We don’t have the same luxury that St. Thomas did as he saw Jesus with his own eyes, both before and after Calvary. Nevertheless, for all our doubts or stubbornness we can nevertheless be transformed by the eyes of faith.
For many of us seeing is – indeed – believing. May others believe in Jesus’ love for them by what they see in us!
“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness…”
Many of us have been brought up to believe that boldness is something that we should eschew. This unfortunate situation may be especially true for those who have ever been addressed at some point in their lives as a “bold, brazen article”! Certainly not an accolade that folks would normally seek!
Not so for Peter and John. No sooner had they been released from imprisonment that they resumed proclaiming the Good News publicly with vim and vigor, apparently without much – if any – care or concern about their own health, wealth or welfare. There can be no doubt that the Pharisees, Scribes and Elders might have considered Peter and John to be – in their own way – “bold, brazen articles”! Then again, these same Pharisees, Scribes and Elders had the same opinion of Jesus.
It’s probably safe to say that on most days we preach and practice the Gospel in measured, discrete and considerate ways. We’re not trying to make waves; we’re not trying to draw crowds. But there are times in our lives when it is both fitting – and perhaps even imperative – that we proclaim and preach the Gospel in ways that other people might consider bold, perhaps even brazen!
In those moments, do we have the courage to do so?
"The community of believers was of one heart and mind...”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“‘By the Word,’ St. John said, that is, by that eternal Word who is the Son of God, ‘all things were made.’ Therefore, since this Word is most simple and most single, it produces all the variety among things. Since it is unchanging, it produces all changes that are good. Finally, since it abides eternally, it gives to all things their succession, changes, order rank and season.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 2, p. 106)
Saint Francis de Sales reminds us of one very important aspect of any community and/or family - diversity! While the early Christian “community of believers” may have been of one heart and mind, it’s difficult to imagine that this could be achieved without its share of challenges, conflicts and controversy. The fact that community always has its share of diversity begs the question: “What distinguishes a community that is “of one heart and mind” from one that is not? Perhaps it’s the ability – and the willingness – to agree on the things or values in life that really matter in order to build consensus around the issues that are really worth honoring as non-negotiables.
Today how might God call you to be “of one heart and mind” with others?
“Whoever lives the truth comes to the light so that his works may be clearly seen…”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“When our mind is raised above the natural light of reason and begins to see the sacred truth of faith, O God, what joy ensues! As yet we do not see his face in the clear day of glory, but as it were in the first dawn of the day. If divine truths are so sweet when proposed in the obscure light of faith, O God, what shall those truths be like when we contemplate them in the noonday light of glory! We will see God manifest with incomprehensible clarity the wonders and eternal secrets of his supreme truth and with such light that our intellect will see in its very presence what it had believed here below!” (TLG, Book III, Chapter 29, pp. 189-190)
Living in the light of God’s truth enables us to see clearly God’s works in our lives. May our attempts at living in the light of God’s truth also enable other people to see clearly our works in their lives! After all, while we do walk by faith, we also walk by sight!
What do people see in me that gives witness to the truth of what God sees in all of us?