Spirituality Matters 2019: September 12th - September 18th

(September 12, 2019: Holy Name of Mary)

“Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…”

“The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, or simply the Holy Name of Mary, is a feast day in the Roman Catholic Church celebrated on 12 September to honor the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has been a universal Roman Rite feast since 1684, when Pope Innocent XI included it in the General Roman Calendar to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.”

“The feast day began in 1513 as a local celebration in Cuenca, Spain, celebrated on 15 September. In 1587 Pope Sixtus V moved the celebration to 17 September. In 1622 Pope Gregory XV extended the celebration to the Archdiocese of Toledo and it was subsequently extended to the entire Kingdom of Spain in 1671. The feast was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969, as it was seen as something of a duplication of the 8 September feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 2002, Pope John Paul II restored the celebration to the General Roman Calendar.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Name_of_Mary)

Mary has a prominent place among those chosen by God to be instruments of His will on earth. As the Mother of the Messiah we recognize her for – among other things – her “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Mary is a role model for us, insofar as we, too, are God’s chosen ones. The faithful Mother of Jesus shows us how we can be faithful brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Like Mary, how can we put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” today? And, in so doing, imitate her Son!

(September 13, 2019: John Chrysostom, Bishop/Doctor of the Church)

"I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“St. John, named Chrysostom (golden-mouthed) on account of his eloquence, came into the world of Christian parents, about the year 344, in the city of Antioch. His mother, at the age of 20, was a model of virtue. He studied rhetoric under Libanius, a pagan, the most famous orator of the age.

In 374, he began to lead the life of an anchorite in the mountains near Antioch, but in 386 the poor state of his health forced him to return to Antioch, where he was ordained a priest.”

“In 398, he was elevated to the See of Constantinople and became one of the greatest lights of the Church. But he had enemies in high places and some were ecclesiastics, including Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, who repented of this before he died. His most powerful enemy, however, was the empress Eudoxia, who was offended by the apostolic freedom of his discourses. Several accusations were brought against him in a pseudo-council, and he was sent into exile.”

“In the midst of his sufferings, like the apostle, St. Paul, whom he so greatly admired, he found the greatest peace and happiness. He had the consolation of knowing that the Pope remained his friend, and did for him what lay in his power. His enemies were not satisfied with the sufferings he had already endured, and they banished him still further, to Pythius, at the very extremity of the Empire. He died on his way there on September 14, 407.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=64)

Take some time today to consider the tough times that you have had in your life. To what degree were you able to work through those times because of God’s grace and the support of loved ones? Ask yourself the question “How grateful am I?”

How will you express that gratitude to God and others today?

(September 14, 2019: Exaltation of the Holy Cross)

“Christ Jesus did not regard equality with God something at which to grasp…”

The cross of Calvary is the most poignant and powerful embodiment of the Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Hanging upon the cross we see a crucified Christ who did not cling to the power of his divinity; rather, Jesus saw the power of his divinity as a gift to be freely shared with others through the fullness of his humanity. Being “poor in spirit” for Jesus didn’t mean having nothing to give, but for him, being “poor in spirit” meant holding nothing back.

In a letter written to Jane de Chantal on the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross in 1605, Francis de Sales exhorted:

“All I can do is just to give you my blessing, which I give you in the name of Jesus Christ, crucified; may his cross be our glory and our consolation, my dear daughter. May it be greatly exalted among us and planted on our head as it was on that of the first Adam. May it fill our heart and our soul, as it filled the soul of St. Paul, who knew nothing else. Courage, dear daughter, for God is on our side. Amen.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 100)

Today, look at the cross of the crucified Christ. See in Him a God who is always and forever on our side! May we embody the spirit of the Cross through our efforts each day to be on the side of one another. In this may we find courage and consolation to hold nothing back in our love of God and neighbor.

(September 15, 2019: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

“The Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

Today's scriptural readings pull no punches in describing the sorry lot of sinners. The people upon whom God has showered his preferential love have become "depraved and stiff-necked," turning from the worship of the one true God to that of a molten calf. Before the puny creation of their own hands, they bow in worship and sacrifice.

The author of Psalm 51 readily admits his guilt and sin before a God of goodness and compassion. St. Paul speaks bluntly of the way he was and the manner in which he lived his life before coming to faith in Jesus. He was - he candidly admits - a blasphemer and a persecutor of God's holy people. His was an unparalleled spiritual arrogance. Finally, the Gospel relates the familiar story of a profligate younger son who squanders all his inheritance in a reckless and dissolute life and, in the process, breaks his father's heart.

What is the point of this litany of sin, guilt, human weakness and failure? It is the dark side of Gospel Good News, the bleak background against which the bright beauty and sheer graciousness of Jesus' redemptive deed shines out in all its splendor. It is the humble acknowledgment of one's total powerlessness and loss as the result of having sinned against a good and compassionate God. This humility, this truth about ourselves, is the necessary precondition for being able to hear the clarion call of the Good News of faith and to receive in gratitude the healing power of grace.

Today, too often we are hesitant to speak of sin today, especially of personal sin. We do not like to acknowledge that we have rejected God or have turned aside from the way he has pointed to us in Scripture in the example and word of Jesus and in the teachings of his Church: Yet, it is just such an acknowledgement, in humility and truth, that readies us for the freeing experience of God's tender and forgiving grace.

Saints are converted sinners. This truth is what is proclaimed loud and clear in the Scriptures today. Grace takes the weak and wobbly - even the most heart-hardened sinners - and transforms them into saints and heroes.

St. Francis de Sales had a great respect for the example of saints, but he wanted people to see the saints in a realistic manner, that is, as weak and sinful people who, through the transforming power of grace, had become heroes. St. Peter was such a hero for Francis. He was captivated by this man who, though often heroic and always well-meaning, was nevertheless frequently short on courage ("I do not know the man!") or weak in understanding what Jesus really stood for ("Get behind me, you Satan!"), and who more than once fell flat on his face. Yet, what a giant that man became through grace! In St. Peter, Francis de Sales found it spiritually useful to speak of a man with whose failures his people could relate, and of a saint whose holiness they could imitate. His hero had warts. In pointing them out, he was in effect, encouraging others in their quest for holiness.

Let us end with St. Paul's exuberant hymn of praise in today's second reading. It celebrates the triumph of grace over human sin and weakness: “To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

(September 16, 2019: Cornelius, Pope, and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs)

“I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.”

In his letter to Timothy, Paul invites his audience to pray that all “may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” The two saints we remember today may have prayed for this intention, but they certainly didn’t experience it.

Saint Cornelius was elected Pope in 251 during the persecutions of the Emperor Decius. His first challenge, besides the ever-present threat of the Roman authorities, was to bring an end to the schism brought on by his rival, the first anti-pope Novatian. He convened a synod of bishops to confirm himself as the rightful successor of Peter.

“A great controversy that arose as a result of the Decian persecution was whether or not the Church could pardon and receive back into the Church those who had apostatized in the face of martyrdom. Against both the bishops who argued that the Church could not welcome back apostates, and those who argued that they should be welcomed back but did not demand a heavy penance of the penitent, Cornelius decreed that they must be welcomed back and insisted that they perform an adequate penance. In 253 Cornelius was exiled by the emperor Gallus and died of the hardships he endured in exile. He is venerated as a martyr.”

“Saint Cyprian of Carthage is second in importance only to the great Saint Augustine as a figure and Father of the African church. He was a close friend of Pope Cornelius and supported him both against the anti-pope Novatian and in his views concerning the re-admittance of apostates into the Church.”

“His writings are of great importance, especially his treatise on The Unity of the Catholic Church, in which he argues that unity is grounded in the authority of the bishop, and among the bishops, in the primacy of the See of Rome. In this work, St. Cyprian wrote, ‘You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother.... God is one and Christ is one, and his Church is one; one is the faith, and one is the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body.... If we are the heirs of Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are the sons of God, let us be lovers of peace.’”

“During the Decian persecutions Cyprian considered it wiser to go into hiding and guide his flock covertly rather than seek the glorious crown of martyrdom, a decision that his enemies attempted to use to discredit him.

On September 14, 258, however, he was martyred during the persecutions of the emperor Valerian.” (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint.php?n=596)

Whether in times of tranquility – or in times of trouble – may the examples of Cornelius and Cyprian inspire us do our level best to live a life of devotion and dignity.

Come what may!

(September 17, 2019: Robert Bellarmine, Bishop/Doctor of the Church)

“Whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task.”

“A contemporary of St. Francis de Sales, St. Robert Bellarmine was the third of ten children. He entered the newly formed Society of Jesus in 1560 and after his ordination went on to teach at Louvain (1570-1576) where he became famous for his Latin sermons. In 1576, he was appointed to the chair of controversial theology at the Roman College, becoming Rector in 1592. He went on to become Provincial of Naples in 1594 and Cardinal in 1598.”

“This outstanding scholar and devoted servant of God defended the Apostolic See against the anti-clericals in Venice and against the political tenets of James I of England. He composed an exhaustive apologetic work against the prevailing heretics of his day. In the field of church-state relations, he took a position based on principles now regarded as fundamentally democratic: authority originates with God, but is vested in the people, who entrust it to fit rulers.”

“This saint was the spiritual father of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, helped St. Francis de Sales obtain formal approval of the Visitation Order, and in his prudence opposed severe action in the case of Galileo. He has left us a host of important writings, including works of devotion and instruction, as well as controversy. He died in 1621.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=101)

Robert Bellarmine’s support of Francis de Sales was not limited to the formal approval of the Visitation Order. In fact, Bellarmine had been helpful to Francis de Sales nearly sixteen years earlier while the latter – then a newly-ordained priest – was engaged as a missionary in the Chablais. In a letter (February 1609) addressed to Pierre de Villars, Archbishop of Vienne, Francis wrote:

“I have some material for introducing beginners to the exercise of evangelical preaching which I would like to follow up with a methodical study for the conversion of heretics by holy preaching. In this last book I should like to demolish – by way of practical method – all the most obvious and celebrated arguments of our adversaries, and that not only in a style that will instruct, but also move, so that the book will not only serve for the consolation of Catholics but for the conversion of heretics. I intend to use towards this project some meditations that I composed during my five years in the Chablais where the only books I had to help me in my preaching were the Bible and those of the great Bellarmine.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 164-165)

Clearly, the office to which Robert Bellarmine aspired was a noble one. In the opinion of countless people – including that of St. Francis de Sales – Bellarmine accomplished his office in a most noble fashion.

How might we follow their examples – two bishops, saints and Doctors of the Church – in whatever offices to which we aspire today?

(September 18, 2019: Wednesday, Twenty-fourth Week Ordinary Time)

“To what shall I compare the people of this generation?”

You’re dammed if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

That’s essentially what Jesus is saying in today’s election from the Gospel of Luke. John the Baptist was criticized for eschewing food and drink, whereas Jesus was criticized for enjoying food and drink. Try as you might to do the right thing – try as you might to be true to yourself - some days you just can’t win!

St. Francis de Sales was certainly no stranger to the dynamic of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t, especially when it comes to trying to live a life of devotion. Citing this very selection from today’s Gospel, he observed:

“We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it. It is so demanding that it can’t be satisfied. ‘John came neither eating nor drinking,’ says the Savior, and you say, ‘He has a devil.’ ‘The Son of man came eating and drinking’ and you say that he is ‘a Samaritan’ If we are ready to laugh, play cards or dance with the world in order to please it, it will be scandalized at us, and if we don’t, it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy. If we dress well, it will attribute it to some plan we have, and if neglect our attire, it will accuse us of being cheap and stingy. Good humor will be called frivolity and mortification sullenness. Thus the world looks at us with an evil eye and we can never please it. It exaggerates our imperfections and claims they are sins, turns our venial sins into mortal sins and changes our sins of weakness into sins of malice.”

“The world always thinks evil and when it can’t condemn our acts it will condemn our intentions. Whether the sheep have horns or not and whether they are white or black, the wolf won’t hesitate to eat them if he can. Whatever we do, the world will wage war on us. If we stay a long time in the confessional, it will wonder how we can so much to say; if we stay only a short time, it will say we haven’t told everything….The world holds us to be fools; let us hold it to be mad.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 2, pp. 236-237)

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t? Well, then, why not be damned for doing what is virtuous, right and good!