Spirituality Matters 2019: September 19th - September 25th

(September 19, 2019: Januarius, Bishop and Martyr)

“She has shown great love.”

Throughout the history of great ideas, great inventions or great moments, often times what makes an idea, invention or moment great is the fact that somebody thinks of doing something which nobody else had considered doing.

Such is the example in today’s Gospel selection from Luke. On the face of it, wiping and anointing the feet of an important guest – signs of great respect and reverence – was something that in Jesus’ day one might simply take for granted. But in this case, it seems that that’s exactly what happened – the host took it for granted, and it didn’t get done until “a sinful woman” saw the need and sprang into action.

At the moment this “sinful woman” made her way into this august gathering with no invitation (no small achievement in itself) and proceeded to do what nobody else had ever thought of doing - through ritual action she expressed her respect and reverence by washing and anointing Jesus’ feet. She might have been a great sinner in the minds of other people, but in the mind of Jesus her sinfulness was only superseded by her great love. And we remember her great love for Jesus nearly two thousand years after her powerfully personal expression of that great love!

Sinners though we are, how might we show great love for Jesus today?

(September 20, 2019: Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs)

“Blessed the poor in spirit; the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

“This first native Korean priest was the son of Korean converts. His father, Ignatius Kim, was martyred during the persecution of 1839 and was beatified in 1925. After Baptism at the age of 15, Andrew traveled 1,300 miles to the seminary in Macao, China. After six years he managed to return to his country through Manchuria. That same year he crossed the Yellow Sea to Shanghai and was ordained a priest. Back home again, he was assigned to arrange for more missionaries to enter by a water route that would elude the border patrol. He was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded at the Han River near Seoul, the capital. Paul Chong Hasang was a lay apostle and married man, aged 45.”

“When Pope John Paul II visited Korea in 1984, he canonized, besides Andrew and Paul, 98 Koreans and three French missionaries who had been martyred between 1839 and 1867. Among them were bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay persons: 47 women, 45 men.”

“Among the martyrs in 1839 was Columba Kim, an unmarried woman of 26. She was put in prison, pierced with hot tools and seared with burning coals. She and her sister Agnes were disrobed and kept for two days in a cell with condemned criminals but were not molested. After Columba complained about the indignity, no more women were subjected to it. The two were beheaded. A boy of 13, Peter Ryou, had his flesh so badly torn that he could pull off pieces and throw them at the judges. He was killed by strangulation. Protase Chong, a 41-year-old noble, renounced his faith under torture and was freed. Later he came back, confessed his faith and was tortured to death. Religious freedom came to Korea in 1883. Today, there are almost 5.1 million Catholics in Korea.” (http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1144) Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean possessing nothing. Rather, being poor in spirit means being generous with one’s possessions, regardless of whether one possesses a lot or a little. In the case of the scores of Catholic men, women and children martyred over a thirty-year period in Korea, they were generous with the greatest of all possessions - their lives.

How can we follow the example of their poverty of spirit – that is, their generosity – today?

(September 21, 2019: Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist)

“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received…”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“During the Roman Empire, tax collecting was one of the most lucrative jobs a person could have. With the emperor’s tacit approval, collectors were free to wring all they could from their district’s taxpayers and then keep a portion of the proceeds for themselves. Caesar didn’t mind the profiteering as long as the total assessed tax was delivered to his treasury. But Jewish taxpayers forced to pay the exorbitant sums weren’t quite so forgiving, especially when the tax collector was a fellow Jew, like Matthew. Jewish tax collectors were regarded as loathsome collaborators and extortionists who exploited their own people. It’s little wonder, then, that in the Gospels tax collectors are placed on par with harlots, thieves, and other shameless public sinners.”

“Matthew collected taxes in Capernaum, a town in the northern province of Galilee and the site of a Roman garrison. Christ was a frequent visitor there, performing such miracles as healing the centurion’s servant, curing Peter’s ailing mother-in-law, and raising Jairus’ daughter form the dead. One day, while passing the customs house where Matthew was busy squeezing extra shekels from his neighbors, Christ paused to say, ‘Follow me.’ That was all it took to touch Matthew’s heart. He walked out of the customs house forever, giving up his life as a cheat to become an apostle, the author of a Gospel and eventually a martyr.” (Page 12)

Just when Matthew thought he had it made – just when he thought he was living la vita loca – Christ changed his life by calling him to live in a manner worthy of what God had in mind for him. Matthew – who clearly recognized an opportunity when he saw one – dropped everything he had valued up until that very moment to follow Jesus. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Amazing how a handful of words can change the trajectory of one’s life. A few words from Jesus transformed Matthew from being a human being who was all about taking from others into a man who was all about giving to others - even to the point of giving his very life.

How might God’s words invite us to change and to transform our lives today?

(September 22, 2019: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.”

"One small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind."

Astronaut Neil Armstrong's words - accompanied as they were by the "thump" of his foot on the moon's surface - created a global image that affirmed once again our potential as human beings. It also gave us an image that inspires future generations to work together to realize still more dimensions of our human potential.

In his book Soul Mates (p viii), Thomas Moore approaches ‘soul making’ very much in terms of symbols and imagination. In fact, his major premise with respect to conversion and transformation is that changing imagery is crucial to changing priorities and behaviors.

Changing priorities and behaviors was very much the thrust of St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to the Devout Life. He promoted a very different image of holiness in his day and age. The prevailing image was monastic life, which saw the committed Christian life as removed from the affairs of the world. The new image was more like being at court, which saw the committed Christian life as being fully engaged in the affairs of the world. De Sales comments, “Where ever we may be, we can and should aspire to live a holy life.” (IDL, Part 1, Chapter 3)

This Salesian image offers a lens for seeing the message of today's Scriptures. Luke in his parable and Amos in his prophetic pronouncement speak to the man or woman engaged in the business of life, calling them to live in such a way as to give the fullest expression to their God-given dignity and destiny. From the negative side Amos castigates the ‘so called’ believers who cannot wait for the liturgy to be over and can return to fraud in the pursuit of profits. From the positive side, Jesus notes the unjust steward's prudence in meeting his needs in a crisis. He wishes this quality of clever prudence for all committed believers who want to love and serve God with their lives in and out of crisis.

What can sustain the committed Christian in the way of clever prudence? De Sales offers an image for prayer and reflection to care for the soul in this situation. He tells the devout Christian: “Imitate little children who with one hand hold fast to their father while with the other they gather berries from the hedge.” (IDL, Part 3, Chapter 10)

The most important thing we can do to become our whole selves in the business world (or anywhere for that matter) is to make an effort to stay connected and grounded. Time spent in honest prayer and reflection helps us connect with ourselves, with our values, with our faith community, our neighbor, and quintessentially with our God “in the midst of so much busyness.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 163)

Justice, like its counterpart: beauty, truth, and love, all-too-often remain an abstraction. Fairness, woven into the heart of the committed Christian man or woman (indeed, of anyone), could collectively be such a ‘giant leap for mankind’ for living a more grounded life and producing a more just and loving world.

(September 23, 2019: Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest)

“For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.”

“Born Francesco Forgione, Padre Pio grew up in a family of farmers in southern Italy. Twice (1898-1903 and 1910-17) his father worked in Jamaica, New York, to provide the family income.”

“At the age of 15, Francesco joined the Capuchins and took the name of Pio. He was ordained in 1910 and was drafted during World War I. After he was discovered to have tuberculosis, he was discharged. In 1917 he was assigned to the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, 75 miles from the city of Bari on the Adriatic. On September 20, 1918, as he was making his thanksgiving after Mass, Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus. When the vision ended, he had the stigmata in his hands, feet and side.”

“His life became more complicated after that. Medical doctors, Church authorities and curiosity seekers came to see Padre Pio. In 1924 and again in 1931, the authenticity of the stigmata was questioned; Padre Pio was not permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to hear confessions. He did not complain of these decisions, which were soon reversed. However, he wrote no letters after 1924. His only other writing, a pamphlet on the agony of Jesus, was done before 1924.”

“Padre Pio rarely left the friary after he received the stigmata, but busloads of people soon began coming to see him. Each morning following the 5:00 AM Mass in a crowded church, he heard confessions until noon. He took a mid-morning break to bless the sick and all who came to see him. Every afternoon he also heard confessions. Over time his confessional ministry would consume ten hours a day; penitents had to take a number in order to handle the crowds of people who came to see him.”

“Padre Pio particularly saw Jesus in the faces of the sick and suffering. At his urging, a hospital was constructed on nearby Mount Gargano. Beginning in 1940 a committee began to collect money: six years later ground was broken. This ‘House for the Alleviation of Suffering’ had 350 beds.”

“Pius of Pietrelcina died on September 23, 1968, was beatified in 1999 and canonized in 2002.” (http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1147)

Despite the fact that he did all he could to avoid drawing attention to himself, this humble priest became a household name for Catholics around the world. However obvious or obscure, may we door our best – just as Padre Pio did – to let our light shine.

(September 24, 2019: Tuesday, Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time)

“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

In earlier times in human history – before the development and growth of urban centers – communities tended to be small and tight-knit. Everybody knew everybody else, so much so, that when asked to identify members of a particular clan, tribe or family it was easy to pick them out by how they looked, spoke or acted.

We are children of the Father, siblings of Jesus and embodiments of the Holy Spirit. How easily do others identify us as members of God’s family by how we look, speak and act?

(September 25, 2019: Wednesday, Twenty-fifth Week Ordinary Time)

“Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic.”

When it comes to making progress along the road of life, Jesus is challenging us to travel lightly. While we should make some long-term plans for our lives and adjust those plans on a daily basis, Jesus urges us to resist the temptation to pack too many things that we figure we might ‘need’ for the journey.

All of us probably have seen people struggling with way-too-much luggage on vacation. In their attempt to prepare for just about every contingency that they might encounter during the course of their journey, they overdue it. What is the result? Ironically enough, all the stuff that they packed to help them prepare for the trip ends up becoming the biggest hindrance on the trip.

In a letter addressed to Jane de Chantal (January 1615), Francis de sales wrote:

“May God be with you on your journey. May God keep you clothed in the garment of his charity. May God nourish your soul with the heavenly bread of his consolation. May God bring you back safe and sound…May God be your God forever.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 226)

Whatever else she may have packed for her journey, Francis de Sales invited her (in the form of a blessing) to focus on the few things that she would truly need for her trip. The list might not sound like much, but upon closer review, it contains he things that really matter.

What provisions – if anything – will we choose to bring with us on the journey of life today?