Spirituality Matters 2019: February 7th - February 13th

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(February 7, 2019: Thursday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two…”

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

“Do you seriously wish to travel the road to devotion? ‘A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality, and those who fear the Lord find him.’ As you see, these divine words refer chiefly to immortality, and for this we above all else have this faithful friend who by advice and counsel guides our actions and thus protects us from the snares and deceits of the wicked one. For us such a friend will be a treasure of wisdom in affliction, sorrow and failure. He will serve as a medicine to ease and comfort our hearts. He will guard us from evil and make our good still better. You must have a guide (or companion) on this holy road to devotion.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 4, p. 46)

When Jesus sent his followers out to preach the Good News he did not send them out alone. Jesus used the “buddy system,” sending them out together, in pairs. In the mind of God being a disciple of Jesus has nothing to do with being a lone wolf.

What is the lesson for us? The road of life is sometimes lonely enough without trying to travel it alone. Just as in the case of the first disciples we, too, – disciples of Jesus – need to stick together.

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(February 8, 2019: Friday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not neglect hospitality…”

In the Spring 2002 edition of Vision Magazine, Christine D. Pohl wrote: “Offering welcome is basic to Christian identity and practice. For most of the church’s history, faithful believers located their acts of hospitality in a vibrant tradition in which needy strangers, Jesus, and angels were welcomed and through which people were transformed. But for many people today, understandings of hospitality have been reduced to Martha Stewart’s latest ideas for entertaining family and friends and to the services of the hotel and restaurant industry. As a result, even Christians miss the significance of hospitality and view it as a mildly pleasant activity if sufficient time is available.” (p. 34)

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales made the following observations regarding the practice of hospitality:

“Apart from cases of extreme necessity, hospitality is a counsel. To entertain strangers is its first degree. To go out on the highways and invite them in, as Abraham did, is a higher degree. It is still higher to live in dangerous places in order to rescue, help and serve passers-by.” (TLG, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

When you consider that most – if not all – of the people to whom we extend hospitality are not strangers but people whom we actually know - or who are known at least by people we know) - how do we really practice hospitality, at least as St. Francis de Sales defined it? Since we rarely entertain total strangers these days, where does that leave us in our efforts to “not neglect hospitality?” Pohl offers a very practical answer to this question:

“The most important practice of welcome is giving a person our full attention. It is impossible to overstate the significance of paying attention, listening to people’s stories, and taking time to talk with them. For those of us who feel that time is our scarcest resource, often this requires slowing ourselves down sufficiently to be present to the person. It means that we view individuals as human beings rather than as embodied needs or interruptions.” (p. 40)

If we define hospitality as “giving a person our full attention,” it becomes obvious that life provides ample opportunities for us to welcome others: not only strangers, but especially the people we know all-too-well - those with whom we live and love every day.

So, most days what is required to practice hospitality? It would seem that we need less to be good caterers and more to be good listeners.

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(February 9, 2019: Saturday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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"His heart was moved…for they were like sheep without a shepherd..."

In today’s Gospel we hear that Jesus’ heart was moved by the sight of the crowd who “were like sheep without a shepherd.”

In other words, the people were lost.
“Lost” is defined as:

  • not made use of, won, or claimed
  • no longer possessed or no longer known
  • ruined or destroyed physically or morally
  • taken away or beyond reach or attainment
  • unable to find the way
  • no longer visible
  • lacking assurance or self-confidence
  • helpless
  • not appreciated or understood
  • obscured or overlooked during a process or activity
  • hopelessly unattainable

It’s safe to say that we all have the experience of being “lost” from time-to-time. Sometimes, we might experience being “lost” in any number of ways for long periods of time. Fortunately for us, one of the reasons that Jesus became one of us was to find the lost.

Consider yourself found!

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(February 10, 2019: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men…”

While the invitation to follow Jesus is a life-changing event, it doesn’t necessarily change everything. The case in point is in today’s Gospel. Who is it that Jesus invites to join him in catching people? Why, fishermen! Following Jesus may have required them to catch a new sense of purpose, but it also required them to employ familiar abilities and skills.

What can Peter, James and John teach us about what we need in our own efforts to follow Jesus? Two things: we need to prepare, and we need to be flexible.

Have you ever watched fishermen as they begin their new day? They prepare! They stock up on everything that they think they could possibly need during their time out on the water. They try to anticipate any and every situation that they may encounter, and they make provisions accordingly. They never leave the dock until they have ascertained that they have stowed aboard whatever they might need to meet any eventuality.

Have you ever watched fisherman fish? They are flexible! They will pick a spot and wait. If they catch little or nothing there they will move on to another location and wait. As the day progresses they may revisit a previous spot that had yielded no results earlier only to discover that now it is teeming with fish. Sometimes their intuition may tell them to stay out a little longer than they normally would. Finally, they need to know when to call it a day.

As you begin each new day ask yourself the following questions: What are the situations and events that I may encounter today? What are the virtues that I need to bring along with me to deal with whatever eventualities life may have in store for me? How flexible am I willing to be? Am I able to ‘roll with the punches’? How open am I to adapting to what today may have in store for me rather than tenaciously clinging to what I had in store for the day?

However skeptical Peter, James and John may have been about putting out “into deep water” one more time at the end of a long and fruitless day at the suggestion of an itinerant preacher, they were professional enough – that is, prepared and flexible enough – to do what Our Lord invited them to do. Their decision to do so changed their lives forever. Not only did they catch an enormous amount of fish but also, as it turns out, they themselves were caught by the enormity of God’s love.

How might Jesus ask us to go out “into deep water” today? How will we respond?

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(February 11, 2019: Our Lady of Lourdes)
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“God saw how good it was…”

Ask yourself the question: are you basically good or are you basically evil? You might be surprised to learn how many people choose the latter.

On some level it is easy to understand why people say “evil”. Apart from our own struggles to be the kind of people that God calls us to be – that is, people created in God’s own image and likeness – the 24-hour news cycle on cable television constantly bombards us with story after story of what is wrong with us.

Thank God there are other voices that insist – as in the case of the Book of Genesis – that we are “good”. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“God has drawn you out of nothingness to make you what you are now and has done so solely out of his own goodness. Consider, then, the nature God has given you. It is the highest in this visible world and it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.” ( IDL, Part I, Chapter 9, p. 53)

Speaking of ‘image and likeness’, would you like more assurances that you are “good”? Listen to these words from the Francis’ Treatise on the Love of God:

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that he wills all of us to be saved that no one can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose, he made us ‘in his own image and likeness’ by creation, and by the Incarnation he has made himself in our image and likeness…” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 4, p. 64)

Notwithstanding Francis de Sales’ statement above to the contrary, it would appear that many people are in fact ignorant of how good they are – at least, where God is concerned.

Do we good people do bad things? Of course, we do, but that doesn’t make us bad people! Unless, of course, we are bound and determined to make God a liar!

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(February 12, 2019: Tuesday, Fifth Week of Ordinary Time)
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“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy…”

The Book of Genesis outlines all the things that God created at the beginning of time. This list includes all kinds of seed-bearing plants, living creatures, wild animals, and creeping/crawling things. God created fish of the sea, birds of the air and cattle on the land. God created man and woman. And the last thing that Genesis claims that God created was – interestingly enough – the Sabbath.

Catholic Encyclopedia Online reminds us:

“The Sabbath was the consecration of one day of the weekly period to God as the Author of the universe and of time. The day thus being the Lord's, it required that man should abstain from working for his own ends and interests, since by working he would appropriate the day to himself, and that he should devoted his activity to God by special acts of positive worship. While the Sabbath was primarily a religious day, it had a social and philanthropic side. It was also intended as a day of rest and relaxation, particularly for the slaves. Because of the double character, religious and philanthropic, of the day, two different reasons are given for its observance. The first is taken from God's rest on the seventh day of creation; in the second place, the Israelites are bidden to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt and should therefore in grateful remembrance of their deliverance rest themselves and allow their bond-servants to rest. As a reminder of God's benefits to Israel the Sabbath was to be a day of joy and such it was in practice. No fasting was done on the Sabbath; on the contrary, the choicest meals were served to which friends were invited.”

Sabbath, then, serves a twofold purpose: it reminds us of how generous God has been to us and it challenges us to be good to others.

In the Salesian tradition, at least, it would seem that our celebration of “Sabbath” should not be limited to one day a week. We should remember God’s goodness to us – and our need to do good for others – every day!

How can we keep the “Sabbath” today?

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(February 13, 2019: Wednesday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile…”

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation (on the “Obligations of the Constitutions”), Francis de Sales counseled:

“The rules do not command many fasts, but nevertheless some individuals may for their own special needs practice extra fasts; let those who do fast not despise those who eat, nor let those who eat despise those who fast. And the same, for that matter, in all other things that are neither commanded or forbidden, let each person abound in one’s own sense, that is, let each person enjoy and use one’s liberty, without judging or interfering with others who do not do as they do, or trying to persuade others that their ways are the best…”

Lent begins today, on Ash Wednesday. It is traditionally a day of fasting and abstinence. It is also a day when many people are tempted – however unconsciously – to compare their fasting and abstaining with how others fast and abstain which, of course, misses the whole point of fasting and abstaining in the first place.

What about you? Are you still undecided about things from which to fast and abstain on this first day of Lent or - for that matter – perhaps throughout the entire season of Lent? Here’s a suggestion: how about trying to fast and abstain from the temptation to compare ourselves to others?