Spirituality Matters 2019: January 31st - February 6th

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(January 31, 2019: Don Bosco, Religious and Founder)
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In his pamphlet about the life of St. Francis de Sales entitled A True Nobleman, Philip J. Pascucci, SDB wrote:

“One of Don Bosco’s nine resolutions when he was ordained to the priesthood was: ‘The sweetness and charity of St. Francis de Sales will guide me in everything.’ Francis de Sales was by nature (his biographers tell us) sensitive, somewhat irritable and hot-tempered, but, by dint of patient striving, day after day from his early years, Francis succeeded in mastering his disposition to such an extent that he became known as the gentle, kind and meek saint. Don Bosco knew from his own experience and the experience of others that his followers would need an outstanding model of these virtues in the difficult work which they would have to accomplish among (troubled and troublesome) youth. The model he chose for his followers had to be Francis de Sales.” (Page 32)

How might we follow the example of John Bosco in following the example of St. Francis de Sales today? How might God be calling us this day to allow the “sweetness and charity” of St. Francis de Sales to guide us in what we think, what we feel, what we say and what we do with and for one another?

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(February 1, 2019: Friday, Third Week in Ordinary Week)
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“Remember the days past when – after you had been enlightened – you endured a great contest of suffering…”

Memories aren’t all bad. In fact, memories can be very good by reminding us of our ability to work through and rise above challenging times in our past. Recall the words from Barry Manilow’s song, “I Made it through the Rain:”

We dreamers have our ways
Of facing rainy days
And somehow we survive

We keep the feelings warm
Protect them from the storm
Until our time arrives

Then one day the sun appears
And we come shining through those lonely years

I made it through the rain
I kept my world protected
I made it through the rain
I kept my point of view
I made it through the rain
And found myself respected
By the others who
Got rained on too
And made it through

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

“We must often remember that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts that we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

We’ve all been “through the rain.” We’ve all had our share of “injuries, denials and discomforts.” When we look back – when we remember – the tough and challenging moments through the lens of time, we can become either bitter or better.

Today which will you chose – to be bitter or to be better?

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(February 2, 2019: Presentation of the Lord)
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"Since the children are people of blood and flesh, Jesus likewise has a full share in these..."

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that God wills all of us to be saved that no one can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose, God made us ‘in his own image and likeness’ by creation, and by the Incarnation God has made himself in our image and likeness, after which he suffered death in order to ransom and save all mankind.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 8, Chapter 4)

Most folks are probably very familiar with the notion that through Creation we are made in God’s image and likeness. By contrast, most folks are probably far less familiar with the notion that God - through the Incarnation - made himself in our image and likeness. In keeping with the Feast that we celebrate today, God presented the fullness of his divinity within the fullness of our humanity in the person of Jesus, his Son!

St. Francis de Sales was captivated by the notion that God loved us so much that he came to be with us not just in any old manner but in a very specific manner - God became one of us! In the person of Jesus, God gained and experienced first-hand knowledge of what it means to sleep, to wake, to work, to rest, to dance, to cry, to mourn, to struggle, to succeed and to dream.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews clearly believed this truth He wrote that “Jesus had a full share” in blood and flesh...and “had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way.” In this way, Jesus would not only redeem us but also would understand us. This is indeed a great mystery. This is indeed a great intimacy: God so loved us that God took on our nature…God assumed our nature and likeness up close and personal!

Put simply, it is in God’s nature to meet us where – and how – we are.

Jesus challenges us to do the same each and every day, to meet others precisely where – and how – they are. Instead of giving in to the temptation to reach out to others when we judge them to be ready or worthy…instead of waiting for others to take the first step in the dance of life and love…we must stretch ourselves to put ourselves in the places of others. As we see in the life of Jesus, the first step of any attempt to help, to sustain, to encourage, to ransom or redeem others, is to know them.

To love someone is to know someone. How far are we willing to go in our attempts to really know other people whom we will encounter today?

Out of love!

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(February 3, 2019: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“I shall show you a still more excellent way…”

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.

Of course, it is God’s love that Paul describes in his First Letter to the Corinthians. By contrast, we do grow jealous; we are sometimes pompous; we are occasionally rude; we do seek our own interests; we do fly off the handle; we do harbor old hurts; we do fail.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but our love is far from perfect. Where does that leave us? In a Conference to the Sisters of the Visitation (on “Antipathies”), St. Francis de Sales counseled:

“We should not be astonished about our passions; they will be with us throughout all our lives. We shall always commit some faults, but we must try to make them rare. If, however, we commit many faults despite our best efforts to avoid them must not grieve or lose courage; rather, we must take heart and strengthen ourselves to do better.” (Conference XVI, p. 310)

To paraphrase St. Paul, at present we love imperfectly and with difficulty; in the future we shall love perfectly and quite easily. In the meantime, what are we to do with our imperfect attempts at loving?

The best we can.

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(February 4, 2019: Monday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with Him, but Jesus would not permit him…”

The story in today’s Gospel is but one of many occasions in which people – after having encountering Jesus – expressed their desire to follow Him, only to have their request denied. Whether in the case of the man possessed by many demons or in the cases of so many other people whose lives were forever changed by an encounter with Jesus, his directive to “go home” must have been a real let-down.

Especially in the case of John the Baptist!

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal (14 October 1604), Francis de Sales wrote:

“I have often wondered who is the most mortified of the saints I know, and after some reflection I have come to the conclusion that is was John the Baptist. He knew that our Savior came to earth in a place quite close by, perhaps only one or two days’ journey away. How his heart, touched with love of his Savior from the time he was in his mother’s womb must have longed to enjoy his presence. Yet he spends twenty-five years in the desert without coming to see Our Lord even once; and leaving the desert he stays to catechize without visiting him but waiting until Our Lord comes to seek him out. Then when he has baptized him he does not follow him but remains behind to do his appointed task…The example of this great saint overwhelms me with its grandeur.” (Conference XIV, p. 259)

It is easy to forget that after their encounter in the River Jordan during which John baptized Jesus, John remained behind while Jesus moved on. Yet, who would deny that John was, nevertheless, a follower – a disciple – of the Lord? As it turns out, there is more than one way to follow Jesus. While some announce what the Lord has done for them it in unfamiliar or faraway places, others announce what the Lord has done for them right in their own homes and neighborhoods.

Just this day, whether it is in a place half-a-world away or right in your own back yard, how can you ‘follow’ Jesus by giving witness to others for all that the Lord has done for you?

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(February 5, 2019: Memorial of Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr)
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“Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners in order that you might not grow weary and lose heart…

In Saints & Angels: Catholic Online, we read:

“Although we have evidence that Agatha was venerated at least as far back as the sixth century, the only facts we have about her are that she was born in Sicily and died there a martyr. In the legend of her life, we are told that she belonged to a rich, important family. When she was young, she dedicated her life to God and resisted any men who wanted to marry. One of these men, Quintian, was of a high enough rank that he felt he could force her to acquiesce. Knowing she was a Christian in a time of persecution, he had her arrested and brought before the judge, who happened to be himself. He expected her to give in to when faced with torture and possible death, but she simply affirmed her belief in God by praying: ‘Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart. You know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep; make me worthy to overcome these sufferings.’”

“Legend tells us that Quintian then imprisoned her in a brothel in order to get her to change her mind. He brought her back before him after she had suffered a month of assault and humiliation, but Agatha had never wavered. Quintian then sent her to prison - a move intended to make her more afraid, but which ironically enough may have been a great relief to her. When she continued to profess her faith in Jesus, Quintian had her tortured. He refused her any medical care, but God gave her all the care she needed in the form of a vision of St. Peter. When she was tortured a final time, she died after saying: ‘Lord, my Creator, you have always protected me from the cradle; you have taken me from the love of the world and given me patience to suffer. Receive my soul.’” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=14 )

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

“We must often remember that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts that we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Following Jesus doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free life. However, Jesus invites us to follow his example of how to deal with the trouble that we may face in this life.

Saint Agatha certainly did. Today, how might we?

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(February 6, 2019: Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs)
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“Strive for peace with everyone…”

In a letter of spiritual direction, Francis de Sales counseled:

“We must in all things and everywhere live peacefully. If trouble – whether inside of us, or around us – comes upon us, we must respond to itpeacefully. If success or joy comes, we must receive it peacefully, without a proud or puffed-up heart. When we need to avoid sin or evil, we must do that peacefully, without upsetting ourselves; otherwise, we may fall as we run away and give time to our enemy to kill us. If there is peace that we need to bring about we must do that peacefully; otherwise, we might commit many faults in our hurry to be peacemakers. Even our repentance and contrition must be made peacefully…”

Do you get the point? While we must indeed strive for peace with everyone, we need to include – perhaps, even begin with – ourselves. After all, charity – while not limited to home – begins at home. Put another way, you can’t give what you haven’t got! As Francis de Sales put it, “Haven’t I told you before that we must be patient with everyone, primarily with ourselves?” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 107)

Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me…today!