Spirituality Matters 2019: February 21st - February 27th

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(February 21, 2019: Thursday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Who do you say that I am?”

No sooner does Jesus give Peter a big “shout out” for correctly identifying him as the Christ then Jesus publicly – and severely – reprimands Peter for disputing Jesus’ description of Himself as a suffering Messiah. Later, Peter rather lamely suggests erecting three tents while Jesus is transfigured on Mt. Tabor. Still later, Peter impetuously severs the ear of a slave belonging to one of servants of the high priest who came to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane. And after protesting his love of Jesus at the Last Supper, Peter denied Jesus not once, not twice but three times. And, of course, while Jesus spent the last hours of his life hanging on the cross, Peter was nowhere to be found.

Jesus may have called Peter “rock”, but the Savior knew he had cracks. Peter might even be described as being “off his rocker” from time to time.

However, as imperfect as Peter was, God entrusted the keys of the kingdom to him. And as imperfect as we are, Jesus continues to entrust those same keys – however obvious or innocuous – to each and every one of us.

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(February 22, 2019: Chair of St. Peter)
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“Who do you say that I am?”

On the web site of the Catholic News Agency, we find the following entry for the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter:

“The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter celebrates the papacy and St. Peter as the first bishop of Rome. St. Peter's original name was Simon. He was married with children and was living and working in Capernaum as a fisherman when Jesus called him to be one of the Twelve Apostles. Jesus bestowed to Peter a special place among the Apostles. He was one of the three who were with Christ on special occasions, such as the Transfiguration of Christ and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was the only Apostle to whom Christ appeared on the first day after the Resurrection. Peter, in turn, often spoke on behalf of the Apostles.”

“When Jesus asked the Apostles: ‘Who do men say that the Son of Man is?’ Simon replied: ‘Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ And Jesus said: ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood have not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you: That you are Peter [Cephas, a rock], and upon this rock [Cephas] I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven’. (Mt 16:13-20) In saying this Jesus made St. Peter the head of the entire community of believers and placed the spiritual guidance of the faithful in St. Peter’s hands.”

The post on the web site continues:

“However, St. Peter was not without faults…” Now there’s an understatement.

As we celebrate the “Chair of Peter,” don’t forget that Jesus has likewise prepared a chair – a place, a role – for each and every one of us in continuing the work of God’s Kingdom.

Like Peter, today do we have the courage to take our place?

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(February 23, 2019: Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr)
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“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; the good thief saw it.

If so many others could recognize Jesus’ brilliance 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.

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(February 24, 2019: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…”

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Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine.
Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world what is fair?
We walk blind, and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be.
Bring me a higher love, bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love, where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?

- sung by Steve Winwood

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In today’s Gospel Jesus calls us to a “higher” love. Jesus urges us to avoid practicing or pursuing spiritual minimalism, i.e., looking to do only the bare minimum of what is required or living life by the “good enough” method – quid pro quo won’t cut it.

Jesus’ “higher love” is really at the heart of Francis’ notion of “devotion.” He wrote:

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to God’s Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also do the good carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion…In addition, it arouses us to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired.” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 1)

God, help us to live this higher love. Help us to avoid trying to simply “get by” in life; help us to understand what it means to truly live…to do good, without expecting anything back.

“Higher love” is its own reward.

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(February 25, 2019: Monday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
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“He said to them in reply, O faithless generation, how long will I be with you?
How long will I endure you?’”

Commenting on this selection from the Gospel of Mark, William Barclay makes the following observation regarding this “cry wrung from the heart of Jesus”:

“He had been on the mountaintop and had faced the tremendous task that lay ahead of him. He had decided to stake his life on the redemption of the world. And now he had come back down to find his nearest followers – his own chosen men – beaten and baffled and helpless and ineffective. The thing, for the moment, must have daunted even Jesus. He must have had a sudden realization of what anyone else would have called the hopelessness of his task. He must at that moment have almost despaired of the attempt to change human nature and to make men of the world into men of God.”

“How did he meet the moment of despair? ‘Bring the boy to me,’ he said. When we cannot deal with the ultimate situation, the thing to do is to deal with the situation which confronts us at the moment. It was as if Jesus said, ‘I do not know how I am ever going to change these disciples of mine, but I can at this moment help this boy. Let us get on with the present task, and not despair of the future.’”

“Again, and again that is the way to avoid despair. If we sit and think about the state of the world, we may well become very depressed; then let us get to action in our own small corner of the world. We may sometimes despair of the church; then let us get to action in our own small part of the church. Jesus did not sit appalled and paralyzed at the slowness of men’s minds; he dealt with the immediate situation.”

“The surest way to avoid pessimism and despair is to take what immediate action we can – and there is always something to be done.”

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(February 26, 2019: Tuesday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time
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“Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not; thus, will you be wise in all your ways. Accept whatever befalls you, when sorrowful, be steadfast, and in crushing misfortune be patient…”

Entrepeneur.com once ran an article entitled, “Eight Ways Practicing Patience Radically Increases Your Capacity for Success”. One aspect is particularly relevant to a Salesian world view.

# 4. Self-possession

“Patience puts us in direct control of ourselves. And there is no more powerful an aid to success then self-possession. When we are patient, we give ourselves time to choose how to respond to a given event, rather than get hijacked by our emotions. It allows us to stay centered no matter what is happening. With self-management, we build trust in our capacity to deal with whatever comes our way.”

“A lack of success or progress can almost always be boiled down to a lack of patience. The most basic reason for impatience is a lack of control. When we lack control, we lack understanding and insight. When we lack understanding and insight, we lack the ability to plan, communicate and set realistic expectations. But when we claim control over these issues, we develop the ability to bask in the rewards that patience can deliver.”

Sound familiar? It should. Just over four hundred years ago, Francis de Sales wrote the following in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

“‘For you have need of patience, that doing the will of God, you may receive the promise,’ says St. Paul. True, for our Savior himself has declared, ‘By your patience you will win your souls.’ It is our great happiness to possess our own soul, and the more perfect our patience, the more completely we possess our own soul.”

Great happiness is not about self-obsession. Great happiness is about self-possession – it is about practicing the patience required to take responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions. And there is no better place to practice patience than in our relationships with one another.

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(February 27, 2019: Wednesday, Seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Whoever is not against us is for us."

William Barclay sees this selection from the Gospel of Mark as a lesson in tolerance, a lesson that nearly everyone needs to learn:

  • “Every person has a right to his own thoughts. Every person has a right to think things out and to think them through until he comes to his own conclusions and his own beliefs. And that is a right we should respect. We are too often apt to condemn what we do not understand.”
  • “Not only must we concede to every person to right to do his own thinking, we must also concede the right to a person to do his own speaking.”
  • “We must remember that any doctrine or belief must finally be judged by the kind of people it produces.”
  • “We may hate a person’s beliefs, but we must never hate the person. We may wish to eliminate what the person teaches, but we must never wish to eliminate the person.”
It takes all kinds of people to continue the work of God. At the end of the day, it matters little whether this person or that person is a member of our group or tribe – what matters is that God’s work is getting done.

No matter who they are…or aren’t.