Spirituality Matters 2019: September 26th - October 2nd
“Consider your ways!”
“Not much in the way of detail is known about the lives of Cosmas and Damien beyond the fact that they suffered martyrdom in Syria during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian.”
“A church erected on the site of their burial place was enlarged by the emperor Justinian. Devotion to the two saints spread rapidly in both East and West. A famous basilica was erected in their honor in Constantinople. Their names were placed in the canon of the Mass (Eucharistic Prayer I) probably sometime during the sixth century.”
“Legend says that they were twin brothers born in Arabia, who became skilled doctors. They were among those who are venerated in the East as the ‘moneyless ones’ because apparently they did not charge a fee for their services. During a time of religious persecution, it would have been almost impossible that such prominent persons would escape unnoticed - they were arrested and subsequently beheaded because of their faith.”
Little – if any – of the details of their lives remains. Yet, to this very day these two men – Cosmas and Damien – are remembered for their selflessness, generosity and courage.
When others consider our ways, for what will we be remembered?
“Take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD, and work!”
Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Vincent de Paul. In his book entitled This Saint’s for You, Thomas J. Craughwell wrote:
“Vincent de Paul’s…temperament was such that he could never turn away from a person in need, no matter what the need was. The list of troubles he sought to alleviate is astounding. He brought food and medicine to penniless sick people, comforted convicts condemned to row the galleys, and sheltered orphans, the elderly and soldiers incapacitated by war wounds. He opened hospitals, took in abandoned babies and taught catechism to children. He founded an order of nuns (the Daughters of Charity) to serve the poor and another for priests to teach and encourage religious devotion among the urban poor and country peasants. In time, the Vincentians’ (as they came to be called) method for educating people in the faith was adopted by many bishops for use in their own seminaries.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 108)
There is nothing new about what St. Vincent de Paul did. After all, countless saints (both those known and many more unknown) have been doing good things for others in the name of God since time immemorial. That said, Vincent de Paul is recognized for having the courage to do well-known and well-established good things for God’s people in new and creative ways that fit the needs of the times.
Today, how might God be asking us to take courage as we continue the work of the lord?
“Pay attention to what I am telling you.”
Some things in life are more important than others. With the hope of trying to impress upon another person that what we are about to say is of greater importance than other things, more often than not, we will preface our advice with words like ‘listen up,’ ‘pay attention’ or ‘this is really important.’
While we’d like to think that everything that Jesus said is of equal importance, Jesus clearly wanted to impress his disciples with the inevitability of his showdown with the religious leaders of his time. And while we know that Jesus raised this issue more than a few times in the Gospels, the disciples seem to have had difficulty in grasping the importance of this prediction.
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“The more pleasant and excellent are the objects our senses encounter, the more ardently and avidly do they enjoy them. The more beautiful, the more delightful to our sight, and the more effectively lighted they are, the more eagerly and attentively do our eyes look to them. The sweeter and more pleasant a voice or music is, the more completely is the ear’s attention drawn to it. This force is more or less strong in accordance with the greater or lesser excellence of the object, provided that it is proportionate to the capacity of the sense desiring to enjoy it. For example, although the eye finds great pleasure in light, it cannot bear extremely strong light, nor can it look steadily at the sun. No matter how beautiful music may be, if it is too loud and too close to us, it strikes harshly on the ear and disturbs it.” (TLG, Book III, Chapter 9, p. 186)
There are so many things that Jesus wants us to learn about the ways of living in God’s love. How well will we pay attention to what God may be telling us about those ways today?
“Compete well for the faith.”
Both the reading from the prophet Amos and the parable from the Gospel of Luke warn us against being complacent, which is defined as being “contented to a fault; self-satisfied and unconcerned.” The first and third readings suggest that those who are complacent are those most in danger of experiencing personal disaster.
Few people decide to become “contented to a fault” all at once. It usually occurs slowly and subtly. We allow good times and experiences to lull us into a false sense of security. We begin to believe that we are somehow above the trials and tribulations of other people. We get the feeling that we have somehow ‘arrived’ even though life's journey - with its responsibilities, demands and challenges - is far from over.
St. Paul certainly recognized the temptation to become “contented to a fault.” What is his remedy? Compete well for the faith. Seek after integrity, piety, faith, love, steadfastness and a gentle spirit.”
Integrity - a steadfast adherence to a moral or ethical code
Piety - a religious devotion and reverence to God and to others
Faith - a confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea or a thing
Love - a deep, tender, ineffable emotion of affection and solicitude toward others; a sense of underlying oneness
Steadfast – firm, loyal or constant; unswerving
Gentle - considerate or kindly; not harsh or severe
Competing well for the faith requires constant effort. It requires energy. It requires vigilance. It is an ongoing concern. We hear echoes of this in St. Francis de Sales' understanding of devotion: "Doing what is good carefully, frequently and promptly."
Simply put, the spiritual life is a life-long process. Regardless of how much progress we might be making at any given point along the journey, we must avoid becoming complacent, of becoming “contented to a fault.” No matter how much we have accomplished individually and collectively in the love of God and neighbor, there is always more good that still must be accomplished.
Today, just remember to do it carefully, frequently and promptly!
“They will be my people, and I will be their God, with faithfulness and justice…”
In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:
“St. Jerome was a Latin scholar in love with the art of fashioning words into beautiful phrases. About the year 366 he became secretary to the newly-elected pope, St. Damasus. It was Damasus’ dream to produce a new Latin translation of the Bible based on the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Recognizing his secretary’s flair with language, the pope believed that Jerome was the man for the job. In the three years that followed Jerome produced beautiful and accurate translations of the psalms, the four Gospels, all of the Epistles and the Book of Revelation.”
“To improve the then-current translations of the Old Testament, Jerome studied Hebrew. Frustrated at first, Jerome persisted with language and in twenty-six years he completed his translation of the Hebrew Scripture. During that time Damasus died and Jerome moved from Rome to Bethlehem, after which Rome itself fell to barbarians. One of Jerome’s letters written during the time when Roman refugees were pouring into the Holy Land survives to this day. Addressing a friend, Jerome wrote, ‘I have set aside my commentary of Ezekiel, and almost all of my study. For today we must translate the words of the Scripture into deeds.” (page 55)
What a privilege it was for Jerome to translate the Old and New Testaments! After all, taken together they constitute the greatest love story of all: the love of a just and faithful God for the human family.
Just today how can we continue to tell that same love story in words and translate it into deeds?
“Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you…”
In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:
“There’s no reason why the world should have ever heard of Therese Martin. She grew up in Lisieux, an obscure town in Normandy, and rarely ventured beyond the tightly knit circle of her immediate family and relatives. At age sixteen she entered the Carmelite cloister, which completely isolated her from the outside world, and she died there when she was only twenty-four. In spite of her rather isolated life, St. Therese has a following among believers that is on par with St. Joseph, St. Anthony and St. Jude. She even has a nickname, ‘the Little Flower.’ And in 1997 Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church, which sets her among the Church’s intellectual and mystical heavyweights. How did this happen, this evolution from obscurity to world-wide fame?”
“It all began the year after Therese’s death, when the Carmelites published her spiritual biography, The Story of a Soul. The crucial point in the book is the idea that even the humblest, most mundane task – if done for love of God – can draw one closer to him and make one grow in holiness. At first, many readers dismissed Therese’s ‘Little Way’ (as she called it) as late-nineteenth-French sentimental piety. But even her fiercest skeptics have been surprised to find that her approach to sanctity is really quite mainstream: saints like John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila advocated the same idea, as did Thomas a Kempis in his book, Imitation of Christ. (Editor’s note: so, too, did St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to the Devout Life!) Miracles account for the other facet of St. Therese’s popularity. She has a reputation for answering prayers. On her deathbed she promised that – upon reaching heaven – she would rain down miracles on the world ‘like a shower of roses.’”
Therese’s relics appear frequently in selected places all around the world. The crowds that gather to view her remains consistently surpass those associated with such notable attractions as the “King Tut” and “Nicholas and Alexandria” exhibits by leaps and bounds. Why? Clearly, countless people have come to recognize that God was with her in a very vital, vivid and invigorating way. To what degree can the same be said of us?
“Their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father…”
God not only calls us to live a holy life, but God also provides us with the means to live that life – what Francis de Sales calls “aids” – and to help us to become holy people. In a conference (“On Constancy”) given to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales remarked:
“The aids that God gives to us are intended to help us to keep steadily on our way, to prevent our falling, or, if we fall, to help us to get back up again. Oh, with what openness, cordiality, sincerity, simplicity and faithful confidence ought we to dialogue with these aids, which are given to us by God to help us in our spiritual progress. Certainly, this is true in the case of our good angels. We ought to look upon them in the same way, since our good angels are called angel guardians because they are commissioned to help us by their inspirations, to defend us in perils, to reprove us when we err and to stimulate us in the pursuit of virtue. They are charged to carry our prayers before the throne of the majesty, goodness and mercy of Our Lord and to bring back to us the answers to our petitions. The graces, too, which God bestows on us, He gives through the intervention or intercession of our good angels. Now, other aids are our visible good angels, just as our holy angel guardians are our invisible ones. Other aids do visibly what our good angels do inwardly, for they warn us of our faults; they encourage us when we are weak and languid; they stimulate us in our endeavors to attain perfection; they prevent us from falling by their goods counsels, and they help us to rise up again when we have fallen over some precipice of imperfection or fault. If we are overwhelmed with weariness and disgust, they help us to bear our trouble patiently, and they pray to God to give us strength so to bear it so as not to be overcome by temptation. See, then, how much we ought to value their assistance and their tender care for us …” (Conference III**, pp. 41-42)
In the mind of Francis de Sales, God provide us with invisible support for our journey in this life through those “aids” known as “angel guardians”. It’s safe to say that some of the most visible “aids” that God uses to provide support for our journey in this life are known by another name: “friends”.
How can we imitate the invisible example of the angel guardians today by befriending one another in very visible ways?