Spirituality Matters 2019: March 7th - March 13th

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(March 7, 2019: Thursday after Ash Wednesday)
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“If you are led astray and serve other gods…you will certainly perish…”

Other gods – idols – are defined as “an object of extreme devotion”. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales cautions us from going to extremes when it comes to fasting or any other form of devotion. Beginning with a quote from St. Jerome, he wrote:

“’Long, immoderate fasts displease me very much…I have learned by experience that when an ass’ foal grows tired, it tends to wander away,’ meaning that those who are weakened by excessive fasting easily turn to soft living. Stags run poorly in two situations – when they are too fat and when they are too lean. We are very exposed to temptation both when our bodies are too pampered and when they are too run down, for the one makes the body demanding in its softened state and the other desperate in affliction. Just as we cannot support the body when it is too fat, so, too, it cannot support us when it is too thin. Lack of moderation in fasting and other forms of austerity makes many people’s best years useless for the service of charity. After all, the more some people mistreat the body in the beginning, the more they tend to pamper it in the end. Wouldn’t people do better to have a program that is balanced and in keeping with the duties and tasks their state in life obliges them to do?” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 185)

A word of advice: When it comes to fasting of the body, the mind, the soul or spirit, avoid the temptation of going to extremes.

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(March 8, 2019: Friday after Ash Wednesday)
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“This is the fasting that I wish…”

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

“Both fasting and labor mortify and subdue the flesh. If your work is necessary for you to contribute to God’s glory, I much prefer that you endure the pains of work rather than of fasting. Such is the mind of the Church, for it exempts those who are working in the service of God and our neighbor even from prescribed fasts. One mind finds it difficult to fast, another to take care of the sick, visit prisoners, hear confessions, preach, comfort the afflicted, pray and perform similar tasks. These last sufferings are of far greater value than the first. In addition to disciplining the body, they produce much more desirable fruits…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 186)

And what are these “more desirable fruits”? Isaiah names a few: “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting fee the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

Today, what is the kind of fasting that God may wish from us? The answer: the sacrifice, discipline and self-mastery that come more from focusing on what we can try to do, rather than on what we can try to do without.

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(March 9, 2019: Saturday after Ash Wednesday)
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"If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech…light shall rise for you in the darkness..."

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. B eon guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say everything that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. You must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purposes, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth.’ As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or slippery soul. No artifice comes close to being so good and desirable as plain dealing …” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Whether in fasting from telling lies – or being committed to telling the truth – what steps can we take today to make the light rise a bit higher and brighter in the darkness for ourselves and others by the type of speech we choose to speak?

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(March 10, 2019: First Sunday of Lent)
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“Jesus was led into the desert…to be tempted by the devil…”

In a reflection entitled “Devils Big and Small,” Blessed Louis Brisson, OSFS observed:

“My children, we read in the Gospel (for the First Sunday of Lent) about the temptation of Our Lord in the desert. He willed to undergo temptations of various kinds - the temptation to sensuality and ease, the temptation to pride and the desire to be the master, and finally the temptation to amass riches.”

“Everyone experiences temptations of one kind or another. Whatever your temptation is, my children, you must stand firm and dismiss it courageously.”

“Sometimes it happens that temptation does not spring entirely from us. I know at times we have the temptation to do something that is forbidden, but this is not all our doing. The tempter, the devil, has a great part in it. Consider what we must do then. Following the example of Our Lord, we must say to the devil, ‘Begone, Satan!’”

“When this big devil leaves, a little devil stays behind. This little devil seems less annoying and he is more easily accepted than the big devil. He is not so readily dismissed. We willingly listen to him, because he does not suggest very big things. He merely flatters the little, secret inclinations of our self-love.”

“Be very generous, my children. Send away this little personal devil as quickly as the big one. He is more dangerous because he is more suggestive and persistent. He does not appear so bad, but take care. Do what Our Lord did. Say, ‘Begone, Satan!’ Do not listen to big devils or little ones.”

So today, be it big or small, what bedevils you that you would like to be gone?

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(March 11, 2019: Monday, First Week of Lent)
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“You shall not…”

Today’s first reading from the Book of Leviticus makes it quite clear: if you want to be holy as the Lord is holy there are many things that God expects us to avoid. The things on the “do not do” list includes:

  • Stealing
  • Lying
  • Slandering
  • Defrauding
  • Cursing
  • Hating
  • Taking revenge
  • Holding grudges
  • Spreading slander
  • Being unjust
  • Being idle
  • Causing others to stumble
While enjoying success in avoiding these vices may be noteworthy, there is more to life than merely refraining from doing bad; there is also the matter of actually doing good! On the topic of how to resist temptations to do wrong, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Despise these assaults and do not deign even to think about what they propose. Let them buzz around your ears as much as they like and flit around you on every side like flies. When they try to sting you and you see that they somehow light on your heart, be content with quietly removing them. Don’t do this by struggling or disputing with the temptations but by performing some actions of a contrary virtue, especially acts of love of God…This is the best way to overcome the enemy in small as well as in great temptations…” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 49, p. 249)

So, in the Salesian tradition, rather than focus on how to avoid the “do not do” list, we’d be better off pursuing the “to do” list:

  • Be generous
  • Be honest
  • Be honest
  • Bless
  • Love
  • Forgive
  • Let go
  • Circulate truth
  • Act justly
  • Get busy
  • Hold others up
In other words, what better way to “shall not” than to “shall do?

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(March 12, 2019: Tuesday, First Week of Lent)
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“In praying, do not babble like the pagans…”

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

“The way in which St. Jane de Chantal was drawn by God was a contemplative type of prayer which she referred to as the prayer of ‘simple attentiveness’ or ‘simple entrustment to God’. This prayer consisted in a hidden and quiet waiting, an expectant attention to the presence of God. It was a virtually imageless and wordless type of prayer to which she had been drawn early in her own development.”

“It was this prayer which later became the inner charism of the Order of the Visitation and about which she wrote: ‘When the time comes to present ourselves before His divine Goodness to speak to Him face to face, which is what we call prayer, simply the presence of our spirit before His and His before ours forms prayer whether or not we have fine thoughts or feelings…He is touched with the prayer of a soul so simple, humble and surrendered to His will.’” (LSD, pp. 84 – 85)

Prayer isn’t always about saying a lot to God or doing a lot for God. Sometimes, prayer is simply about being…with God.

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(March 13, 2019: Wednesday, First Week of Lent)
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“There is something greater here…”

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

“‘Woe to you, Corozain! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had have long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes.’ Such is the word of Our Savior. Hear the, I beg you, Theotimus, how the inhabitants of Corozain and Bethsaida, instructed in the true religion, and having received favors so great that they would effectually have converted the pagans themselves, remained nevertheless obstinate, and never wished to avail themselves of those favors, and by an unparalleled rebellion rejected that holy light. In truth, ‘at the day of judgment the men of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba will rise up against the Jews, and will convict them as worthy of damnation: because, as to the Ninevites, though idolaters and barbarians, at the voice of Jonas they were converted and did penance; and as to the Queen of Sheba, she, though engaged in the affairs of a kingdom, yet having heard the renown of Solomon's wisdom, forsook all, to go and hear him. Yet the Jews, hearing with their own ears the heavenly wisdom of the true Solomon, the Savior of the world; seeing with their own eyes his miracles; touching with their own hands his virtues and benefits; they did not cease to harden their hearts and to resist the grace which was so freely and powerfully offered to them. See then again, Theotimus, how they who had less attractions are brought to penance, and those who had more remain obdurate: those who have less occasion to come, come to the school of wisdom, and those who have more, stay in their folly…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 10, pp. 126 – 127)

Why is it that the people you would least expect to are the ones who ‘get it’ when it comes to the love of God? They may not be very sophisticated – they might be slow to see the big picture – yet their hearts are touched and changed by their realization of the enormity of God’s love for them. They open their hearts to their own delight!

By contrast, why it is that the people who should know better are frequently enough the very ones who don’t ‘get it’? They might be very wise – they may have a lot going for them – and still they never manage to allow the love of God to get through to them. They harden their hearts at their own peril.

In the midst of our day-to-day lives there is, indeed, “something greater here.” Do we get it or not?