Spirituality Matters 2019: August 8th - August 14th

(August 8, 2019: Dominic, Priest and Founder)

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers (popularly known as The Dominicans).

“Dominic sought to revive religious devotion among Catholics and bring the Cathar heretics (who taught that the physical world was evil) back to the fold. He emphasized preaching effectively and knowledgeably to ensure success in converting nonbelievers…Although the Dominicans succeeded in bringing many Cathars back to the Catholic faith, some lords and bishops felt the missionary effort was taking too long. They launched a war that, by the end of the thirteenth century, had nearly wiped out the Cathars.” (This Saint’s for You!, p. 46)

Francis de Sales has more than a little bit to say on the topic of preaching. In an extended letter to Andre Fremyot (brother of Jane de Chantal), Archbishop of Bourges, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Say marvelous things, but if you do not say them well, they are nothing. Say only a little but say it well, and it is very much. How must we speak when we preach? We must be on guard against the haughtiness and long periodic sentences of the pedants, against their gestures, their airs and their movements. All such things are the plague of preaching. Preaching must be spontaneous, dignified, courageous, natural, sturdy, devout, serious and a little slow. But to make it such what must be done? In a word, it means to speak with affection and devotion, with simplicity and candor, and with confidence, and to be convinced of the doctrine we teach and of what we persuade. The supreme art is to have no art. Our words must be set aflame, not by shouts and unrestrained gestures, but by inward affection. They must issue from our heart rather than from our mouth. We must speak well, but heart speaks to heart, while the tongue speaks only to the ear.” (Preacher and Preaching, pp. 63 – 64) pp. 198-199)

To speak with affection and devotion and with simplicity and candor - to speak from the heart rather than from the mouth - to set our hearts on fire with inward affection, such advice should not be limited to preaching! It should be the hallmark of how we speak to – and about – one another!

(August 9, 2019: Edith Stein, a.k.a. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross - Virgin and Martyr – was born Edith Stein in 1891 in Breslau, Poland. She was the youngest child of a large Jewish family. An outstanding student and well versed in philosophy with a particular interest in phenomenology, she became interested in the Catholic Faith, and in 1922, she was baptized at the Cathedral Church in Cologne, Germany. Eleven years later Edith entered the Cologne Carmel. Because of the ramifications of politics in Nazi Germany, Edith, whose name in religion was Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was sent to the Carmel at Echt, Holland. With the outbreak of World War II, the Nazis invaded and subsequently occupied Holland. Life in the Lowlands under National Socialism was particularly brutal, especially for Jews. Following the Dutch episcopacy's public condemnation of Nazi racism in 1942, Teresa – along with her sister Rose, also a member of the Carmel – was arrested. She and her sister were transported east to the concentration camp at Auschwitz where Edith died in the gas chambers at the age of fifty-one.

In a conference to the Visitation Sisters on “Hope,” Francis de Sales counseled:

“If divine Providence does not permit afflictions or mortifications to come upon you, then do not desire them or ask for them. On the other hand, if divine Providence permits afflictions or mortifications to come upon you, you must not refuse them but accept them courageously, lovingly and calmly.” (Conference VI, P. 95)

When Edith Stein converted to Catholicism in the 1920’s, she wasn’t looking for trouble. When she joined the Carmelites in the 1930’s, she wasn’t looking for trouble. When National Socialism gained power in Germany in 1933 and began to menace some of the subgroups within its borders – especially Jews – Teresa Benedicta wasn’t looking for trouble. In fact, she and her sister transferred to a monastery in another country with the hope of staying clear of any controversies. But, on that fateful day in 1942, when trouble finally caught up with her in the form of men in SS uniforms, she accepted it “courageously, lovingly and calmly” in imitation of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on the night of his arrest and subsequent crucifixion.

Some crosses can be delayed, but not denied. On any given day we would do well not to desire or ask for afflictions or mortifications, but if any afflictions or mortifications should come our way today, how will we accept – and deal with – them?

(August 10, 2019: Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr)

"Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…”

In the Gospel of John, we hear: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

If you sow bountifully, you will reap bountifully; if you give, you shall receive; however, you measure will be measured back to you. What we are talking about is the challenge – the command – to be generous. But sowing bountifully and reaping bountifully isn’t necessary all smiles and sunshine – what if the call to be generous should require your very life from you, as in the case of the martyr whose life we celebrate today, St. Lawrence?

Salesian spirituality holds the practice of generosity in high esteem. So much so that Francis de Sales gave an entire conference to the Sisters of the Visitation on the subject in which he described an intimate relationship of two virtues: humility and generosity. He observed:

“Humility believes that it can do nothing, considering its poverty and weakness when it comes to depending upon ourselves; by contrast, generosity makes us say with St. Paul, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.’ Humility makes us mistrust ourselves; generosity makes us trust in God. You see, then, that these two virtues of humility and generosity are so closely joined and united to one another that they never are and never can be separated...The humility which does not produce generosity is undoubtedly false, for after it has said, ‘I can do nothing; I am absolute nothingness,’ it suddenly gives way to generosity of spirit, which says, ‘ There is nothing – and there can be nothing – that I am unable to do, so long as I put all my confidence in God, who can do all things.’” (Conferences, pp. 75 - 77)

Humility calls us to stand in awe of how good, caring, patient, solicitous and generous God is on our behalf - to consider our good fortune, to count our blessings. This virtue, in turn, should produce in us a similar spirit of generosity, by which we imitate God’s generosity by sharing our good fortune and blessings with others. But as Jesus reminds us, this generosity brings with it dying to self and letting go, often in small ways but sometimes in the biggest ways of all.

In another place, St. Francis de Sales put it this way: “The measure of love is to love without measure.”

How will our generosity to others measure up in the eyes of God today?

(August 11, 2019: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

“Faith is confident assurance concerning those things for which we hope, and conviction about that which we do not see.” “Do not be afraid...”

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live lives of faith. Each day, each hour, each moment of our lives should be faith-filled opportunities to grow in our love and knowledge of God, ourselves, and one another.

Today's Scriptures beg the question: What, exactly, is faith? St. Francis de Sales distinguished between faith that is living, and faith that is dead:

"Examine your works and actions. It is when all signs of life cease that we consider a person to be dead. So, it is with faith. While in winter living trees may resemble dead ones, in their season they produce leaves, flowers and fruit. In the same way, while dead faith may appear to be living faith, only the latter bears the fruit of faith in all seasons. Living faith is excellent because, being united to love and vivified by love, it is strong, firm and constant."

People who are faith-filled, Francis de Sales would suggest, are living vigilant, strong, prudent and attentive lives. Adhering to the truth that God is love, that they are created, redeemed and inspired in love, and that they are called to share this love with others. Faith-filled people are people of action, courage and perseverance, always moving forward, even toward things they do not see.

Compare this power and promise with the alternative: the decision to live in fear.

Today's Scriptures beg the question: What, exactly, is fear? It is "a state or condition marked by feelings of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger; a feeling of disquiet or apprehension." (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

Those who live in fear do not trust the truth that God is love. They dare not believe that they are created and sustained in that love. They feel that they must not take the risk of sharing that love with others. People who live in fear are people of inaction, discouragement and timidity. They long to turn back; they fear to look forward. People of fear are, in a very real sense, already dead.

Make no mistake - people of faith are not immune to fear. They fear their own infidelity; they fear their own weakness; they fear their own sin. Sometimes, they likewise fear the infidelity, weakness and sin of others. But in the end, people of faith choose not to live in fear but to live in the truth of who God is, who God is calling them to be, and who God challenges them to be in the lives of their brothers and sisters.

People of faith are human beings who try their level best to be fully human. People of faith know that while fear is a part of life, there is more to life – much, much more - than fear!

(August 12, 2019: Jane Frances de Chantal, Wife, Mother, Religious and Founder)

A reading from the book of Deuteronomy (10: 12-22)

Now, therefore, Israel, what does the LORD, your God, ask of you but to fear the LORD, your God, to follow in all his ways, to love and serve the LORD, your God, with your whole heart and with your whole being, to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD that I am commanding you today for your own well-being? Look, the heavens, even the highest heavens, belong to the LORD, your God, as well as the earth and everything on it. Yet only on your ancestors did the LORD set his heart to love them. He chose you, their descendants, from all the peoples, as it is today. Circumcise therefore the foreskins of your hearts and be stiff-necked no longer.

For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing. So, you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.

The LORD, your God, shall you fear, and him shall you serve; to him hold fast and by his name shall you swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you those great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen. Seventy strong your ancestors went down to Egypt, and now the LORD, your God, has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.

Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm

(R) How good to sing praise to our God; how pleasant to give fitting praise!

Glorify the LORD, Jerusalem;
Zion, offer praise to your God,
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates,
blessed your children within you.

(R) How good to sing praise to our God; how pleasant to give fitting praise!

He brings peace to your borders,
and satisfies you with finest wheat.
He sends his command to earth;
his word runs swiftly!

(R) How good to sing praise to our God; how pleasant to give fitting praise!

He proclaims his word to Jacob,
his statutes and laws to Israel. He has not done this for any other nation;
of such laws they know nothing.

(R) How good to sing praise to our God; how pleasant to give fitting praise!

Gospel Acclamation

R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who humble themselves like this child are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

R. Alleluia, alleluia.


+ A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark (3: 31-35)

His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers [and your sisters] are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. [For] whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Gospel of the Lord.


In the Introduction to the book, Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction, we read:

“Jane de Chantal continued with her work of overseeing the large family of religious to whom she was the chief spiritual mother. She wrote ardent letters to superiors, novice-mistresses and novices which reflect her struggle to institute a way in which the authentic Salesian spirit might come to be observed everywhere.”

“In her letters of spiritual direction (where her concern was to stay close to the very Salesian spirit of beginning right where one is and with the facts at hand, Jane de Chantal continued to show herself as a masterful director of souls. She brought to this task her own life-experience and temperament. The experience of motherhood was chief among those experiences. Since her youth she had been engaged in the art of biological mothering, and since midlife she had exercised her spiritual maternity. The correspondence she maintained with the superiors of the Visitation reflects a self-conscious cultivation of attitudes and skills she believed were congruent with maternal care. Superiors were enjoined to be true mothers, tolerant of their children’s weaknesses, encouraging their small steps, never overly ambitious for their advancement until they themselves grew into the maturity of spiritual wisdom…This task of cultivating and disseminating this spirit of motherly direction occupied Jane de Chantal for many years. It was part of her long-term effort to ensure the survival – both institutional and spiritual – of the Salesian charism in its manifestation as the order of the Visitation.” (LSD, p. 32)

The selection from the Book of Deuteronomy underscores the importance of having a legacy – of making intentional efforts at passing on our hard-earned learning and wisdom to those with whom we live and work today, as well as to those who will follow in our footsteps tomorrow. Jane de Chantal shows us a sure and certain method for accomplishing this goal, namely:

  • Beginning right where we are with the facts at hand

  • Nurturing others

  • Tolerating others’ weaknesses

  • Encouraging small steps

  • Allowing others to experience spiritual maturity at their own pace.

We are the beneficiaries of Jane de Chantal’s efforts to ensure the survival of the Salesian charism.

How can we pick up where she left off - just today?

(August 13, 2019: Tuesday of the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

“The Lord will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you. Be brave and steadfast.”

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Scriptures tell us that St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, grew afraid; and as soon as he was afraid, he began to sink and drown, so he cried out: ‘O Lord, save me!’ And our Lord caught hold of his hand and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Look at this holy apostle; he walks dry foot on the water, the waves and the winds could not make him sink, but fear of the wind and the waves will make him perish unless his master saves him. Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 125, p. 198)

His advice to Saint Jane de Chantal is also great advice for us. He recommended:

“Do not be afraid. You are walking on the sea, surrounded by wind and water, but you are with Jesus: so, what is there to fear? If terror seizes you, cry out loudly: O Lord, save me. He will stretch forth his hand towards you; clasp it tight and go joyfully on your way. In short, don’t philosophize about your trouble; don’t argue with it, just go straight on, quite simply. If the whole world is topsy-turvy – if all around is darkness and smoke and din – God is still with us.” (Ibid)

Today is there anything that is weighing heavily on your mind or heart? Are there any issues or concerns that are attempting to paralyze you? Is there anything about which you find yourself afraid?

Remember: God is with you! Take his hand, clasp it tight and go joyfully on your way.

As best - and as bravely - as you can!

(August 14, 2019: Maximilian Kolbe, priest and martyr)

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Today we remember the ultimate witness to the love of God made by the Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, Maximilian Kolbe.

“During the Second World War, he provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów. On 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On 28 May, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670. At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander to select ten men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men cried out, ‘My wife, my children,’ Kolbe volunteered to take his place.”

“In the starvation cell, he celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners. He led the other condemned men in song and prayer. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards administered to Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilian_Kolbe)

Jesus tells us that “there is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) In Kolbe’s case perhaps there is an even greater love than that – laying down one’s life for a stranger, even an enemy. You see, what makes his sacrifice even more remarkable is that as a younger man Maximilian Kolbe criticized the Jews in word and writing.

People can – and do – change.

It is remarkable to consider that God is always in our midst - even in a place like Auschwitz – not because of the witness of two or three gathered together, but because of the witness of just one person who was willing to stand out among the rest - in the name of love.