Spirituality Matters 2019: August 1st - August 7th

(August 1, 2019: Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop/Doctor of the Church)

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full, they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.”

What should I hold onto in life? What should I let go of in life? What’s good for me? What’s not good for me? These kinds of questions are the stuff of discernment. John Crossin, OSFS offers for our consideration three aspects of any discernment process, that is, any attempt to determine God’s will.

Mind you, discernment is not an exact science. While we can come to know God’s Will in broad strokes – and sometimes even in the particular – we can’t presume to know it all. And sometimes, we may even get it wrong.

Still, some of the things that can help us to know what to keep and what to give away in life include:

  • God’s Signified Will – This is the information we already have at our disposal from the Scriptures, Commandments, Counsels etc. These clearly communicate what God considers to be good, virtuous and life-giving values, attitudes and actions.
  • Feedback from Others – We should make good use of the wise counsel of friends, clergy, mentors, counselors and other people whom we trust. True friends will know when to tell us what we want to hear, and when to tell us what we need to hear.
  • Flexibility – Francis de Sales observed that while all the saints are recognized for their conformity to God’s will, no two saints followed God’s Will in exactly the same way. We need to remind ourselves that discernment is about what God wants us - not others - to do in any particular situation. Sometimes, this may require us to ‘think outside of the box’ - we need to be open to change.

Today, life being what it is, we may catch all kinds of things in the nets of our lives. Some things are always good for us; other things are always bad for us. However, there may be some things we catch that used to be good but no longer are. On the other hand, there may be other things once considered bad that may now actually be very good.

Decisions, decisions - What do I keep? I keep the things that promote the Kingdom of heaven! What do I throw away? I throw away the things that don’t!

(August 2, 2019: Friday, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place, in his own house...”

It isn’t an accident that prophetic people are often most unappreciated by those closest to them. It isn’t by chance that prophetic voices encounter the most resistance from members of their own family, relatives or friends. It isn’t a surprise that prophetic movements are often far easier to export abroad than to practice at home. Recall the saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Strangers don’t see our foibles. Strangers don’t see our weaknesses. Strangers don’t experience our dark side. But as we know all-too-well, those who know us well do see those things…and much, much more.

We are all disciples of Jesus. We are all commissioned by virtue of our Baptism to preach in word (and especially in deed). So, what are we to do? Preach freely to strangers but remain silent when in the presence of those with whom we labor, live and love? No, that won’t do. When it comes to following Jesus, we know that there’s extra pressure when we are among our own. We realize that there is extra scrutiny in our own (glass!) house. We accept that there is greater expectation (and perhaps more skepticism) in our native place. So, how should would-be prophets deal with this reality?

The answer - make sure that you’re already making your best efforts to put into practice what you are pondering to preach.

(August 3, 2019: Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in ordinary Time)

“Therefore, when you sell any land to your neighbor or buy any from him, do not deal unfairly but stand in fear of your God. I, the LORD, am your God.”

Francis de Sales clearly understood and appreciated the spirit of today’s selection from the Book of Leviticus. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he counseled:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and your neighbor in yours, and then you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell, and then you will sell and buy justly. A person loses nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously and with a royal, just and reasonable heart. Resolve to examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor as you would have your neighbor’s heart to be toward you. This is the touchstone of true reason....” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 36, p. 217)

When it comes to the give and take of daily life, take fairly – and give generously!

(August 4, 2019: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

“What profit comes to a person from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which one labored under the sun?” “One may be wealthy, but one's possessions do not guarantee one life.”

Is wealth an obstacle to living a righteous life? Do possessions prevent us from living a righteous life? Must we choose between the things that are of earth and the things that are of heaven?

Indeed, riches may be a temptation to forsake a God-centered life precisely because they may distract us from pursuing the things that really matter in life - the things that will last forever. However, the root of the problem may not be the wealth - the possessions - the success - themselves, but rather, inordinate anxiety and concern about them.

Anxiety about the accumulation and preservation of wealth ultimately prevents us from truly enjoying our blessings and successes in life. As today's Scriptures point out, anxiety about holding on to how much (or even, how little) we possess can lead to tragic consequences.

Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

"There is a difference between possessing poison and being poisoned. Pharmacists keep almost every kind of poison in stock for use on various occasions, yet they are not themselves poisoned because it is merely in their shops, not in their bodies. So, too, you can possess riches without being poisoned by them if you keep them in your home, purse or wallet, but not in your heart." (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14)

The man in the Gospel parable is not condemned because he had filled his barn with riches. No, he is condemned because he had allowed his heart to be consumed by riches. So consumed, in fact, that when he was considering how to dispose of his excessive good fortune, it never occurred to him that he might share it with others.

A word to the wealthy...and the wise: the best remedy for not being consumed with riches is to practice the virtue of generosity. After all, how can you be anxious about losing what you have if you are already too busy sharing it with - even giving it away to - others?

Therein lies the secret of true wealth...in the eyes of God, wealth that truly - and forever - enriches. What makes me rich is not a measure of what I possess. No, what makes me rich is what I am willing to share with others.

(August 5, 2019: Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major)

“The children of Israel lamented…”

The children of Israel were complaining – one might say even whining. Never mind that God (through the leadership of Moses) had liberated them from the Egyptians. The heady days of their new-found freedom had vanished, and the Israelites complained about the manna they were reduced eating in the desert. They longed for the good food that they had once enjoyed back in the good old days at the hands of the not-so-good Egyptians. Faced with such ingratitude, Moses, in turn, did his own share of complaining and whining to God about the complaining and whining Israelites.

Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

"Complain as little as possible about the difficulties you suffer. Complaining people commit a sin by doing so, since self-love always feels that the troubles they experience are worse than they actually are. The truly patient person neither complains of his hard lot nor desires to be pitied by others…If some just occasion requires a complaint to either correct an offense or to restore peace of mind, do not do so with irascible or fault-finding people. Instead of calming your mind the others will stir up worse difficulties and in place of pulling out the thorn that is hurting you they will simply drive it deeper into your foot. If you must complain do it only with those who are even-tempered and who really love God." (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 130)

One can understand the Israelites’ frustration - they had been wandering in the desert a lot longer than anyone had expected. The conditions there were challenging (hot in daytime and cold at night) and the food was dreadful. However, the complaining not only solved nothing, but in fact, it simply made things worse.

Before you complain about something today, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the difficulty that I am experiencing really as bad as I feel it is?

  • Will my complaint change things for the better or for the worse?

  • If my complaint is justified, will I complain to the right – or to the wrong – kinds of people?

(August 6, 2019: Transfiguration of the Lord)

“He was transfigured before them…”

Something remarkable happened on that mountain.

Consider the possibility that it was not Jesus who changed, but rather, it was Peter, James and John who were transformed. Imagine that this account from Mark’s Gospel documents the experience of Peter, James and John as if their eyes were opened and their vision widened, enabling them to see without impediment the virtually blinding light of Jesus’ love that flowed from every fiber of his being.

Indeed, every day of Jesus’ life something of that remarkable brilliance, that remarkable passion, and that remarkable glory was revealed to people of all ages, stages and states of life. The shepherds and magi saw it; the elders in the temple saw it; the guests at a wedding saw it; a woman caught in adultery saw it; a boy possessed by demons saw it; a man born blind saw it; a good thief saw it.

If so many others could recognize it in a word, a glance, or a touch, why might Peter, James and John have required such extra effort in helping them to see Jesus’ glory? Perhaps it was because they were so close to Jesus; perhaps it was because they were with him every day; perhaps it was because, on some level, they had somehow taken his glory for granted.

What about us? Do we recognize that same divine glory present in us, present in others, present in creation, present in even the simplest and most ordinary, everyday experiences of justice, truth, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion?

Or do we take it for granted?

St. Francis de Sales saw the Transfiguration as a “glimpse of heaven.” How might our eyes, our minds and our hearts need to be transfigured and transformed in ways that enable us to catch this “glimpse of heaven” within us and around us? How might we need to see more clearly the glory of a God who always loves, redeems, heals, forgives, challenges, pursues., strengthens and inspires us?

Today, may we grow in our ability - through the quality of our lives - to make that “glimpse of heaven” more clearly visible and available to the eyes – and in the lives – of others.

(August 7, 2019: Sixtus II, Pope and Companions, Martyrs)

“O woman, how great is your faith!”

Today’s Scripture readings offer us a study in contrast. In the Book of Numbers we see how the faith of the Israelites was shaken when they learned that the land of “milk and honey” promised by the Lord was already occupied by other people, and not just any other people – they were strong, fierce giants living in well-fortified towns. It would seem that the Israelites simply expected to inherit the Promised Land unopposed without any effort or resistance.

Contrast this situation with the faith demonstrated by the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel. Three times Jesus rebuffed her request to drive a demon out of her daughter. Undaunted, the woman continued to press Jesus to the point where he was not only impressed by her faith but also granted her request.

The Israelites teach us that having a strong faith in God’s Providence doesn’t mean that God’s promises always come easily. Many good things in life require hard, difficult work. For her part the Canaanite woman demonstrates that strong faith in God does not require passivity, but in fact, it often requires persistence and tenacity.

Today consider: how great is our faith?