Spirituality Matters 2019: October 10th - October 16th
“He will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence...”
There’s an old adage which basically goes like this: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
Mind you, the adage doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always get what you want. Likewise, the adage doesn’t guarantee that if you do get want you want that you’ll get it when you want to get it or how you want it. On the other hand, if you don’t ask the question that pretty much guarantees that – under normal circumstances – you’ll never get what you want under any circumstances!
That’s one way of “reading” today’s Gospel parable. By all means ask; by all means seek; by all means knock. But don’t think that whatever you receive – whenever you receive it – however you receive it – necessarily results from the first question, the initial seeking or a single knock. In God’s way of telling time, we may need to ask, seek or knock many times.
In some cases, maybe even over a lifetime.
However, it is important to take note of a distinction that Jesus makes in today’s Gospel. While God promises to provide whatever we need because of our persistence, God makes no such promise when it comes to providing whatever we want.
Do you want to ask God for something? Then how about making this prayer - O God, give me the gratitude that comes from wanting what I already have, rather than always getting what I want.
“When an unclean spirit goes out of someone…it brings back seven others more wicked than itself.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus drives out a demon. In addition, he speaks about demons that would attempt to divide a kingdom against itself. Francis de Sales knew a few things about demons. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote extensively about this same demon upon which we touched previously this week: anxiety.
“Anxiety is not a simple temptation but a source from which and by which many temptations arise…When a soul perceives that it has suffered a certain evil, it is displeased at having it and hence sadness follows. The soul immediately desires to be free of it and to have some means of getting rid of it. Thus far the soul is right, for everyone naturally desires to embrace what is good and to dispose of anything evil…Now if it does not immediately succeed in the way it wants it grows very anxious and impatient. Instead of removing the evil, it increases it and this involves the soul in greater anguish and distress together with such loss of strength and courage that it imagines the evil to be incurable. You see, then, that sadness, which is justified in the beginning, produces anxiety, and anxiety in turn produces increase in sadness. All this is extremely dangerous.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, p. 251)
Anxiety never roams alone. It brings with it a whole host of other unclean spirits that can divide the kingdom of our heart against itself. Whatever difficulties or challenges you may face, don’t let things get worse by allowing anxiety and its cohorts to make a home in your heart.
Simply – but firmly – show them the door.
A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God, the Father.
Word of the Lord. Responsorial Psalm
“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”
Blessed those whose way is blameless, who walk by the law of the LORD. Blessed those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with all their heart.
“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”
You have given them the command to observe your precepts with care. May my ways be firm in the observance of your statutes!
“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”
I delight in your commandments, which I dearly love. I lift up my hands to your commandments; I study your statutes, which I love.
“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”
A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to John
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes, so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so, neither can you unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire, and they will be burned.”
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy may be complete.”
Gospel of the Lord.
In her book, Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition, Wendy Wright quotes Fr. Brisson regarding the challenge to “Reprint the Gospel” in all aspects our lives. We read:“It is not enough to read the Gospel in order to understand it. We must live it. The Gospel is the true story of the Word of God living among men. We must produce a New Edition of this Gospel among men by prayer, work, preaching and sacrifice…” “First, we reprint the Gospel by prayer, through which we give ourselves to God in every way without reserve.” “Second, we reprint the Gospel by means of work. We must reprint the Gospel and reprint it page by page without omitting anything…In our lives there is always some manual labor. There is a library to keep in order, a helping hand to be given. A little gardening to be done, a little tidying up or arranging to be done…God has attached great graces to manual labor.” “The third way for us to reprint the Gospel is by preaching. All of us should preach. Those who work with their hands as well as those who are occupied with exterior works, those who conduct classes and those who teach by example, those who direct souls as well as those assigned to the ministry of the pulpit – all of us should preach. We should preach in practical ways. We should teach our neighbors, if not by our words, at least by our actions.” “The fourth thing in the Gospel is sacrifice. The Word made Flesh prayed in order to teach us how to pray. He worked. He preached. Finally, He suffered. These are the four conditions necessary to reprint the Gospel…” (pp. 145-146
There are any number of ways in which God may ask us to reprint the Gospel: in prayer, work, preaching and sacrifice. Are you ready? Are you willing?
How can we reprint the Gospel today?
“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.”
Let's admit it: when something good happens to us we feel that somehow, we deserve it. The nine “lepers” in today's Gospel likely felt the same way - they asked Jesus for mercy, which in the Middle Eastern culture meant, “Do what you can for us.” They received from Jesus what they knew - by his reputation, at least - he could do for them. However, let's look at this Gospel in context of what came before and after this event.
Last week, Jesus told us that when we do what is expected of us, we have done no more than our duty. The author even goes so far as to have Jesus say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.” This statement seems to be in stark contrast to this week's Gospel that exhorts us to be grateful when someone else does “what they are obligated to do.” One might say culturally, therefore, that since Jesus could, he should. Next week's Gospel proclaims the “need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
In last week’s Gospel, the apostles asked for “an increase of faith.” Next week, Jesus will seem quite disturbed about people's faith when He says, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
A common western notion of illness is that it is more of an impediment that prevents us from being active and engaged in life. In the Mediterranean culture, “Illness removes a person from status and disturbs kinship patterns. People who suffer from the skin problem called ‘leprosy’ are excluded from the worshiping community. This human experience was much more depressing than the skin lesions.” (John Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible). Jesus made all ten “clean”, but “one of them...saw that he was healed”. His skin condition was not only gone; but more importantly to the Middle Eastern man, he was reunited to the community.
Francis de Sales discusses the “inspirations” toward faith in Book II of his Treatise on the Love of God: “The inspiration (that) comes like a sacred wind to impel us into the air of holy love; it takes hold of our will and moves it by a sentiment of heavenly delight. All this...is done in us but without us, for it is God's favor that prepares us in this way. That very inspiration and favor which has caught hold of us mingles its action with our consent, animates our feeble movements by its own strength and enlivens our frail cooperation by the might of its operation. Thus will it aid us, lead us on, and accompany us from love to love until we attain to the act of most holy faith required for our conversion.”
Did this happen to the man who came back? What does the Gospel say? It says, “He turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.” Was he merely grateful for being freed from a skin disease, as the others were cleansed? No, his his heartfelt gratitude seems to go much deeper - in addition to getting his life back he was given the “inspiration” toward faith. He consented to that inspiration and in doing so was full of praise for Jesus! Then Jesus said to the man, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has been your salvation.”
How strong is our faith? Regardless of our answer, today consider how grateful are we for a God who always loves us, regardless of the strength – or weakness – of that faith?
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Callistus. In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell observes:
“By all appearances Callistus didn’t have a prayer of ever becoming a saint. The slave of a Roman Christian, Callistus displayed a talent with numbers. When his master established a kind of bank for fellow Christians, Callistus was charged with managing the accounts. It soon became apparent that Callistus would not measure up to expectations: he made bad investments and pilfered other monies outright. Angry and humiliated, the master sent Callistus to work turning the stone wheel at a gristmill.” ”
“Meanwhile, anxious depositors in the bank – hoping to recover even a portion of their lost savings – convinced the bank owner to release Callistus if the unscrupulous slave vowed to recover the funds he’d invested with Jewish merchants. Rising to the challenge, one Saturday morning Callistus interrupted the Sabbath service at Rome’s synagogue and demanded that the merchants repay the money. Not surprisingly, an uproar ensued, Callistus was attacked and the brawl spilled out into the streets. Callistus was subsequently arrested and then shipped off to work in the mines on Sardinia. But soon he was back in Rome, released in a general amnesty for Christian prisoners; one can imagine the groans of dismay among the city’s Christians and Jews alike when Callistus returned once again like the proverbial bad penny!”
“Aware of the controversy surrounding this slave, Pope Victor interceded on Callistus’ behalf. He offered Callistus a stipend and set him up in a small house outside the city’s walls, away from controversy. During this time - perhaps under the pope’s influence - the pagan slave’s conversion began. The pope gave the new convert a job supervising a number of catacombs; hence, Callistus’ position as the patron saint of cemetery workers. Later ordained a priest, Callistus served as an advisor to Pope Zephyrinus. But greater things were yet to come: Callistus himself was eventually elected pope! Following a brief five-year pontificate, he died a martyr, beaten to death in the street by a pagan mob.”
Who knows the mind of God? Who can predict God’s ways? A pagan slave who was considered by just about everyone as being nothing, but Callistus died as a slave of Christ – and as pope, no less!
Like Callistus, we are called to be holy. Like Callistus, we need conversion. How might we imitate the example of his remarkable life within the context of the often-times unpredictable twists and turns of our lives just today?
“As to what is within...behold, everything will be clean for you.”
Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Teresa of Avila. In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell observes:
“Every day – all day long – God pours his grace upon the world. Those who accept it – who cooperate with God’s will – draw closer to the Lord, as in the case of St. Teresa of Avila, the patron of souls in need of divine grace. The easygoing life of the Carmelite convent she entered was not conducive to the contemplative life. So, she began planning a new branch of the Carmelites, one that would bring nuns (and friars) back to the order’s original commitment to a life of austerity and deep prayer…St. Teresa’s legacy is her collection of spiritual writings, She was the first Catholic woman to write systematically about prayer and the interior life. In 1970, upon naming her a Doctor of the Church, Pope Paul VI praised Teresa as ‘a teacher of remarkable depth.’”
Insofar as Teresa died in 1582, her writings were well known by the ‘Gentleman Saint.’ In a letter to Madame de Chantal (1605), Francis de Sales wrote:
“The practice of the presence of God taught by Mother Teresa in chapters 29 and 30 of The Way of Perfection is excellent, and I think it amounts to the same as I explained to you when I wrote that God was in our spirit as though he were the heart of our spirit and in our heart as the spirit which breathes life into it, and that David called God: the God of his heart. Use this boldly and often for it is most useful. May God be the soul and spirit of our heart forever….” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 160 – 161)
We are all in need of God’s grace. We are all in need of recognizing – and experiencing – the divine activity within us that makes everything clean and good for us: the God whose spirit breathes life into us, the God who is the heart of our spirit and the God who is the God of our hearts.
What we are on the outside must be deeply rooted with who we are on the inside. Today, what better way to accept – and cooperate – with that divine presence within us than by sharing that same presence with those outside of us and around us?
“There is no partiality with God…”
Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell observes:
“At the age of nine, Margaret Mary Alacoque contracted polio. She spent the next six years confined to her bed as an invalid. When she was fifteen it is said that she had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary: upon emerging from her ecstasy, she discovered that she had been healed of her infirmities. During those six years Margaret Mary had developed a rather deep prayer life. When she subsequently joined the Sisters of the Visitation at Paray le Monial, she found the form of meditation prescribed for the novices rudimentary to the point of being tedious. Notwithstanding this source of frustration, Margaret Mary persevered and professed final vows.”
“In 1675 she had a vision of Christ while praying in the monastery chapel. He told Margaret Mary that he wanted her to be his messenger, spreading throughout the world devotion to his Sacred heart that, he told Margaret Mary, was ‘burning with divine love’ for the human family. Christ asked that the Church institute a new feast day in honor of his Sacred Heart and that, for love of him, Catholics should attend Mass and receive Communion on the First Friday of each month. He promised to save all faithful Catholics who honored him by displaying an image of his sacred heart in their homes or going to Mass and Communion every First Friday of the month for nine successive months.”
“Margaret Mary Alacoque encountered a great deal of skepticism when she began to tell the other sisters in the monastery about her visions. The nuns accused her of lying and questioned her sanity, while the local clergy dismissed her visions, saying that the Sacred Heart devotion went too far in humanizing Christ and thus diminished his divinity. The Jesuits, however – and the monastery’s chaplain Father Claude de la Colombiere, SJ – argued successfully that Margaret Mary’s revelations put fresh emphasis on the perfectly orthodox principle of confidence in God’s infinite love. Today veneration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a mainstay in Catholic devotional life.”
God not only shows no partiality, but God also shows no predictability! After all, who could have imagined that God would choose a cloistered, contemplative nun living a life hidden in Christ to promote a world-wide devotion to the Sacred Heart of His Son? And yet, that is exactly what God did!
How might this same impartial and unpredictable God be asking you to promote devotion to that same Sacred Heart today?