Spirituality Matters 2019: August 22nd - August 28th
“Many are invited, but few are chosen...”
We are all familiar with the story of the Annunciation. An angel appears to Mary, announcing that God has chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah. Notwithstanding a bit of foreboding and a few understandable questions that she posed to the angel; the scene ends with Mary accepting the invitation to play her role in God’s plan of salvation.
Mary’s affirmative response to God’s invitation is in stark contrast to the apathy of many portrayed in today’s Gospel parable. The “king” (obviously, God) repeatedly invites people from hill and dale to accept his invitation to attend his son’s wedding. (By extension, God is asking people to say “yes” to the power, promise and possibilities embodied in his Son, Jesus.) These people simply couldn’t care less, prompting the king to cast his net of hospitality further and further afield.
On any given day God invites each of us to play our unique role in God’s ongoing plan of salvation. Each and every day God invites us to draw nearer to the feast that is his Son, Jesus Christ. Today, how will we respond to God’s invitation to the feast?
“Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
The question put to Jesus in today’s Gospel is not an exercise of ‘Trivial Pursuit.’ This is not mere rhetoric. Ultimately, it is a question of life and death. Jesus’ answer is direct and to the point: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And when he describes the second as “like” the first, Jesus is saying that the two commandments are essentially one in the same.
In a letter to Madame Brulart, Francis de Sales wrote:
“We must consider our neighbors n God who wishes us to love and cherish them must exercise this love of our neighbor, making our affection manifest by our actions. Although we may sometimes feel that this runs against the grain, we must not give up our efforts on that account. We ought to bring our prayers and meditations to focus on this point, for, after having asked for the love of God, we must likewise ask for the love of our neighbor.” (Living Jesus, 0618, p. 246)
Today, how can we put these two great commandments into practice?
“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom…”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“You can see how God – by progressive stages filled with unutterable sweetness – leads the soul forward and enables it to leave the Egypt of sin. He leads it from love to love, as from dwelling to dwelling, until He has made it enter into the Promised Land. By this I mean that God brings it into most holy charity, which, to state it succinctly, is a form of friendship…Such friendship is true friendship, since it is reciprocal, for God has eternally loved all those who have loved Him, who now love Him or who will love Him in time…He has openly revealed all His secrets to us as to His closest friends…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 22, pp. 160 - 161)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is clear and unambiguous about the quality that makes Bartholomew (a.k.a., Nathaniel) a friend of God: “There is no guile in him.” There is no pretense in Bartholomew – nothing fake, nothing phony. Jesus sees him as a man who is real, authentic and transparent - he is an open book.
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offered some practical advice regarding how to practice the virtue of guilelessness
“Your language should be retrained, frank, sincere, candid unaffected and honest…As the sacred Scripture tells us, The Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul. No artifice is so good and desirable as plain dealing. Worldly prudence and carnal artifice belong to the children of this world, but the children (the friends) of God walk a straight path and their hearts are without guile.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)
Do you want to be a friend of God today? Like Bartholomew, strive to be guileless. Simply try to be yourself – nothing more, and nothing less.
“Go out to all the world and tell the good news.”
Pope Paul VI defined evangelization as "bringing the Good News into all strata of humanity and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new."
In their book entitled Creating the Evangelizing Parish, Paulist Fathers Frank DeSiano and Kenneth Boyack challenge us to accept this simple truth: each of us is called to be an evangelist, to “go out to all the world and tell the Good News,” and to give witness to the power and promise of God's redeeming love in our lives. (Paulist Press, 1993)
While the good news is essentially the same, the authors insist that the manner and method in which each of us evangelizes must be rooted in the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. For a deeper understanding of what this means, they turn to our old friend and companion, St. Francis de Sales:
“St. Francis de Sales wrote a marvelous book entitled The Introduction to the Devout Life. In it he makes the simple yet profound point that a follower (a disciple) of Jesus should look at his or her situation in life and then live a Christian life accordingly. A wife and mother will find holiness in the way she lives in relation to her husband, and in taking care of the family. She could hardly leave her family many times each day, like monks or nuns, to attend Liturgy of the Hours...Her spirituality, her way of following Christ is determined by her vocation and lifestyle...and if she works, living out her vocation as a married woman bearing witness to Christ in the workplace.”
We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are redeemed by the life, love, death and resurrection of Jesus. We are inspired and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. This acclamation is indeed Good News! This Good News should make a difference in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we love, live, work pray and play. This Good News should transform and renew us. Through us, this Good News offers the possibility of transformation and renewal to others.
How we share this Good News -- how we evangelize -- depends on who we are, where we are and how we are. How we share this Good News must match the state, stage, circumstances, responsibilities, routines and relationships in which we find ourselves each day. Following Jesus is not about forsaking our ordinary lives. No, it is about making real the life and love of God in our thoughts, feelings attitudes and actions.
Evangelization has a lot to do with what we say. After all, it is about ‘telling’ something, which in this case, is the Good News of God. However, evangelization also has a lot to do (perhaps even more) with what we do. What we say is a convincing sign of God's love only insofar as it is congruent with how we relate to one another.
By all means - by any means - "go out to all the world and tell the Good News" of God's love, God's forgiveness, God's justice and God's peace. But most especially, do it in the places - with the people - where you live, work, pray and play every day.
"We give thanks to God always…unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love.”
You can hear the happiness in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. His joy flows from reminding himself of the “work of faith and labor of love” in the members of that early faith community.
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! The holy light of faith is filled with delight!” (Select Salesian Subjects, #0263, p. 58)
What a contrast with how Jesus describes the scribes and Pharisees! Their faith produces no good works; their love is lacking. Their faith is anything but happy. Jesus simply describes what is painfully obvious about them in his litany of “woes” that begin with today’s Gospel and continue thorough Wednesday’s Gospel. In a word, these people were just plain miserable.
How do people experience the gift of faith in us? Are we sources of happiness – or woe – in the lives of others?
“We drew courage through our God to speak the Gospel of God with much struggle."
“St. Monica was married by arrangement to a pagan official in North Africa, who was much older than she, and although generous, was also violent tempered. His mother lived with them and was equally difficult, which proved a constant challenge to St. Monica. She had three children; Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. Through her patience and prayers, she was able to convert her husband and his mother to the Christian faith in 370. He died a year later. Perpetua and Navigius entered the religious life. St. Augustine was much more difficult, as she had to pray for him for seventeen years, begging the prayers of priests who - for a while - tried to avoid her because of her persistence at this seemingly hopeless endeavor. One priest did attempt to encourage her by saying, ‘It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.’ This thought, coupled with a vision that she had received, strengthened her in her prayers and hopes for her son. Finally, St. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose in 387. St. Monica died later that same year in the Italian town of Ostia, on the way back to Africa from Rome.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=1)
We can all relate to Saint Monica. We all have people in our lives for whom we want the best. We all have people in our lives that we want to be happy. We all have people in our lives about whom we have concerns and heartaches. Of course, as much as we might love someone else, we cannot live their lives for them. Sometimes the most we can do is to pray for them, encourage them and support them. As for the rest, we need leave it in the hands of God and hope that God will do His best.
Saint Monica is a model of courage. We see in her struggles the power that flows from a life of prayer and perseverance.
How can we imitate her example today, especially when it comes to loved ones about whom we care so deeply?
“Walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his Kingdom…”
“This famous son of St. Monica was born in Africa and spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. Though he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been raised a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride closed his mind to divine truth. Through the prayers of his holy mother and the marvelous preaching of St. Ambrose, Augustine gradually became convinced that Christianity was indeed the one true faith. Yet he did not become a Christian even then, because he thought he could never live a pure life.”
“One day, however, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted after reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terribly ashamed of himself. ‘What are we doing?’ he cried to his friend Alipius. ‘Unlearned people are taking heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!’ Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine cried out to God, ‘How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?’ Just then he heard a child singing, ‘Take up and read!’ Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul and read the first passage upon which his gaze fell. It was just what Augustine needed, for in it, St. Paul said to put away all impurity and to live in imitation of Jesus. That did it! From then on, Augustine began a new life. (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=418)
In his Letter to the Thessalonians, the same Paul who had such a powerful influence in the life of Augustine challenges us to “walk in a manner worthy of God.” Desirable as that goal may be, the ability to walk in God’s ways – as we see so clearly in the life of Saint Augustine – doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. For most of us, walking in a manner worthy of God isn’t just a sprint – it’s a marathon!