Spirituality Matters 2019: April 4th - April 10th

(April 4, 2019: Isidore, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

“I see how stiff-necked these people are…”

Regardless of what words you use – stiff-necked, obstinate, bull-headed, strong-willed – all of us have at least one thing in common with the Israelites described in to today’s selection from the Book of Exodus.


In a letter to Peronne-Marie de Chatel (one of the three women who joined Jane de Chantal at the first Visitation in 1610), Francis de Sales wrote:

“Truly, you are right when you say there are in you two men, or rather, two women. One is a certain Peronne who is a bit touchy, resentful and ready to flare up if anyone crosses her; this is the Peronne who is a daughter of Eve and therefore bad-tempered. The other is a certain Peronne-Marie who fully intends to belong totally to God, and who, in order to be all His, wants to be most simply humble and humbly gentle toward everyone; this is the Peronne-Marie who is a daughter of the glorious Virgin Mary and therefore of good disposition. These two daughters of different mothers fight each other. The good-for-nothing one is so mean that the good one has a hard time defending herself; afterward, the poor dear thinks she has been beaten and that the wicked one is stronger than she. Not at all, my poor dear Peronne-Marie! The wicked one is not stronger than you, but she is more brazen, perverse, unpredictable and stubborn...” (LSD, pp. 164-165)

Most days we already have enough on our plates trying to deal with our own stubbornness without even considering the stubbornness of others. In what ways are we stiff-necked? What are the issues and concerns about which we are obstinate? What are the things about which we are bull-headed? How does our stubbornness get in the way of our relationships with God and others, and perhaps, even my relationship with myself?

Yes, there’s something of both “Peronne-Marie’s” inside each and every one of us. Which one will get the upper hand today?

(April 5, 2019: Vincent Ferrer, Priest)

“Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us…”

“Obnoxious” is defined as “very annoying or objectionable; offensive or odious.” Synonyms include words like abhorrent, abominable, detestable, disagreeable, disgusting, dislikable or dislikeable, foul, hateful, horrid, insufferable, loathsome, nasty, nauseating, objectionable, obscene, odious, offensive, repellent, reprehensible, repugnant, repulsive, revolting, sickening and unpleasant.

Do you get the idea?

So, why is the just person persecuted for, well, being just? Often times it is simply because one person’s attempts to do the right thing may shine a spotlight on – however unintentionally – other people’s failure to do the right thing. Of course, we find the perfect example of this dynamic – you know, ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ – in none other than the life and ministry of Jesus himself. Jesus was far less concerned about pointing out others’ wrongdoings; he was more concerned about doing what was right. But on the other hand, Jesus was more than willing to call people out on their bad behavior and much more interested in showing people the path to living a good life. In other words, Jesus didn’t invest much time or energy in laying guilt trips on other people. Other people pretty much did that all by themselves. But, rather than experience the guilt as an invitation to make a change in their lives, Jesus’ enemies experienced the guilt as a reason for discrediting, opposing and – ultimately – getting rid of him.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, 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 meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Perish the thought, but it is possible that someone you encounter today may find you to be obnoxious. Of course, that could be because you are doing something wrong. On the other hand, it could be because you are doing something right. That’s unfortunate, because in a perfect world doing the right thing would never be obnoxious to anyone.

Of course, this isn’t a perfect world!

(April 6, 2019: Saturday, Fourth Week of lent)

"Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?"

We addressed this yesterday, but some things bear repeating. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, 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 meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

The unvarnished anger, resentment and jealously of the Pharisees is on public display in today’s Gospel. Not satisfied with merely bad-mouthing Jesus, they also ridicule anyone who would have the audacity to believe – that is, to accept – Jesus’ message. Their blind, smug belief in themselves – and their disdain for the common man – render the Pharisees totally impervious to considering how God’s plan of salvation might differ from their preconceived notions of God’s plan, to say nothing of Jesus’ role in it. Even Nicodemus – one of their own – gets thrown under the bus for daring to suggest that they should reconsider their perspective; or, at the very least, they should give Jesus a fair hearing.

Yesterday, we considered how others might find us obnoxious for doing what is right. Today, we might ask ourselves this question: do we ever find people who do the right thing obnoxious to us?

The truth is there might be something of the Pharisees in all of us.

(April 7, 2019: Fifth Sunday of Lent)

"For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things..."

In her book Praying Our Goodbyes, Joyce Rupp writes:

“Goodbyes are a part of every single day. Sometimes we choose them, sometimes they choose us. Usually they are small, not so significant losses that do not pain us very much, but at times they are deep, powerful, wounding experiences that trail around our hearts and pain inside of us for years.”

“Goodbyes, especially the more intense ones, cause us to face the ultimate questions of life: Why is there suffering? Where am I headed? What are my most cherished values? What do I believe about life after death? Goodbyes create a certain space in us where we allow ourselves room to look at life in perspective and to gradually discover answers to some of those questions about life. We also learn a great deal about the significant others in our lives; we learn who is willing to walk the long road with us, whose heart always welcomes us no matter what, who loves us enough to stand with us in good times and in bad, who is willing to love us enough to speak the truth for us or to us. Goodbyes, when reflected upon in faith, can draw us to a greater reliance upon the God of love, our most significant other.” (p. 10; 12)

There is no doubt – because he tells us so – that Paul experienced a great deal of loss and change in his life. But his losses did not leave him with nothing. Rather, his losses helped him to realize one thing that he could never lose in the midst of all the give-and-take that comes with life – the love of Jesus Christ.

Of course, that’s not to say that the love of Jesus shielded Paul from the pain that comes from the inevitable changes and losses of life. After all, Paul tells us that he still struggles to forget what has been left behind. But the love of Jesus helps Paul to make sense of what has come – and gone - before, thus enabling him to focus on what lies ahead, to turn his attention on what is still to come.

Paul’s losses and goodbye’s helped him to recognize in Jesus the most significant, dependable and loving “other” in his life.

What are our losses? How are we dealing with change? Where are our “goodbye’s” taking us?

(April 8, 2019: Monday, Fifth Week of Lent)

“It’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up.”

“After the Watergate break-in, ‘quick action, resolution on the spot,’ could have saved President Nixon, said Prof. Michael Useem, an expert in business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

‘It was the inaction, the cover-up, that absolutely ruined his reputation in history forever,’ he said. Since the Nixon administration, a mantra repeated during many scandals has been, ‘It's not the crime, it's the cover-up.’” (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/01/business/choosing-whether-to-cover-up-or-come-clean.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm)

In today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel, we are presented with what might be considered as the Watergate scandal of the Old Testament: the story of Susanna. In short, two elders of the people attempted to have their way with her – the crime. When she resisted, they accused her of adultery – the cover-up. In effect, they sinned against Susanna twice by (1) attempting to physically assault her, and (2) by falsely assaulting her reputation. In the end, their crime – and perhaps even more so, the cover-up – results in their paying the ultimate price – death.

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

“A soul that has consented to sin must have horror for itself and be washed clean as soon as possible out of the respect it must have for the eyes of God’s Divine Majesty who sees it. Why should we die a spiritual death when we have this sovereign remedy at hand?” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 19, p. 111)

Anyone can make a mistake. Why make it worse for yourself or others by covering it up?

(April 9, 2013: Tuesday, Fifth Week of Lent)

“We have sinned in complaining against the Lord…”

How quickly we forget.

In the first reading today from the Book of Numbers, we witness the complaining, whining and moaning of the Israelites as they continued their journey toward the Promised Land. Sure, the trek had been laborious; sure, the conditions were challenging; sure, the food and drink was less than desirable. But despite the fact that God had liberated them from the yolk of Egyptian slavery and oppression, the Israelites’ gratitude had clearly waned. Not only had they forgotten what God had done for them, but they also appear to have presumed that the pathway to freedom would be easy.

Dr. M. Scott Peck will probably be best remembered for the opening statement in his book The Road Less Travelled. The first chapter begins with these words: “Life is difficult.” Throughout much of his book the author maintains that a significant amount of human pain and grief is not the result of difficulties, but rather, much of the suffering and frustration that we experience is the direct result of our tendency to complain about life’s difficulties and our attempts to avoid them altogether. Such complaining and avoidance can lead to – among other maladies – a case of chronic ingratitude.

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

“Complain as little as possible about the wrongs you suffer. Undoubtedly a person who complains commits a sin by doing so, since self-love always feels that injuries are worse than they really are…In the opinion of many – and it is true – constant complaining is a clear proof of lack of strength and generosity. (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 130)

On some level, we can all relate to the Israelites. We’ve all experienced tough times. We’ve all gotten bad breaks. We’ve all had our share of difficulties and disappointments. We’ve all had moments when we felt that the road to happiness shouldn’t take so much time, effort and energy. But we also know from our own experience that chronic complaining is toxic. It poisons our perceptions and perspectives, and it ultimately does nothing to address or reduce whatever difficulties we may be facing, be they real and/or imagined. In fact, chronic complaining simply makes things worse – for us, as well as for those around us.

Do you suffer from chronic complaining? If you do, then today try applying the surest remedy of all.


(April 10, 2019: Wednesday, Fifth Week of Lent)

“The truth will set you free…”

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

“Our free will is never as free as when it is a slave to God’s will, just as it is never as servile as when it serves our own will. It never has so much life as when it dies to self, and never so much death as when it lives to itself. We have the liberty to do good and evil, but to choose evil is not to use but to abuse this liberty. Let us renounce such wretched liberty and subject forever our free will to the rule of heavenly love. Let us become slaves to dilection, whose serfs are happier than kings. If our souls should ever will to use their liberty against our resolutions to serve God eternally and without reserve, Oh, then, for love of God, let us sacrifice our free will and make it die to itself so that it may live in God! A man who out of self-love wishes to keep his freedom in this world shall lose it in the next world, and he who shall lose it in this world for the love of God shall keep it for that same love in the next world. He who keeps his liberty in this world shall find it a serf and a slave in the other world, whereas he who makes it serve the cross in this world shall have it free in the other world. For there, when he is absorbed in enjoyment of God’s goodness, his liberty will be converted into love and love into liberty, a liberty infinitely sweet. Without effort, without pain, and without any struggle we shall unchangingly and forever love the Creator and Savior of our souls. (Treatise 12: 10, pp- 277-278)

The Salesian tradition holds this truth about human freedom: it is not about being able to do whatever we want – that isn’t freedom, that’s license. True human freedom is about being able to do whatever it is that God wants us to do.

How might this truth set you free today?

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