Spirituality Matters 2019: October 17 - October 23rd
“What occasion is there then for boasting?”
As implied in today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke, apparently each and every day - at least, as far as the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and scholars of the law were concerned - was filled with countless opportunities for them boast about their position, privilege, power, and prestige. In stark contrast, Jesus makes it quite clear that – as far as he was concerned – not only did they have nothing about which to brag, but they also had many things about which they should have been ashamed.
Merriam-Webster defines “boast” as:
a statement in which you express too much pride in yourself or in something you have, have done, or are connected to in some way;
a reason to be proud: something impressive that someone or something has or has done.
Boasting about oneself is essentially a manifestation of forgetting one’s ‘place’ in this world. Clearly, the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and scholars of the law had forgotten their ‘place’. Instead of laboring for the good of others on behalf of God, these religious/legal movers and shakers essentially tried to take the ‘place’ of God, making everything all about them to the detriment of everyone else. They were so full of themselves that – tragically – there was little, or no room left within in and among them for God, even in the very person of His Son, Jesus!
St. Paul makes it clear that if we should boast at all, it can’t be about us – it must be about “something impressive that someone (else)…has done.” Christian boasting is never about us; it’s always about God!
So, what are the occasions for boasting, then? When we seriously stop and consider everything that God does for us as a whole – and what God does for us personally – a day shouldn’t go by without our boasting about how great, glorious and generous God is!
“The Lord stood by me and gave me strength...”
Our first reading from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy reminds us that being either an apostle, a disciple or an evangelist, brings its share of troubles.
Including being betrayed!
Paul cites at least three occasions on which he felt that he was – as we say so often these days – thrown under the bus. First, Demas deserted him; second, Alexander the coppersmith did him great harm; and third, no one showed up on Paul’s behalf when he attempted to defend himself in court. While he attributes his ability to get through this rough patch in his life to the Lord standing by him to give him strength, it certainly didn’t hurt that at least one person other than the Lord – St. Luke – remained faithful to Paul throughout his ordeals.
St. Francis de Sales wrote about the pain that comes from being betrayed by those closest to us. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:
“To be despised, criticized or accused by evil men is a slight thing to a courageous man, but to be criticized, denounced and treated badly by good men - by our own friends and relations – is the test of virtue. Just as the pain of a bee is much more painful than that of a fly, so the wrongs we suffer from good men and the attacks they make are far harder to bear than those we suffer from others. Yet it often happens that good people – all with good intentions – because of conflicting ideas stir up great persecutions and attacks on one another.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, pp. 128 – 129)
Paul found it very difficult to swallow betrayals at the hands of those with whom he lived and worked without becoming embittered about it. However, it seems that Paul was able to work through these betrayals because of the loyalty of two people in his life: the Lord and Luke.
Like Luke, how might we help another person work through the experience of betrayal? How might we – through our willingness to practice fidelity – give them the strength to overcome their pain and discouragement?
By standing with them today!
“Do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say…”
Today the Church reflects upon the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesuit Martyrs of North America. [Warning: this account if not for the faint of heart.] (http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1173)
“Isaac Jogues (1607-1646) and his companions were the first martyrs of the North American continent officially recognized by the Church. As a young Jesuit, Isaac Jogues, a man of learning and culture, taught literature in France. He gave up that career to work among the Huron Indians in the New World, and in 1636 he and his companions - under the leadership of John de Brébeuf - arrived in Quebec. The Hurons were constantly warring with the Iroquois, and in a few years Father Jogues was captured by the Iroquois and imprisoned for thirteen months. An unexpected chance for escape came to Isaac Jogues through the Dutch, and he returned to France, bearing the marks of his sufferings. Several fingers had been cut, chewed or burnt off. Pope Urban VIII gave him permission to offer Mass with his mutilated hands: ‘It would be shameful that a martyr of Christ be not allowed to drink the Blood of Christ.’ Welcomed home as a hero, Father Jogues might have sat back, thanked God for his safe return and died peacefully in his homeland. But his zeal led him back once more to the fulfillment of his dreams. In a few months he sailed for his missions among the Hurons. In 1646 he and Jean de Lalande, who had offered his services to the missioners, set out for Iroquois country in the belief that a recently signed peace treaty would be observed. They were captured by a Mohawk war party, and on October 18 Father Jogues was tomahawked and beheaded. Jean de Lalande was killed the next day at Ossernenon, a village near Albany, New York.”
“The first of the Jesuit missionaries to be martyred was René Goupil who, with Lalande, had offered his services as an oblate. He was tortured along with Isaac Jogues in 1642 and was tomahawked for having made the Sign of the Cross on the brow of some children.”
“Jean de Brébeuf (1593-1649): Jean de Brébeuf was a French Jesuit who came to Canada at the age of 32 and labored there for 24 years. He went back to France when the English captured Quebec (1629) and expelled the Jesuits but returned to his missions four years later. Although medicine men blamed the Jesuits for a smallpox epidemic among the Hurons, Jean remained with them. He composed catechisms and a dictionary in Huron and saw seven thousand converted before his death. He was captured by the Iroquois and died after four hours of extreme torture at Sainte Marie, near Georgian Bay, Canada.”
“Father Anthony Daniel, working among Hurons who were gradually becoming Christian, was killed by Iroquois on July 4, 1648. His body was thrown into his chapel, which was set on fire. Gabriel Lalemant had taken a fourth vow—to sacrifice his life to the Indians. He was horribly tortured to death along with Father Brébeuf. Father Charles Garnier was shot to death as he baptized children and catechumens during an Iroquois attack. Father Noel Chabanel was killed before he could answer his recall to France. He had found it exceedingly hard to adapt to mission life. He could not learn the language, the food and life of the Indians revolted him, plus he suffered spiritual dryness during his whole stay in Canada. Yet he made a vow to remain until death in his mission.”
“These eight Jesuit martyrs of North America were canonized in 1930.”
It’s hard for us to imagine how deeply these Jesuit missionaries may have feared for their lives individually and/or collectively at the moment of truth at the hands of those who murdered them. In many cases they didn’t merely suffer death - they suffered horrific deaths. But one thing we know for certain: nothing would deter them from doing what they thought was right and good. When they were lost for words – or when the words they spoke had lost their effect – they spoke most powerfully and poignantly by giving their lives for the Gospel.
How deep is our trust that the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say – or for that matter, what not to say – at any given moment?
“Jesus told his disciples a parable on the necessity of praying always without losing heart…”
In a perfect world, we would always be mindful of the presence of the God who created us, who redeemed us and who inspires us. In a perfect world, we would always recognize – and always manage to seize – the countless opportunities God presents to us to do what is right, what is good, what is creative, what is forgiving and what is loving. In a perfect world, we would always be energetic and enthusiastic about living each day, each hour and each moment as a gift from God. In a perfect world, nothing would ever distract from the things in life that really matter.
Our world, of course, is anything but perfect. We, for that matter, are anything but perfect.
Sometimes, we forget the presence of God. Sometimes, we miss the chances God gives us to do what is right, good and loving. Sometimes, we take the gift of life – and each moment of it – for granted. Sometimes we are consumed by trivial, even petty, concerns. Sometimes, we just don’t have the energy.
Simply put, there are times when we lose heart.
Prayer reminds us of God’s enduring presence. Prayer helps us to see the countless occasions we have each day to grow in virtue and to turn away from sin. Prayer enables us to gratefully embrace the gift of each new day as it comes. Prayer is what keeps us connected to God; prayer is what keeps us connected to the divine in ourselves; prayer is what keeps us connected to the divine in one another. Prayer is less about something we do and more about an attitude – and vision – that we develop and deepen.
Francis de Sales described prayer thus: “The essence of prayer is not to be found in always being on our knees but in keeping our wills clearly united to God’s will in all events.” (On Living Jesus, p. 295) In another place, he observed: “Prayer is the holy water that makes the plants of our good desires grow green and flourish; it cleanses our souls of their imperfections; it quenches the thirst of passion in our hearts.” (Ibid, p. 309)
Prayer gives us the humility to acknowledge where we’ve been; prayer gives us the gentleness to accept where we are; prayer gives us the courage to consider where we need to go. In the midst of our very busy, frequently demanding, sometimes frustrating and occasionally overwhelming lives, prayer helps us to stay connected with the people and things in life that really matter. When we “...give our hearts to God a thousand times a day” (Ibid, p. 298), we know how to be truly happy, healthy and holy.
Prayer gives us the presence of mind...to be people of heart.
“Take care to guard against all greed…”
Greed is defined as “an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.”
What’s important to note is that greed is not equated with merely possessing material wealth; greed is about having an “excessive” or inordinate desire to possess material wealth. It isn’t about the amount of the wealth; it’s about the size – and intensity - of the desire for that wealth.
Francis de Sales certainly understood this distinction. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:
“I willingly grant that you may take care to increase your wealth and resources, provided this is done not only justly but properly and charitably. However, if you are strongly attached to the goods you possess, too solicitous about them, set your heart on them, always have them in your thoughts and fear losing them with a strong, anxious fear, then, believe me, you are suffering from a kind of fever. If you find your heart very desolated and afflicted at the loss of property, believe me, you love it too much…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 163)
The Gospel parable is a classic example of what Francis de Sales described. The rich man isn’t condemned because he is rich; the rich man is condemned because apparently it never crossed his mind to share his good fortune – his rich harvest – with others. Rather than give away that which he couldn’t immediately make room for, he choose to make even more room in order to keep it all for himself.
Note the distinction that Jesus makes, however. “Guard against all greed.” Greed isn’t limited to material possessions. Many of the things to which we cling – many of the things about which we have inordinate desires to keep for ourselves - aren’t material at all: our time, our opinions, our plans, our preferences, our comforts, our routines, our ways of seeing things and our ways of doing things are just a sampling of the many things to which we excessively cling.
What kinds of greed – in any form, in all forms - might we need to be careful to guard against today?
“Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more…”
It has been said that the only irrefutable dogma of the Catholic Church is the teaching on Original Sin. One only needs to read the daily newspaper to recognize countless and unrelenting proofs of the existence of Original Sin in particular, and overall sin in general. It is all the more humbling when we recognize proofs of the existence of that same sinfulness in our own lives: our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions. We don’t need to take the reality of sin on faith - we see and experience it every day!
And yet, as many proofs as there are for the reality of sin, Francis de Sales suggests that there are even more proofs of God’s mercy! In his Treatise on the Love of God, Frances de Sales wrote:
“God’s providence has left in us great marks of his severity, even amid the very grace of his mercy. Examples include the fact that we must die, that there is disease, that we must toil and the fact that we rebel against what we know is good. God’s favor floats over all this and finds joy in turning all our miseries to the greater profit of those who love him. From toil God makes patience spring forth, from death comes contempt for passing riches and from our interior struggles emerge a thousand victories. Just as the rainbow touches the thorn aspalathus and makes it smell sweeter than the lily, so our Savior’s redemption touches our miseries and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. The angels, says our Savior, have ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance. So, too, the state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence.”
“Truly, by the watering of our Savior’s blood – made with the hyssop of the cross – we have been restored to a white incomparably better than that possessed by the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we come out of the stream of salvation more pure and clean than if we had never had leprosy. This is to the end that God’s majesty, as he had ordained for us as well, should not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good, in order that his mercy – like a sacred oil – should keep itself ‘above judgment’ and ‘his mercies be above all his works.’” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 6, pp. 115 – 166)
There’s no doubt about it - sin is real. However, let there be even less doubt that God’s mercy, generosity and love is far more real – and powerful – than sin.
With God’s help – and with the support of others - how might we overcome evil with good today?
“You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come…”
We all know the expression, “Hindsight is 20-20.” As we know from our own experience, often times it is much easier to recognize the truth about something hours, days, weeks and perhaps even years after the fact. While hindsight is better than having no sight at all, there are certain limitations associated with recognizing how God has been active in one’s life only after further reflection.
This pattern gets played out time and time again in numerous accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. People didn’t seem to recognize that the Son of Man was standing right in front of them. Put another way, insofar as they were not prepared to recognize who Jesus was before he appeared, they failed to recognize him when he actually arrived!
The aim of the Spiritual Directory – the goal of the Direction of Intention – is to help us to acquire foresight when it comes to recognizing the activity and presence of God in our lives. Living in each and every present moment challenges us to anticipate the variety of ways in which God may visit, speak to or inspire us just this day and to recognize God’s divine activity and presence as it actually occurs in each and every present moment - and not merely after the fact.
In the movie Field of Dreams, Doctor “Moonlight” Graham (played by actor Burt Lancaster) says to Ray Kinsella, “You know, we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening. Back then I thought, 'Well, there'll be other days.' I didn't realize that that was the only day.”
May God give us the awareness that we need to be prepared for the most significant moments - and each and every moment - in our lives, each and every day. But then, when you consider that we have only a limited number of moments allotted to us on this earth, shouldn’t every moment be a significant moment?