Spirituality Matters 2017: July 27th - August 2nd

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(July 27, 2017: Thursday, Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 19:1-2, 9-11, 16-20b     Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56     Mt 13:10-17

“To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away…”

William Barclay made the following observation about this Gospel passage:

“Many a person in childhood and schooldays had a smattering of Latin or French or of some other language, and in later life lose every word because he never made any attempt to develop or use them. Many a person had some skill in a craft or game and lost it because he neglected it. The diligent and hard-working person is in a position to be given more and more; the lazy person may well lose even what he has. Any gift can be developed; and since nothing in life stands still, if a gift is not developed, it is lost.”

“So it is with goodness. Every temptation we conquer makes us better able to conquer the next and every temptation to which we fall makes us less able to withstand the next attack. Every good thing we do, every act of self-discipline and of service, makes us better prepared for the next opportunity, and every time we fail to use such an opportunity we make ourselves less able to seize the next when it comes. Life is always a process of gaining more or losing more. Jesus laid down the truth that the nearer a person lives to Him, the nearer to the Christian ideal that person will grow. By contrast, the more a person drifts away from Christ, the less he or she is able to grow in goodness; for weakness, like strength, is an increasing practice.” (Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, p. 67)

St. Francis de Sales put it this way, if we are not moving forward in the practice of virtue, we are falling behind. So it is with a life of devotion: making the effort to do good produces its own reward by expanding our experience of life, whereas neglecting to do good is its own punishment by diminishing our experience of life.

Today, take an inventory of the gifts - and the life - that God has given you. What do you find - growth or decline?

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(July 28, 2017: Friday, Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 20:1-17     Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11     Mt 13:18-23

“Hear the parable of the sower….”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Ostriches never fly; hens fly in a clumsy fashion, near the ground, and only once in a while, but eagles, doves and swallows fly aloft, swiftly and frequently. In like manner, sinners in no way fly up towards God, but make their whole course upon the earth and for the earth. Good people who have not as yet attained to devotion fly toward God by their good works but do so infrequently, slowly and awkwardly. Devout souls ascend to him more frequently, promptly and with lofty flights.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

There is something of the ostrich, something of the hen and something of the eagle in all of us. We crawl in God’s paths; we stumble in God’s path; we fall in God’s paths; we walk and sometimes run in God’s paths, and on occasion, we even manage to fly in God’s paths. So, too, there is something of each of the scenarios of the seed in today’s Gospel that applies to us. Sometimes, God’s word is stolen from our hearts before it has a chance to grow. Sometimes, God’s word springs up quickly in us but withers even more quickly because of our shallowness or hardness of heart. Sometimes, God’s word falls to the wayside because we lose heart in the midst of trials and difficulties. Sometimes, God’s word is simply overwhelmed by our fears, doubts, anxieties and second-guesses.

But sometimes – just sometimes – God’s word finds a home deep in our hearts, deep in our souls and deep in our lives. And then that seed bears a harvest beyond our wildest dreams: thirty, sixty or even a hundredfold.

Don’t just hear the parable of the sower, but also – more importantly – live the parable of the sower! Consider the ways in which the seeds of God’s love might have trouble taking root in your life. More importantly, focus your attention and energy on the ways in which the seeds of God’s love have made a deep, abiding and fruitful home in your mind, heart, attitude and actions!

And live it today!

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(July 29, 2017: Martha)
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Ex 24:3-8     Ps 50:1b-2, 5-6, 14-15     Jn 11:19-27

"You are anxious and worried about many things."

We are all-too familiar with this image from the Gospel according to Luke. All-too familiar because it is so easy to see in this Gospel a putdown of action and activity as compared with prayer and contemplation.

Well, we need to revisit this interpretation. We need to understand how this Gospel speaks about Martha and Mary. More importantly, we need to consider how this Gospel speaks to us.

Jesus does not criticize Martha for being busy about the details of hospitality. Rather, Jesus criticizes the fact that Martha is allowing her activity and expectations to make her anxious. Likewise, Mary is not exalted due to her inactivity, but rather because she is not burdened with anxiety. In short, Martha is upset and flustered, while Mary is calm and centered.

Both Martha and Mary bring something to the experience of hospitality. In Martha, we see the importance of tending to details when welcoming people into our homes. In Mary, we see the importance of welcoming people into our lives, into our hearts and into the core of whom we are without allowing the details to overwhelm us. Hospitality, then, isn't a matter of choosing between activity and availability. It is a matter of incorporating – and of integrating – both.

Francis de Sales certainly knew this truth when he described the two great faces of love: the love of complacence and the love of benevolence. Complacence is love that delights in simply being in the presence of the beloved; benevolence is love that delights in expressing this complacence by doing for the beloved.

Doing and being. Being and doing. This is the dance of hospitality. This is the dance of love…a dance that challenges us to be as free as possible from anxious self-absorption, self-preoccupation and self-destruction.

In order to be truly open, to be truly welcoming, to be truly hospitable, there needs to be something of both Martha and Mary in each of us.

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(July 30, 2017: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12     Ps 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130     Rom 8:28-30     Mt 13:44-52

“Give your servant an understanding heart…”

Of all the things that Solomon could have asked of God, he asked for “an understanding heart” that he might distinguish between right and wrong. We are told that God was indeed pleased with such a wise and insightful request. God grants Solomon his request, a gift that would serve Solomon well as the wisest of all the kings of Israel.

An understanding heart seems to be one of the greatest hallmarks of all the saints of God. Holy men and women of every age and culture often display (among other things) a keen ability to understand the things in life that really matter.

St. Francis de Sales was no exception to this trend. In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal Francis wrote:

“O that I might receive and use the gift of understanding as I ought, so as to get a clearer and deeper insight into the holy mysteries of our faith! For this intelligence has a marvelous power to subject the will to God's service; our understanding is committed to God and plunged in God, recognizing God as wonderfully and perfectly good. As the mind ceases to think anything else good in comparison with God's goodness, so, too, the will can no longer desire or love any goodness in comparison with God's goodness, even as when our eyes look deep into the sun we can no longer see any other light. But because we can only show our love in this world by doing good (because our love must act in some way), we need counsel so as to see what we ought to do to put this love which presses us into practice, for it is heavenly love itself which urges us on to do good. The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of understanding so we may find out how to do good, which good to choose and in what way to express our love in action.” (Selected Letters, pp. 281 - 282)

From a practical point of view, the gift of wisdom (and the ability to discern how best to accomplish the good) gets played out in the selection and practice of virtue. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Charity never enters a heart without lodging both itself and its train of all the other virtues which it exercises and disciplines as a captain does his soldiers. It does not put them to work all at once, not at all times and in all places…A great fault of many who undertake the exercise of some particular virtue is thinking they must practice it in every situation. In practicing the virtues we should use the ones best suited to the circumstances at hand rather than the ones that we like…Among the virtues that we practice we should prefer the ones that are more excellent to the ones that are more obvious.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III)

An understanding heart knows what it means to be truly divine. An understanding heart knows what it means to be truly human. An understanding heart knows how to do what is right and good, knows what good or right thing to do in a particular situation and knows how to express love in action.

Such understanding is a gift from our home in heaven. Such understanding is truly a treasure for our homes here on earth.

Why would you desire anything else?

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(July 31, 2017: Monday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 32:15-24, 30-34     Ps 106:19-20, 21-22, 23     Mt 13:31-35

Today’s Gospel helps us to keep things in perspective. Make no mistake – we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. We are charged with a tremendous duty - advancing the kingdom of God. The most effective means to accomplish this great calling is to pay attention to detail – that is, by doing little things with great love.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales made the following exhortation:

“Put your hand to strong things, by training yourself in prayer and meditation, receiving the sacraments, bringing souls to love God, infusing good inspirations into their hearts and, in fine, by performing big, important works according to your vocation. But never forget…those little, humble virtues that grow like flowers at the foot of the cross: helping the poor, visiting the sick, taking care of your family, with all the responsibilities that accompany such things and with all the useful diligence which prompts you to not stand idle.”

“Great opportunities to serve God rarely present themselves, but little ones are frequent…you will profit greatly in God’s sight by doing all these things because God wishes you to do the.” (III, 35, pp. 214 – 215)

God gives us a rich abundance of means proper for our salvation. By a wondrous infusion of God’s grace into our minds, hearts, attitudes and actions the Spirit makes our works become God’s work. Our good works - like planting miniscule mustard seeds here or like scattering small seeds there - have vigor and virtue enough to produce a great good because they proceed from the Spirit of Jesus.

Many a day, we may feel that our attempts at growing in the ways of the kingdom of God are small and insignificant. However, if we all did just a little bit each and every day to build up that Kingdom, it would add up to become quite a lot!

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(August 1, 2017: Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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Ex 33:7-11; 34:5b-9, 28     Ps 103:6-7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13     Mt 13:36-43

“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field…”

Some weeks ago we touched upon the image of wheat and weeds. There is something of both wheat and weeds inside each and every one of us. Careful examination of the interior gardens of our thoughts, feelings and attitudes reveals things which promote life; likewise, in those same gardens we can identify things that compete with life.

In a letter to Madame de la Flechere, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Don’t be examining yourself to see if what you are doing is little or much, good or bad, provided that it is not sinful and that, in all good faith, you are trying to do it for God. As much as possible, do well that you have to do, and once it is done, think no more about it but turn your attention to what has to be done next. Walk simply along the way our Lord shows you and don’t worry. We must hate our faults, but we should do so calmly and peacefully, without fuss or anxiety. We must be patient at the sight of these faults and learn from the humiliation which they bring about. Unless you do this, your imperfections – of which you are acutely conscious – will disturb you even more and thus grow stronger, for nothing is more favorable to the growth of these ‘weeds’ than our anxiety and over eagerness to rid ourselves of them.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction , pp. 161-162)

In each of us we find a mixture of both wheat and weeds. In each of us we find a mixed bag of both good and bad. Essentially, the Salesian tradition challenges us to deal with this reality in three ways:

  • First, detest the weeds within us.
  • Second, don’t dwell on those weeds within us.
  • Third, focus on – and nourish – the wheat within us.
These thoughts should pretty much explain the parable of the weeds – and for that matter the wheat.

Don’t you think?

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(August 2, 2017: Wednesday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Ex 34:29-35     Ps 99:5, 6, 7, 9     Mt 13:44-46

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure; like searching for fine pearls.”

A traditional way of explaining these images in today’s Gospel is to place the emphasis on us. This perspective considers this Gospel as a challenge to the hearer to “trade up”, that is, to give up those things we most value in order to obtain that which has the greatest value - the Kingdom of God.

A non-traditional way of explaining these images – and, apparently, the more accurate way – is to place the emphasis on God. It is God who is “trading up” for something better. It is God who is – as it were – cashing in all his chips for something even more valuable. What is that “treasure”? What are those “fine pearls”? We are the treasure that God pursues at any price. We are the pearls that God will leave no stone unturned to possess.

God “traded up” his only Son because He wanted to reclaim us. God “cashed in” his only Son because He wanted to redeem us. God gave away everything He had in order to make us his own. In these acts, God clearly displayed that it’s people, not things – like possessions, power or privilege – that God values the most.

We are God-given treasures! We are pearls bought at the highest of prices!

Do we treat ourselves – and one another – accordingly?