Spirituality Matters 2019: July 11th - July 17th

(July 11, 2019: Benedict, Abbott)

“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

What could be more humbling than to consider all the good that God has done for us, is doing for us and will do for us? Well, perhaps even more humbling is the realization that God’s goodness, mercy and generosity come without cost or condition. Insofar as we are created from nothing, we have done nothing to deserve God’s overwhelming blessings, gifts and love. They are unconditionally free gifts!

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation on the virtue of generosity, Francis de Sales remarked:

“We must indeed keep ourselves humble because of our imperfections, but this humility must be the foundation of a great generosity. Humility without generosity is only a deception and a cowardice of the heart that makes us think that we are good for nothing and that others should never think of using us in anything great. On the other hand, generosity without humility is only presumption. We may indeed say, ‘It is true I have no virtue, still less the necessary gifts to be used in such and such an endeavor,’ but after that humble acknowledgement we must put our full confidence in God as to believe that He will not fail to give His gifts to us when it is necessary to have them, and when He wants us to make use of us, provided only that we forget ourselves in praising faithfully His Divine majesty and helping our neighbor to do the same so as to increase His glory as much as lies in our power. ” (Living Jesus, p. 152)

On one level it is true to say that we are “nothing”, creatures that we are. But because of the God who has created us, each and every one of us is – in God’s eyes – marvelous to behold. What a humbling, empowering gift!

What better way today to say “thank you” for such gift than to freely and generously share who we are and what we have with one another?

(July 12, 2019: Friday, Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time)

“Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say…”

In a letter to Jane de Chantal in 1606, Francis de Sales wrote:

“I cannot think of anything else to say to you about your apprehension of your particular troubles, nor of the fear of being unable to bear it. Did I not tell you the first time I spoke to you about your soul that you pay too much attention to what afflicts or frightens you? You must do so only in great moderation! People frequently reflect too much about their troubles and this entangles thoughts and fears and desires to the point that the soul is constricted and cannot be itself. Don’t be afraid of what God has in store for you – love God very much for He wants to do you a great deal of good. Carry on quite simply in the shelter of your resolutions and reject anticipations of your troubles as simply a cruel temptation…Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself, but if terror should seize you cry out loudly to God. He will stretch forth his hand towards you – grab it tightly and go joyfully on your way.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 124 -125)

Francis de Sales recommends that we begin every new day with what he calls a “preparation of the day”. Consider all the things you may need to accomplish today. Think about the people and situations that you may encounter today. When you finished, does anything, place or person you may face today make you worry, anxious or fearful?

Take hold of God’s hand and do your best to go joyfully through your day!

(July 13, 2019: Saturday, Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time)

“Do not be afraid……”

In the same letter that we considered yesterday, Francis de Sales wrote to Jane de Chantal concerning the issues of worry, anxiety and fear. We read:

“Don’t philosophize about your trouble – don’t argue with it. Quite simply, continue to walk straight on. God would not allow you to be lost while you live according to your resolutions so as not to lose him. If the whole world turns topsy-turvy, if all around is darkness and smoke and din, yet God is still with us. So, if we know that God lives in the darkness and on Mount Sinai which is full of smoke and surrounded with the roar of thunder and lightning, shall not all be well with us as long as we remain close to him? So, live wholly in God, and do not fear. Jesus in his goodness is all ours; let us be all his. Let us cling to him with courage!” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 124 -125)

This exhortation is very challenging! After all, who of us can say that they have never been afraid, worried or anxious? Doesn’t even the Book of Proverbs (9:10) claim that “fear (of the Lord) is the beginning of wisdom?” Some things should scare us!

Let’s look at it this way. While we may have our share of fears in life, it is critical that we try our level best to avoid becoming people who are fearful and become people who are joyful!

(July 14, 2019: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

"This command that I enjoin on you today...is already in your mouths and in your hearts; all that remains is for you to carry it out."

In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones asks his mentor, Marcus Brody: "Do you believe, Marcus? Do you believe that the grail exists?" His older friend and mentor soberly and softly replies: "The search for the cup of Christ is the search for the divine in all of us."

The search for the divine is not about going to far away places. The search for the divine is not about looking up to the sky. The search for the divine is not about crossing great oceans. No, the search for the divine is about the greatest - and sometimes the most challenging - adventure of all: the search within ourselves. It is a journey to the heart, to the soul and to the core and the center of our being.

Francis de Sales certainly believed this truth. He wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life: "God is in all things and in all places. There is no place or thing in their world in which God is not truly present." But this, says Francis de Sales, is not enough, for "God is not only in the place where you are; God is also present in a most particular manner in your heart, in the very center of your spirit." (Part II, Chapter 2)

Of course, the search for the divine in all of us is not limited to a journey to the heart. The search for - and recognition of - the divine in us must be pursued in the other great journey - reaching out and caring for one another.

Jesus makes this point powerfully in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Two people, who should have known better (especially given their intellectual training), walked past a neighbor in need - certainly no way of acknowledging the presence of the divine in another. Clearly, and perhaps more tragically, this action is indicative of their failure to acknowledge God's abiding presence within themselves.

The third man, by contrast, is "moved to compassion" at the plight of the other person in need. He can reach out to him because he first had the courage to see inside himself the presence of a God who loves and cares for him - the presence of a God who called him to do the same for others.

We know that God dwells everywhere, but most especially he dwells in our hearts. Francis de Sales challenges us: "Examine your heart often. Does your heart look upon your neighbor in the same way as you would like your neighbor's heart to look upon you?"

All that remains for us is "to carry it out," to extend our hearts - and in us, the heart of God - to our neighbors in need.

As in the case of so many things, easier said than done!!

(July 15, 2019: Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)

“Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple: Amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

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

“Little daily acts of charity, a headache, toothache or cold, the ill humor of a husband or wife, this contempt or that scorn, the loss of a pair of gloves, a ring or a handkerchief, the little inconveniences incurred by going to bed early and getting up early to pray or attend Mass, the little feelings of self-consciousness that comes with performing good deeds in public – in short, all such little things as these when accepted and embraced with love are highly pleasing to God’s mercy. For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful people a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves constantly each day it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches only if you use them well…Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, whereas little ones are frequent.”(IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 214 - 215)

Jesus - as it were - throws cold water on the notion that serving God is limited to doing great things for others. As Francis de Sales clearly understood, the point that Jesus makes is that serving God, more often than not, is displayed in our willingness to do little things for one another with great love.

Francis de Sales tells us that we can store up vast spiritual riches by enriching the lives of others in simple, ordinary ways.

How might we store up such riches today?

(July 16, 2019: Tuesday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)

“For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”

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

“Put your hand to strong things, by training yourself in prayer and meditation, receiving the Sacraments, bringing souls to love God, infusing good inspirations into their hearts and in fine, by performing big, important works according to your vocation. But never forget to practice those little, humble virtues that grow at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick and taking care of your family with all the tasks that go with such things and with all the useful diligence that will not allow you to be idle.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 35, pp. 214 - 215)

The selection from today’s Gospel suggests why Jesus emphasized the importance of doing little things for other people as illustrated in yesterday’s Gospel selection. Jesus had firsthand experience of how some of his contemporaries were left cold and unconvinced by even some of the greatest deeds that he performed. Put another way, Jesus discovered that even the greatest of deeds are powerless in the presence of hardened hearts. Mind you, the selective stubbornness of some folks did not deter Jesus from doing great things, but Jesus doubtless enjoyed great success in his ministry by performing little deeds as well: visiting people in their homes, walking and talking with people and just simply being with other people.

There may be times in our lives when our love for God and others may require us to perform “important works” associated with the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Chances are, however, that the challenge to do big things won’t present it frequently. However, never forget that time-honored saying to which most – if not all – of us can relate.

Little things mean a lot.

(July 17, 2019: Wednesday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)

"The Lord is kind and merciful...”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“God acts in our works, and we co-operate in God’s action. God leaves for our part all the merit and profit of our services and good works; we leave God all the honor and praise thereof, acknowledging that the growth, the progress, and the end of all the good we do depends on God’s mercy, finishing what God began. O God, how merciful is God’s goodness to us in thus distributing his bounty!”(TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, Chapter 29, p. 212)

Today’s responsorial psalm challenges us to remember, to recall and to reflect on all the ways that God has been kind, merciful and generous to us. Today’s responsorial psalm also provides us with a kind of examination of conscience concerning how kind, merciful and generous we are toward other people.

As we begin this new day, consider these questions:

• How often do we remember how others have been of benefit to us?

• How willing are we to pardon or forgive those who have injured us?

• How ready are we to be sources of healing for other?

• How kind and compassionate are we?

• How can we promote justice and the rights of the oppressed?