Spirituality Matters 2018: October 18th - October 24th
(October 18, 2018: Luke, Evangelist)
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“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 in 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 these rough patches in his life to the Lord standing by him and giving 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?
How? By standing with them today!
(October 19, 2018: John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and Companions, Martyrs)
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“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more…”
Today’s Gospel reminds us that we can never be certain as to when we will need to provide an accounting to God for the lives we have lived. We’ll never know for sure when we will need to demonstrate how well we have made good use of the gifts, the talents, the blessings – and above all, the life – God has given us.
When that day, that hour or that moment comes, will we be ready?
This consideration is sobering. The reality that each of us will die one day can be more than a bit unsettling. While Francis de Sales himself said that we should fear death, he challenged us not to be afraid of death. If we focus too much upon the inevitability of our last moment on this earth, the fear – and more importantly, the anxiety - it produces could prevent us from living fully each and every present moment that will precede our last moment.
The sacrifice of these Jesuit martyrs gives radical witness to the delicate dance that comes with acknowledging the inevitability of death while not being afraid of death – of owning our immortality without allowing our mortality to prevent us – risks included - from living life to the full.
As members of the Salesian family, we are challenged to be “confident and unafraid” when it comes to facing our mortality. The same God who will judge us at the end of our lives is the same God who gives us the strength and courage to do the best we can throughout our lives.
Francis de Sales offers us sound counsel in our daily attempts to live our mortal lives as best we can with confidence and without fear. “There is no better preparation for a good death than to lead a good life.” The Jesuit Martyrs of North America are a shining example of how there is no better way of preparing for death than by fully living each and every day to the utmost.
Today, how can we imitate their confidence and fearlessness today?
(October 20, 2018: Paul of the Cross)
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“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened....”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote on the subject of rash judgments:
“Charity is fearful of meeting evil, so she never looks for it. Whenever she encounters it, she turns away her face and does not look at it. At the first threat of evil, she closes her eyes and later believes with a holy simplicity that it was not really evil but a shadow or mere appearance of evil. If sometimes she cannot help admitting that it is real evil, she quickly turns away and tries to forget its form. Charity is the supreme remedy for every evil, and especially for the evil of rash judgment. ‘All things look yellow to the jaundiced eye’ and …the spirit of rash judgment is truly spiritual jaundice for it causes all things to appear evil to the eyes of those infected with it. Whoever wants to be cured must apply remedies not to his eyes or intellect but to his affections. If your reflections are kind, your judgments will also be kind. If your affections are charitable, your judgments will be likewise…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 165)
We know from our own experience that it is sometimes all-too-easy to look for – and find – the worst in others. Of course, how we look at others often reveals a great deal more about the truth of our own hearts than about our perceptions of others’ lives.
See any signs of spiritual jaundice in the eyes of your heart? How might the eyes of your heart need to be enlightened?
By charity - that is - by love.
(October 21, 2018: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Through his suffering my servant shall justify many.”
Following the admonition of Christ that we should be the servants of others wouldn’t sound so daunting if it weren’t for one little word.
Jesus is very clear: to serve is to suffer and to suffer is to serve. This statement begs the question: did Jesus serve because he liked pain?
Consider the meaning of the word “suffering”. The American Heritage Dictionary describes suffering as “to feel pain or distress; sustain loss, injury, harm or punishment.” Jesus certainly experienced all these things in a big way. In this regard, we have in Christ one who is able to sympathize with us. (Hebrews)
But suffering is more than simply experiencing pain. The same dictionary directs the reader to consider the roots of the English word servant, and therein we find a powerful revelation: in its root meaning, to suffer is to carry, to bear, to “bear children.”
Suffering is not simply the ability to experience pain. No, suffering is the willingness to forbear, to persevere, to carry on in doing what is right and just, what is healthy and holy even in the face of opposition or resistance. Suffering is the pain that comes from efforts at bringing forth life in the lives of others.
This kind of suffering is not powerless passivity. This suffering – divine suffering – is about being proactive. This suffering – this service – is a matter of choice: the choice to love.
Jesus did not love to suffer. Jesus suffered precisely because he was willing to love. Jesus suffered – he persevered – in his commitment to being a source of love in the lives of others.
That’s what made Jesus a servant. That’s what can make us true servants. Like Jesus, while our service will be marked with suffering, it is far more important that it be marked with love.
(October 22, 2018: John Paul II, Pope )
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“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, but that greed is also 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 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. No, the rich man is condemned because he does not even consider sharing his good fortune – his rich harvest – with others.
Note the distinction that Jesus makes in saying, “Guard against all greed”, because Jesus isn’t limiting greed just 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?
(October 23, 2018: John of Capistrano, Priest)
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“He is our peace…”
In a letter to Mother de Chantal, Francis de Sales wrote:
“I entreat you to keep very close to Jesus Christ and your Our Lady and to your good angel in all your business, so that the multiplicity of your many affairs may not make you anxious nor their difficulties dismay you. Do things one by one as best you can, and apply your mind loyally but gently and sweetly. If God gives you good issue we shall bless him for it; if his pleasure should be otherwise, we will bless him all the same. And it will be enough for you that you did your best in complete good faith, since Our Lord and reason do not demand results in things we do, but only our faithful and whole-hearted cooperation, endeavor and diligence; for these depend on us, whereas success does not. God will bless your good intention in undertaking this journey...” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 195-196)
Jesus is the embodiment of this spirit. In success or setback, in acceptance or rejection, in good times or in bad times, Jesus always possessed inner peace in the midst of the multiplicity of his affairs; his “whole-hearted cooperation, endeavor and diligence” were united to his Father’s will. What Jesus did or did not accomplish throughout his earthly ministry was not nearly as important as the fidelity of his relationship with his Father.
So whatever you accomplish – or don’t accomplish – just this day, try above all things to do this one thing.
To remain in peace!
(October 24, 2018: Anthony Mary Claret, Bishop)
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“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 or 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?